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When Fear Makes Me Self-Sabotage My OCD Exposure Therapy

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

I’ve written before about my struggles with avoiding reading because of lingering obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. I’ve talked to my therapist about making set time plans for when to read and how much. These goals typically help me sit down and finally just open the book, rather than continue to put it off for hours or even days. What I haven’t talked about it how I sometimes self-sabotage my own exposures.

Let me set a few things straight first. I don’t want to have OCD. I do want to read for both homework and enjoyment. I do want to overall continue living in recovery. And yet, sometimes I choose to keep avoiding the reading. At the end of the day, doing an exposure or giving into OCD is a choice. Several factors play into that choice, such as how intense the anxiety is, what exposures we’ve done building up to this one, or how willing we are to do the exposure, so it’s not always an easy choice, but it is still a choice. And sometimes I purposely make the “wrong” choice: I give into OCD instead of doing the exposure I am perfectly capable of doing.

Why on earth would I do that? I’m not entirely sure, but I think it stems from some borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits, though others without a BPD diagnosis may experience this as well. Here’s the logic: If I choose to keep avoiding, if I make the “wrong” choice, that can have positive effects. If I don’t do the exposure, then I stay “sick.” Then I will get care. Then I can stay in therapy. Then I won’t be left to fend for myself.

Again, I am far along enough in my mental health recovery that “true Morgan” wants to do the exposure. She wants to read and live without being under OCD‘s control. But Morgan is also afraid. She is afraid of being independent. So not doing the exposure is a way to find attachment. It’s complicated, sure, but it makes sense.

So how do I make the “right” decision? How do I choose exposure, rather than giving into my brain’s rogue desires? Once more, I’m not entirely sure yet. I think, for me, it’s about reminding myself what there is to gain or lose. Sure, maybe I’d gain more attention if I give into OCD, but I am also gaining suffering. I am losing reading a wonderful book. I am losing time spent fretting, rather than just doing the exposure. And gaining attention (I don’t even like that word because then it sounds like attention-seeking) isn’t even guaranteed. I could give into OCD, and it’s still my brain and my responsibility to deal with it. Others may find it useful to examine which choice is aligned with their values. Still, for others, it may be enough to just remember that it is a choice.


Click here for more on self-sabotaging with borderline personality disorder.

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Originally published: March 9, 2021
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