Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Dr. Steve Mason

“We make some of our greatest gains when we see old things in new ways.”

Contact Dr. Mason by email at drsbmason@aol.com

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

This morning I woke up singing a song. That probably sounds like a good thing but it wasn’t. The song I was singing was not one I like. In fact, it was one I actively dislike. Yet every time I stopped for a few minutes, that same silly tune would pop into my head. It was a negative pattern.

You may have heard of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The first part, Obsessive, refers to a thought you keep thinking over and over again. The second part, Compulsive, refers to an act you keep performing. As much as you’d like to stop, every time you let your guard down you find yourself thinking and/or doing the same thing.

And it’s worse if the behavior is destructive. Smokers trying to cut down will be surprised when they suddenly find themselves lighting up and how often do you punish yourself with a painful experience that you relive in ever more detail?

I was once talking with a woman who had been fired from her job as a librarian. She told me in great detail how a new administrator didn’t like her and set about destroying her career. This tale of woe went on and on until I asked when it happened. “It was in 1992.” This poor woman had been obsessively reliving the same dreadful event for more than a quarter century!

In the past, therapists thought it was important to find the sometimes symbolic meaning that underlined the behavior. Did “Step on a crack Break your mother’s back” really suggest an unconscious hostility toward mom? Freud himself pointed out the fallacy here when he said: “A cigar may be a phallic symbol but it can also be a good smoke” suggesting that you don’t want to go too far in over analyzing unconscious symbols.

So while there may or may not be something that initiates an obsessive thought or a compulsive behavior, it really doesn’t matter. In the end, all you need to do is to stop thinking/doing the same thing over and over. It may help to think of the brain as a computer with a bug that’s created an endless loop and the more often you perform the routine the more firmly entrenched it becomes…sapping your energy and putting you in a miserable mood. You can see this in individuals who use social media to climb aboard the same soapbox and repeat the same mantra. It’s not uncommon to find a history of such repetitive ideation in people who eventually plant a bomb or shoot up a bar.

Look At It This Way 

When you catch yourself in a repetitive act or thought, try to come up with a plan for redirecting it the next time around. Recall a pleasant, relaxing experience – lying on the beach perhaps – and relive it in as much detail as possible. Feel the sun, smell the surf, hear the gulls in the distance. The next time that silly tune pops into your head or you find yourself losing your job at the library, Say: Don’t Go There out loud and pause instead for your mental moment at the beach. This can become a positive pattern it will be good to repeat.

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