How to cultivate new ways to respond to obsessions and compulsions
Written by Dana Jaffe
1. Take an observer stance. The focus here is putting some distance between ourselves and our thoughts. It is a skill called cognitive defusion, and the idea is to simply observe our inner world rather than getting entangled with each message.
Why it works: It counters the default OCD mindset of assigning great meaning to and placing an over importance on thoughts.
Tip: Try the act of mental noting, which is just labeling thoughts, feelings, and such with a single word to familiarize ourselves with what is happening in our subjective experience. For example, “warmth”, “anger”, “work” — or you could even use the labels “obsession” or “compulsion”. This is best combined with the step below.
2. Adopt a let it go mindset. Learn to let thoughts, feelings, and sensations come and go rather than trying to cling to, ruminate on, escape from, or control the inner experience.
Why it works: The skills of non-attachment and non-reactivity will help sticky, repetitive thoughts, and the urges to ritualize lose their charge.
Tip: Use metaphors like thinking of your thoughts as clouds in the sky, cars passing in traffic, or waves in the ocean.
3. Commit to non-judgmental acceptance of your internal experience. The emphasis here is on allowing anything and everything that arises, without trying to change it. This is a form of exposure as it encourages being brave enough to sit with discomfort.
Why it works: You CANNOT control the occurrence of unwanted thoughts or difficult emotions, in fact trying to suppress them only fuels the fire. What you CAN control is your response.
Tip: Do so with an attitude of self-compassion and loving-kindness.
4. Tune into the present moment. Present-moment awareness is a mindful pause, an attention shift to the now, and a chance to re-evaluate and move forward with intention rather than in autopilot. This often leads to choosing new alternative behaviors.
Why it works: If you ARE truly emerged in the current moment, you ARE NOT worrying about the future or ruminating over the past.
Tip: Present-moment practices are a way to ground when you are in a stressful situation and/or you notice your OCD triggers are heightened.