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What It's Like to Live With Emotional Harm OCD

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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.

Harm obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) doesn’t have to be about physical harm, though this is the most common way it’s described. For example, when we think of harm OCD, we often associate it with distressing intrusive thoughts about physically injuring someone. We don’t typically think of someone with harm OCD as being fixated on the fear of causing emotional harm. However, this can absolutely be a way in which harm OCD manifests.

I personally have been a victim of emotional and psychological abuse, and this has contributed to me being particularly hypervigilant about causing emotional harm to others. The idea of causing emotional or psychological harm to people I love is incredibly ego-dystonic to me, and fills me with guilt and shame. OCD thrives on these feelings, so it can build upon itself in a vicious spiral like a whirlpool threatening to pull me under.

When I’m experiencing an OCD flare, I feel like I’ve been body snatched. I become consumed by terror that I’m secretly a horrible person, all I do is hurt people, and I’m inevitably going to hurt the people I love. These thoughts and feelings quickly become magnified to a grossly disproportionate size, and before I know it, I’m unconsciously practicing compulsions like ruminating in an attempt to resolve my all-consuming distress.

I can be so “in my own head” ruminating, obsessing, and fighting back anxious thoughts that it can take me out of moments I should be connecting with the people I love. While entangled in the midst of my OCD fears of causing emotional or psychological harm to those I care about, I inadvertently hurt them in reality. It can make me feel helpless and like I’m on a merry-go-round I can’t control.

When my anxiety is exacerbated and I find myself ruminating, it helps me to remember the true reason why distressing thoughts keep coming up is because they’re highly effective at distracting and preoccupying me. OCD thrives on making you come face-to-face with your worst fears in your own mind, only to exhaust you as you struggle against those fears.

The best things I’ve found to help me counter the anguish caused by my OCD are:

1. Recognizing what I’m experiencing are OCD symptoms, and therefore nothing productive or meaningful can come from ruminating on what I’m experiencing, no matter how much my OCD tries to convince me otherwise.

2. Acknowledging OCD targets what means the most to us, and the fact I experience distressing thoughts and feelings due to my OCD is actually only further evidence they aren’t true or valid.

3. Sitting with my anxiety until it passes instead of seeking to “get rid of” the distressing sensations with compulsions.

4. Practicing self-compassion and understanding why it is I have developed OCD, and particularly this presentation.

5. Going about my day and actions as though I don’t have OCD so it can’t hold me back and reinforce itself through perpetuating fear and shame.

6. Recalling how I thought, felt, and behaved before I developed OCD, and remembering this is who I truly am, not the person my OCD has turned me into due to fear and avoidance.

I’ve honestly found my OCD to be the most debilitating and upsetting thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s incredibly challenging to deal with and when I’m going through a difficult period with symptoms, every day feels like a marathon. However, I’ve also come a long way with my recovery, and I know there are brighter days ahead.

A key inspiration for me when I’ve felt lost or disillusioned with my recovery journey has been reading positive stories from others. I encourage you to share your experiences below, and cheer each other on, particularly if you can relate to my story. No matter how awful your OCD can feel or how isolated you might think you are in your experiences, you are not alone. You can get through this.

Unsplash image by Marcos Rivas

Originally published: October 11, 2021
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