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.
Unfortunately, by itself, it is unlikely to move the needle very far. A good start, but just not enough.
Here is why. As a pioneer in psychoanalysis once said, “The patient needs an experience, not an education” (Fromm Reichmann). Intellectually convincing someone that their fear has little basis in reality seldom leads anyone to become fully relaxed and confident.
Think about it for a moment and you’ll understand how frequently this is the case. Let’s take as an example the woman who is terrified of getting on an airplane. She intellectually knows that the chances of the aircraft crashing are astronomically small. So what? She remains petrified.
Put her at the gate of an airline, bag in hand, ready to board and her vision will blur, beads of sweat will appear on her face. Her heart will be racing, palms perspiring and her stomach will be ambivalent about keeping a tight hold on lunch.
It sounds like midnight at a mosh pit.
Even so, were you to ask her to recite statistics on airline safety she would still be able to do so. At the end of her statistical soliloquy, she would no doubt exclaim “What’s your point? I feel like I am about to die.”
The problem with those statistics is that they do not apply to her, and not to the plane she is about to board. At least that is how it feels to someone with those fears.
Overcoming this distortion requires a corrective experience. These corrective experiences invariable mean that the person begins to engage in the very thing that he or she is desperately trying to avoid. In this case, the woman needs to get on an airplane and have an uneventful flight. After having this initial success, she would need to get on many more flights in order to thoroughly unwire the OCD connection.
If she did this, we would expect that her fear of flying would soon be mastered. Not absent altogether, but reduced to the point that she was in control.
The bottom line, intellectual arguments may help someone take the first step toward facing his or her fear. Seldom, however, do such arguments fully extinguish the anxiety. For that, you need corrective experiences. End of story.
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Corrective Experiences: The Road To Mastery
Punching back against OCD is all about giving yourself corrective experiences.
This may be a term that you have not heard of before, so we’ll take a moment to explain what it means.
A corrective experience is simply an interaction in life that causes one to confront distorted perceptions or beliefs. These experiences push back at the lies we sometimes tell ourselves.
They confront the misperceptions that have distorted one’s view of life so as to create a sense of perpetual danger and fear. In doing so, corrective experiences have the power to help us see reality for what it is, thereby encouraging us to respond in ways that are not driven by OCD.