Caryn Gill, LPC

Unraveling Mental Compulsions: A Creative Path to Freedom

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Today, we’re diving deep into the world of mental compulsions – those sneaky thoughts and patterns that tend to fuel our OCD and anxiety. But don’t worry, we’re not just going to shine a light on them; we’ll also explore practical ways to resist their grasp and set ourselves free. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it!

Identifying Mental Compulsions: Unmasking the Tricks

You know those thoughts that come barging in, uninvited, disturbing your mental peace and demanding your attention? Yep, those are mental compulsions! They often take the form of endless “what if” scenarios, worst-case scenarios, or intrusive images, all aimed at reducing the anxiety that OCD brings to the party.

Here are some telltale signs of mental compulsions to look out for:

Rumination: I like to call this one “Figuring it Out.” Maybe if you think hard enough, a resolution to the doubt will come. Maybe the answer is right around the corner. Rumination can feel like you’re doing something to address OCD, so even if it doesn’t feel productive, the intention is to try to get out of OCD by thinking it through.

Mental Checking: You feel compelled to analyze your thoughts and feelings repeatedly. You might be seeking reassurance or for some clue that everything is okay. You might be checking to see how you’re feeling emotionally or physically. It’s the equivalent of looking over your shoulder to see if the boogeyman is there.

Thought Replacement: You attempt to counter obsessional thoughts with “good” thoughts, hoping to make the bad ones disappear.

Mental Review: This one involves evaluating past actions or conversations. Your mind keeps replaying distressing thoughts or events over and over like a broken record, trying to find answers that never seem to come. You might be seeking certainty about some big unanswerable question. You might be looking for proof that something did or didn’t happen.

Compulsive Flooding: Deliberately picturing worst-case scenarios seems counterintuitive, but if we’re thinking about the function, its compulsive nature becomes clear. You might engage in compulsive flooding in order to check your preparedness for dealing with your feared catastrophic ending. Or maybe you flood yourself with distress in order to punish yourself, as a way to “pay” for your wrongdoing. You might flood yourself with disturbing images or thoughts to test how you feel, which leads into compulsive mental checking.

Embracing Rebellion: Taking Charge of Your Mind

Identifying these mental compulsions is just the first step on the path to liberation from OCD. Now comes the exciting part – practicing resistance! Remember, it’s not about eradicating anxiety altogether, but rather, changing our relationship with it. Here’s how:

Mindful Awareness: Cultivate mindfulness to observe your thoughts without judgment. Acknowledge the mental compulsions when they arise, and remind yourself that they are just invitations to engage with OCD. You can decline this invitation!

Label Those Sneaky Compulsions: Give your mental compulsions funny or absurd names. It may sound silly, but it creates some psychological distance, allowing you to see them for what they are – mere tricks of the mind.

Stay Present: OCD loves when you interact with it. It’s like a social media app– its main goal is that you don’t leave, and it’s designed in a way to keep you glued to its metaphorical screen. The more you engage with it, though, the more glued you become. Put OCD down and snap back into reality. What’s actually happening in the here-and-now when you’re outside the OCD bubble?

Set Time Limits: Limit the time you spend engaging with mental compulsions. For instance, you could say, “I’ll entertain this thought for just five minutes, then I’ll move on.” Gradually decrease the time you allocate for them. When you moved on, what actually happened? Were your obsessional fears any more real than when you were ritualizing? Maybe you believe that you aren’t able to just let OCD go. This approach disproves that and shows you that you’re far more capable than OCD has convinced you that you are.

Remember Your Why: Compulsions serve OCD at the cost of your life, your freedom, your fulfillment. What are you missing out on when you ritualize? Take a second to shift and move towards what and who you actually value. Savor the experience of living in line with the kind of life you want for yourself.

If OCD has led you so far astray from your true destination in life, you might want to check out my free Envision Your Why worksheet, which comes directly to your email when you sign up for my newsletter!

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