How Does This Relate To OCD?
This same thing happens with OCD. That is, the neurons involved in the sequence of events described in the figure above begin to wire together. They form a circuit of sorts.
The nerve cells that are involved with an intrusive thought become more strongly connected to the neurons involved in the fear associated with that thought. This happens because they are frequently activated together (first the thought then the fear).
Of course, the next step in the sequence is where the nerve cells associated with fear go on to activate the neurons controlling the compulsive behavior. After this sequence is repeated many times these cells also become ‘wired together.’
Eventually, the entire sequence becomes a closely integrated web of brain cells capable of operating independently – they become automatized.
The key to beating OCD is finding a way to ‘unwire’ the neurons that maintain this painful pattern. To do this we must disrupt the pattern of neurons firing together (i.e., intrusive thoughts -> fears -> compulsive behavior -> diminished fear which is rewarding and reinforces this painful pattern).
The longer these patterns become disrupted, and the more frequently they become disrupted, the better.
Disrupted patterns lead to weaker connections between the neurons responsible for each part of the pattern. Weaker connections between neurons mean the amygdala (fear center in the brain) is less activated. A less activated amygdala means less anxiety.
The end result? OCD begins to lose its grip on your life.
OK, that was a lot to take in. If you got lost along the way that’s understandable. Take a few minutes to re-read that material starting with the Pattern Of Anxiety section.
Pay special attention to the infographics – it should make things much more clear.
I want you to have a good grasp of these ideas because they are essential for understanding how to kick OCD to the curb. (Yes, that’s right, if you want your life back then you need to see OCD as an enemy – one who gets curb-stomped so you can come out winning).
Driving A Stake Through The Heart Of OCD (And Keeping It There)
Mastering OCD requires that you be able to disconnect the neurotic anxiety from unrealistic beliefs. These two things need to be ‘unwired.’
BTW, it is “neurotic” anxiety because it is based on unrealistic beliefs (if the beliefs were realistic then the anxiety would not be neurotic).
One way to try and unwire anxiety from neurotic beliefs is to change the conclusion(s) that attach to these beliefs.
Let’s take a moment and look at this a little more closely.
Imagine you have OCD and one of the things you struggle with each morning before leaving for work is the compulsion to check and recheck that all the windows and doors of your house are locked.
The anxiety that drives this compulsion arises from your belief (or conclusion) that if some entry point remains unlocked, your home will surely be burglarized.
This conclusion, therefore, is an essential element of the pattern of thoughts, feelings/fears, and behaviors that keep you in an emotional prison.
Intrusive Thought: “The windows and doors to my home may not have been locked”
Conclusion: “Someone will break into the house and steal my possessions.”
Emotional Response: Anxiety/apprehension.
Compulsion/Behavioral Response: Double checking locks on windows and doors.
Emotional Response: Decreased anxiety.
If the conclusion step in this pattern can be changed to something more realistic, and less threatening, the pattern becomes altered.
Imagine if the conclusion was changed to “I’ve checked the windows and doors already, it should be fine. This anxiety is just my brain playing tricks on me. The hell with that, I’m in control and not giving in to my fears.”
That sort of conclusion, even when it is not yet fully believed, begins to move the needle on how much anxiety controls your life.