Earlier this year, I took some online courses on cognitive behavior therapy from the Beck Institute. Most of the people taking these courses, I assume, were therapists or psychologists reviewing or taking extra courses to enhance their practice. I, however, was taking the courses for educational and self-help purposes.
Posting in the Forum
We were often encouraged or instructed to post comments or questions on an online forum, where fellow students and the psychologists in charge of the program could respond and interact with us.
One time, I made a comment about how my OCD limited me. I can’t remember exactly what I said or in what context, but I did save what one of the psychologists wrote back to me in response.
What limits us?
Dr. Hindman remarked, “I wouldn’t say that anxiety or OCD limits us, it’s our maladaptive coping strategies that do.”
Even now, that statement causes some self-reflection. Is it true that OCD doesn’t actually limit me? We like to say or think that the OCD steals away our lives and restricts us from doing what we want or would normally do. But does it, or is it one of the classic, “It’s not the situation but your reaction/attitude toward the situation that matters,” conundrums?
Dr. Hindman continued, “For instance, the anxiety doesn’t cause you to not do certain things with family members, avoidance does. So, with most clients I see, the problem isn’t anxiety, the problem’s avoidance which is a coping strategy clients choose to use.”
To me, he was saying that the problem or obstacle isn’t necessarily the obsession or worry. Yes, the obsession is a problem to us, perhaps, mentally or emotionally. But the fact is that obsessions and worries will come. We can’t stop or change them. The real problem in how we live comes the compulsions or these coping strategies that Dr. Hindman mentions, like avoidance.
I may have the fear that the airplane I’m going on will blow up, but I can still go on the airplane and fly, arriving safely at my destination with that worry in my mind. It becomes a problem if I let my coping strategies for that fear overpower my actions and avoid taking the flight altogether.
When we use cognitive behavior therapy and exposure response prevention, we are effectively choosing to overcome and ignore those maladaptive coping strategies. We are refusing to engage in the compulsions that the OCD demands. We are taking back control of our lives from our “bad” or “limiting” habits and behaviors. It requires taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Yes, it can feel like the OCD is controlling us, but we should keep in mind that is part of us, not all of us.
We can reassert control. It is difficult and often painful. It sometimes feels impossible, like it would be easier to die than stop engaging in our maladaptive coping strategies. But when we realize that those are what are limiting us, not simply the obsessions or anxiety, we can hopefully use that perspective to make positive change in our own lives. Ideally, we can use CBT and ERP to take back ground and begin to live our lives again.