January 6, 2011

More on Rituals

As you know – I’ve been struggling a lot lately, and one of the thoughts that really bothers me is “I’ve been doing so much for exposure – how come I’m not getting any better?” (AKA – why aren’t the thoughts going away?)  Of course – the thoughts going away is not the goal of treatment, but I know that people without OCD don’t have scary thoughts nearly as much as I do – so at the very least I would like them to decrease.  However, I know logically that the goal of treatment is to be OK with the uncertainty of the question.  To be OK with having the thoughts and not knowing what (if anything) they mean about you. 
Haven’t achieved this goal yet. 
Pure O is tough because it is so hard to stop ritualizing.  I suspect that I haven’t even broken the surface of how I ritualize to avoid my feared OCD consequences.  I know that my rituals/avoidance behavior are well engrained into my everyday life. 
Here’s one of my rituals (I suppose this would fall under reassurance seeking):
Does anyone else visit these forums?  I try hard to avoid them.  I know they are not helpful in fighting OCD.  But it’s a catch 22.  Sometimes I feel the need to connect with those who also suffer from this horrible disorder and can relate to the pain I am feeling.  That’s why I enjoy my blogging friends so much – I have found that the blogging forum is very positive, helpful and therapeutic (no reassurance etc).  Usually I feel the need to visit OCD forums either when I am in the middle of a full blown HOCD panic attack, or when I need reassuance that I do in fact have OCD.  Either way – as with other forms of ritualizing – reading the forum posts are very helpful in the short run.  But in the long run – visiting these sites does nothing for helping me face my feared consequences. 
It has also dawned on me lately that even doing exposure may have become some sort of ritual – because I have been doing them with the goal of making the thoughts go away.  The general definition of a ritual is some sort of behavior or thought that helps takes the anxiety out of the feared consequence, or helps to decrease the possibility that the feared consequence might happen, or helps to “neutralize” (take the sting) out of the thought.  I’m not sure about this – and I’d like to hear what you think about my theory, but I am going to ask my therapist next session. 


  1. I definately seek reassurance through ocd forums, articles, and books. I think I've even used my blog to ask for reassurance. But I'm going to blog anyway, because otherwise the ocd will steal that from me, too. I am trying to be less reassurance-seeking in my attitude, though.

    As for exposures being rituals, maybe. And maybe we have to risk the possibility that our exposures are actually rituals. If we don't do exposures because maybe they will become rituals, that seems like another trap to me. But I did change how I recorded rituals one time because I had read that checking to see if one is still anxious can increase the anxiety; my earlier record included an estimate of anxiety ten minutes later, but my new one just included check marks for every time I completed the exposure. I presume both methods can be helpful for different things.

  2. Abigail - Yes - the keeping track of your anxiety level during exposure - I did that too but it became a checking compulsion for me so I stopped that as well. I agree with continuing blogging no matter what - great attitude! I think OCD forums can be helpful knowing that there are people who can relate and support our struggles, but the reassurance thing is tricky.

  3. Hi there -- this resonates a LOT for me. When I was first diagnosed with OCD a couple months ago I checked the OCD forums constantly and the websites, too. After reading a website I would find that the second time wasn't quite as reassuring so I'd have to find something new. I agree with Abigail, above. Blogging is helpful, though it does take some self awareness to understand the motivation behind it.

    A word and question about exposures: I'm having a ton of trouble with doing thought exposures (I have harm ocd). My avoidance and rituals have gotten so automatic that it's almost impossible to stop them. I have a "blink" ritual - the thought comes in and then I "blink" it away, if it's relatively mild to moderate. As a result, the focusing on a thought is very hard because I am constantly moving away from it! Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  4. Doubting Girl - welcome to the wonderful world of OCD blogging! :o) I can relate to what happens to you after reading OCD forums - as with other types of reassurance - eventually you need more and more of it or "different" types to feel better. I also have the same struggles as you do regarding avoidance and rituals. I think this is part of the challenge of Pure O (I discuss this in some of my posts). One of the suggestions my therapist has is to exaggerate the thought instead of just letting it be there. This helps sometimes, but if I'm not aware that I'm ritualizing it doesn't make a bit of difference! For example - one of my rituals is to thought stop. Sheesh - most of the time I'm not even aware that I'm thought stopping!! It's an ongoing challenge - but we can only do the best we can and try to improve and become more aware everyday. I'm going to check out your blog!

  5. When I first started ERP, I also started reading the ocd support forum, and felt compelled to read every single message starting at the beginning of the archives, which was years and years of stuff. I was afraid I'd miss something important if I didn't read it all. Now I check the messages every so often, but mostly read the ones by people who don't give reassurance, because those help me get better in the long run.

  6. Expwoman - yes - I've noticed that the forums can be a real mix - of those who are seeking reassurance, and those who are proactively trying to recover from OCD. It takes insight for me to realize the days that I am looking for reassurance - or "the answer" versus the days that I am really looking for helpful tips. I too can feel compelled to read every message relating to my type of OCD - just in case I miss something that will SOLVE IT ALL. I assume having a face-to-face support group would be the same. I do think that this disorder is very difficult to fight alone though and there are a lot of days that I feel like I could sure use more regular contact with people who can understand what I am battling, but also trying to make positive steps towards recovery.

  7. I never go to OCD forums to ask for reassurance, but I see lots of people there doing it. Asking for reassurance is a compulsion. I realized that asking for reassurance is something to avoid as much as possible because it makes intrusive thoughts more intense and frequent. It's hard not to ask for reassurance sometimes, but if I have the same obsession more than once, I automatically look at it as an intrusive thought, what it really is... without looking for the reason why it came to my mind. It doesn't represent me, but it's a product of a condition I suffer from.

  8. Emma - very good point and great way of thinking of it! I have to admit - during very bad OCD episodes - I checked forums for reassurance. But I have stopped doing that for the most part these days. I belong to some online support groups and I try really hard to use those groups for positive, productive, "skillful" therapy, rather than ritualizing. And - when I respond to others I try to be productive as well. Good for you that you are so skilled at recognizing intrusive thoughts!! I have struggled with that as well at times.