There’s a lot of harmful misuse of therapeutic and psychological terms out there. [It’s] no one’s fault in particular, but one of the things I love doing is to educate and let people know what a term that they’ve heard before actually means. So I wanted to talk about the term OCD today. A lot of people throw this term around when someone is particular about how they like their space or how they like things lined up… and those that may be an indication of OCD. But most of the time, in the way it’s used colloquially, it’s not actually OCD.
So what actually is OCD? OCD is a mood condition or mood experience similar to anxiety, but it follows a really distinct pattern that I wanted to talk about because when people start to understand what the pattern is, they say “Oh, ok, that makes a lot of sense.” So someone who has true OCD when I ask them “If you had to rate your day-to-day anxiety, your… baseline, where would it be?” Usually they say it’s not about a 4 out of 10. Now that’s pretty uncomfortable! Being at a 4 out of 10 just as your baseline, that’s really elevated. And then what happens with someone with OCD is that they would get triggered somehow. Now everyone’s triggers are different; it could be… if something’s out of alignment if that is their particular manifestation, or it could be a certain situation. And suddenly their anxieties out at 9 or a 10 very quickly and really intensely, and it’s very uncomfortable.
[When they're at a 9 or 10 out of 10] is where someone with OCD would engage in what some people call compulsion. I don’t like that word; I feel like it's really pathologizing… it’s a negative word. I tend to use the word ritual because it feels a little more neutral. Someone’s anxiety is at a 9 or 10 and they engage in the ritual, the ritual brings the anxiety back down to the 4. And it makes sense; they’re glad didn’t have to deal with being that elevated for an extended period of time. The problem is that over time, they learn to rely on that ritual to manage the anxiety rather than dealing with their actual fear or whatever the trigger was.
Now, you’ve probably seen in the movies people that have a handwashing thing that would be their ritual. “I feel that my hands are germy so I’m gonna wash them and then I’m gonna feel better.” That’s a pretty basic and sometimes over-dramatized way that OCD can manifest. But actually, about 60% of the time, compulsions or the ritual is actually internal. It could be having a certain thought or having to count to a certain number or going to an image or some kind of a loop the rest of us can’t see.
So [as you can now understand], a lot of people actually have OCD but don’t think of it that way because we tend to think of handwashing or checking the light switch 10 times. That is a very Hollywood manifestation of it, which is real and happens, but most cases of OCD are a lot more subtle and difficult to identify because that loop is happening -- this constant going between 4 and 10 -- it’s happening internally [and] we can’t see it.
The great news is we know exactly how to treat OCD. We know exactly the kind of steps to take to help you break out of that loop so that you don’t have to constantly be feeling like you’re vacillating between that 4 and that 10. We know with good treatment that you can actually have your baseline be a 1 or 2. So if that sounds good to you, you can get in touch. I’m not necessarily a specialist in OCD, but I can do some treatment for mild OCD, and if you need another level of care, I know some great people that specialize in this and I’d be happy to give you their name.
Laurel Therapy Collective
offers online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.