Many people with OCD also experience hyper-responsibility — the idea that we can, and must, control things that are out of our power.
We all take responsibility for preventing harm: We drive carefully to avoid accidents, lock our homes to prevent a break-in, and check in on loved ones to ensure they’re doing well.
But what happens when you overestimate your responsibility? What happens when you feel overwhelmed by the need to control things you can’t control?
Many people experience hyper-responsibility. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are particularly prone to hyper-responsibility, which is the idea that you can and must manage things around you to prevent harm — even when those things are totally out of your control.
Also known as an inflated sense of responsibility, hyper-responsibility is when you feel that you have more control over the world than you actually do.
You might feel responsible for things that you can’t realistically control, including how other people behave and feel, natural disasters, accidents, and more. When something goes wrong, you might blame yourself and feel guilty.
You might also take action to “fix” the problem or prevent it from happening again, even if it’s totally out of your control. An inflated sense of responsibility may also lead to other behaviors, such as:
- people-pleasing, which might be an attempt to control how others feel about you
- giving a lot of money or time to charitable causes, to your own detriment
- over-researching unlikely threats because you feel it’s your duty to prevent them from happening
While these behaviors don’t necessarily mean that you have OCD, they can also be a result of hyper-responsibility. However, many people with OCD also face hyper-responsibility.
Inflated responsibility is one of the many cognitive distortions that are associated with OCD.
According to research, people who have OCD often overestimate how much control they have over a situation.
This can lead to responsibility-related obsessions and responsibility-related compulsions.
OCD obsessions are persistent, distressing thoughts that you struggle to control. While most people have intrusive thoughts from time to time, these obsessions are usually very upsetting and incessant.
Hyper-responsibility might take the form of obsessing about things that you can’t control. These obsessions might relate to:
- what others feel or think
- other people’s actions
- the possibility of bad events occurring (including natural disasters, violent crimes, and more)
Of course, most of us worry about these things from time to time. But with OCD, it’s difficult to control these thoughts — in fact, it might feel impossible for most people with OCD.
Compulsions are actions that are taken in order to soothe obsessions — in other words, to stop those distressing thoughts.
Some people with OCD might engage in compulsions to control or neutralize the threat of something bad happening.
Sometimes, the compulsion relates directly to the fear. For example, you might believe that if you don’t check your lock several times, your house will be broken into.
At other times, the connection might not be clear. For example, you might believe that if you don’t pace a certain number of steps, a natural disaster might occur. This might look like a superstition, too: You might knock on wood to prevent something bad from happening.
On a logical level, you might know that you’re not responsible for preventing natural disasters, but on another level, you believe that your compulsion can help you control the outcome.
Responsibility is often referred to as a “theme” in OCD. People with OCD can have one or more themes, which are different kinds of obsessions and compulsions. These themes will affect how your OCD symptoms show up.
Other than responsibility, these themes can include:
- contamination and washing (called contamination OCD)
- religion and morality (often called scrupulosity)
- harm (called harm OCD)
- perfection, order, and symmetry
- relationship OCD
- illness or disease
This is not an exhaustive list, and your obsessions and compulsions can fit into one or more “theme” categories. The theme might also change over time.
Hyper-responsibility in OCD can be treated through therapy. There are a number of OCD treatments out there, one of the most common being exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.
ERP is a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that involves learning to manage your obsessions without acting out your compulsions.
Your therapist will guide you through this process. Although ERP can be quite challenging, research shows that it’s effective for treating OCD:
OCD can also be treated through other kinds of therapy, including acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
Sometimes, people with OCD benefit from prescription medication, such as antidepressants. Discuss this possibility with your doctor or psychiatrist.
Beyond therapy and medication, you might find certain self-care strategies helpful for managing hyper-responsibility and OCD. Although these self-care strategies can’t replace therapy, they can be helpful in conjunction with therapy.
Self-care strategies for OCD will differ from person to person. Some popular strategies include:
- Exercise. Exercise has been shown to help with OCD symptoms.
- Yoga and meditation. One
clinical trialfound these practices to be beneficial for people with OCD who did not respond to standard treatment.
Researchhas found mindfulness to reduce OCD symptoms when combined with ERP therapy.
- OCD support groups. You can find some through the IOCDF support groups list.
- Stress management. Finding healthy emotional outlets for managing stress, such as journaling and creative hobbies, can help symptoms of OCD.
Therapy should be your first port-of-call if you have (or suspect you have) OCD. A therapist that is experienced in treating OCD could refer you to a psychiatrist if medication is needed. They can also suggest self-care strategies and stress management techniques.
It can be difficult to cope with hyper-responsibility and OCD. However, the good news is that OCD is treatable, and many people with OCD find healthy ways to cope with their symptoms.
If you think you have OCD or if you’re finding it tough to deal with feelings of hyper-responsibility, look for a therapist with experience in treating OCD. You might try to find a local therapist, or consider teletherapy (online therapy).