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How I’m Challenging My OCD Through ‘Social Norms’

I was recently asked how I challenge my OCD. I love open-ended questions, though when I go to write about them my brain goes into overdrive trying to map out all the directions. I can detail my thoughts on sections, subsections, tangential ideas and the whole set of spaghetti-looking roads my ideas travel. So I’ll try to keep this simple and allow for this to evolve in future writing.

OCD exists internally and externally. People with OCD experience different weights to each of these two categories. Obsession is often internal, compulsions are often external. I have Pure-O OCD, so most of my OCD exists internally.

However, the brain is the key here in challenging OCD — in taking it on. One can never solve OCD but it can be muffled. Not muted completely but muffled.

But how? It is so loud, it is always right and it takes over all thinking!

One of the ways I defend against my OCD taking over and how I work on containing it is through social interaction. We all feel social pressures of all sorts and according to a variety of norms. How we interact with others is a key part of how our brain wants us to work.

I am extremely socially awkward. I have social anxiety and I avoid a lot of socialization. However (maybe this is not ironic and is part of the whole package), I am extremely aware of how I feel I need to act in social situations.

So here’s the deal. People are wrong. People are wrong all the time. Other people who don’t think as forward as I do — people who don’t need perfection, people without a concept that every eventuality thinking can find an end game — are wrong!

Wrong in terms of how my brain observes them through the lens of OCD.

Of course logically, people are not this wrong. Sure, they can be wrong at the time and so can I. But I am accepting the base situation I’m going to work from as a known illogical state. OCD is not logical in its architecture, though it is based on different forms of logic.

The key here is I feel everyone is wrong. I know why I feel they are wrong. I know how I would do what they’re doing differently.

This is my OCD. It needs to be challenged.

The world of socialization (of other people) is a great way to challenge OCD. It comes prepackaged with norms, expectations and all sorts of things that one going through an OCD episode will find the need to skip over to soothe obsessions over anything. We are an affront to the rules of socializing.

And I am not going to defend the rules of socialization, as many of them are bunk anyway.

However, these rules should be respected somewhat and they can be used to put a pick on OCD — to move OCD thinking around when pure internal thought won’t do.

We all live in a society and we all have relationships of some sort (some more than others and some of these relationships are closer than others). Let’s focus on the closest relationships we have.

In my experience, the longer I’ve had a relationship with someone and the closer it is, the more license I feel I have to let my OCD just go — to ask of the other person to not only accept my OCD but be subjected to it. And it can be a wrath!

For example, I like everything around me to be planned. My OCD requires I know what is going to happen around me well before it happens. I don’t like surprises and I don’t like any unplanned events. Now, some events can be planned, some should be planned — but some cannot be planned. So there is an irrational component to how my OCD works here and that is what I focus on.

I naturally apply my own set of norms — ruled by my OCD — to all situations. And if I am close with someone, I am pretty open about my feelings here. I don’t get angry but I get moody, which can be just as off-putting. I am moody when an unplanned event happens that I am reeled into.

My moodiness is not good. It is not good for relationships. It is not logical and people do not like being around someone attempting to impose illogical rules — which I do.

I am also acutely aware of social norms. Very much so. I have this pressure on me and I’ve found I can use this pressure for good for myself (and in consequence, those around me).

While part of me wants to just go with my OCD as a rule of law, I’ve learned to use social pressures to stop short of the compulsive action outside my brain and keep the OCD to myself — stop the OCD from leaving my brain as the first course of action.

Now, this has social benefits but that is less relevant here. What is relevant is that I’ve muffled my OCD somewhat. It is still brewing in my brain all the same and thus is not solved completely. But I’ve taken it down a notch.

If we look at OCD-caused reactions internally and externally as one score — as one number on a linear scale — I’ve decreased my OCD in some way. The score has gone down.

This is progress! This is using something external to lessen OCD in total.

There is still a lot of work I need to do to muffle my OCD internally and my OCD exists primarily this way. But I can use pressures not of my own making (social) to defend against OCD. To move it. To muffle it.

All that matters is that I’ve lessened some part of the OCD. The most important parts? The most damaging parts? No. But a part. And that is all that matters.

I’ve used social norms to muffle my OCD because those social norms come prepackaged as a force.

Use the forces around you to act on OCD.