The Mighty Logo

Why Separating Perception From Reality Is So Important With OCD

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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.

The ability to say no to others is a common way people are taught to unburden themselves from taking on too many obligations — be it social, business or other tasks from the outside world that don’t need to be your responsibility. You can learn about the ins and outs of this pretty much anywhere.

When it comes to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the overburdening of daily life comes most often from within. Of course, there is an external stimulus that feeds OCD. For some, it is primarily external; but in the end, the burden of responsibility is built in the brain.

It is very important to first — before all else — envision the division between your brain and the world outside of your brain. What goes on in one is affected by the other (both ways), but realizing a division is there is tremendously important.

This is not to say dealing with any of this is simple. It isn’t. OCD makes what should be simple into something complex. But we’ll keep with the “simple” label for the sake of describing this example.

Cleaning the house. Keeping the house clean. Having a clean house. Needing a clean house. Needing things to be organized and right. Needing others to keep up on what has been done to keep the house organized and right.

There are two things going on here:

1. The cleanliness and organization of the house.

2. Your perception of the cleanliness and organization of the house.

The formula above adds only “your perception” to the second value. Everything else is the same. We’re still dealing with “the cleanliness and organization of the house” in each, but they are distinct situations.

Apply this to any situation. Separate your perception and consider it to be its own thing. Both are important; we’re not looking to eliminate either. But we are going to focus on the second item more so than the first.

The house is as clean as it is. It is as organized as it is.

Here’s the thing: it is OK. Everything is OK. No matter what state things are in, they can be OK. And because they can be OK, we’ll consider them OK.

This does not mean you should stop organizing or cleaning your house. Chances are, you’re not going to stop anyway.

However, it is so important to separate the perception from reality. The reality is. It is OK as it is. It can be better, it can be worse, but it is OK.

Your brain most likely does not see it this way. Your brain is filled with thoughts of what bad can happen if the house remains as clean as it is — which is not clean enough.

You may think things are contaminated. Things are rotting. You may fear being judged by guests. There are probably a thousand other, similar thoughts of eventualities regarding the effect of the state of the cleanliness and organization of the house.

However, you need to separate the “effect of” as part of your perception.

And you need to say no to your perception. Somehow, someway. Everyone needs to find the mental strength to say no in their own way. And it will probably be difficult.

Your goal is to realize your perception is a different entity than reality. The reality isn’t important to OCD, so why not go with the separation and realize since your mind is going to control everything anyway, focus on using your energy to force it into submission.

Tell your brain no. In this example, tell your brain you’re going to accept the current state of cleanliness and organization of the house no matter what.

And keep to it! Be stubborn with your brain!

The reality is OK. It can be changed, but it doesn’t need to be. No one says it needs to be other than you. So remove the “need” part. Realize that the formula is:

1. (Situation)

2. Your perception of (Situation)

And tell your brain no.


Until it gets it:


Getty image by Victor_Tongdee

Originally published: October 23, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home