Tuesday, January 30, 2018

OCD Paradox: Wanting and Fearing Control

Kind of like Ketchup and Mustard,
these opposing flavors somehow fit
together on the OCD sandwich. 
If you have experienced life with OCD (or have read other entries on this blog), then by now you know that OCD is a very strange beast.

It doesn't always make a lot of sense - even to the person who is experiencing it.

One of OCD's trademarks is anxiety about what's to come.  I worry about what might go wrong.  I worry about what negative consequences might result from a scenario.  I jump to the absolute worst conclusions naturally and with ease.  

Compulsions often come into play when the OCD sufferer is trying to stop something bad from happening.  As an easy example... If I was worried that germs on my hand were going to get someone else sick, then I might wash my hands to try and take back control of the situation and take the concern away.

For someone who is constantly worried about bad outcomes, it seems like a natural thing that I would want to step up whenever possible to maintain the best control that I can over what's to come.

Except no.  It's not that simple.

One of OCD's other trademarks is doubt.  You'd be amazed what OCD can make you question.  This doubt can lead to an intense desire to avoid situations where you have to be in control.  

I HATE having responsibility for something if I can avoid it, because the OCD doubt makes me question myself and whether or not I have done things appropriately.  I'm such a great worrier, and the more I am responsible for, the more there is for me to worry about.

For a simple illustration of this opposite phenomenon, even keeping my own time clock at work could drive me crazy.  What if I write something down wrong?  How can I really prove to myself that I marked my time correctly?  Was I really there at 9:57 am, or should I have marked 9:58 am?  

Having a clock-in machine at one of my jobs has been such a relief just because it takes that concern off of my shoulders.  It marks the time that you click on arrival, and there is no self-reporting... no room for a mismark.  

Wanting to have control over outcomes while also fearing that you will mess up anything you are in control of can be a maddening situation.  This is one of those OCD tragedies: a seemingly lose-lose situation where OCD can creep in from either side.  

So, what can you do about this kind of thing?

You actually have to work on both sides, because control in life is both something that you need to take while also accepting that you never truly have completely.  

You can work with a therapist on learning to accept that sometimes you can't control situations, and that the motto "Let go and let God" is sometimes your best bet.  At the same time, you can't let yourself avoid any situation where it is appropriate to take the reigns.  Having a therapist lead you through Exposure Response Prevention therapy (exposing you to situations where you need to take control and aren't allowed to perform the compulsions you use to eliminate doubt) can help you grow in this area.

As usual, it's all about balance.  May we all continue to work towards it.


  1. Interesting post. I had never thought about the lose-lose aspect of this situation before.

    1. It's very frustrating. But hopefully that will motivate me to try and fight back against these unhelpful kinds of thoughts.

  2. The example you used about washing your hands to avoid getting someone else sick rang true with me....except that I then would continue to worry that perhaps I didn't wash my hands well enough and they would still get sick and it would still be my fault!

    1. I completely get that! Whenever I do feel in control of a situation I worry I am going to mess up... or have messed up. It feels like you can't win!