How The OCD Brain Works

How The OCD Brain Works


Many people don’t understand why someone with OCD can’t just stop thinking the thoughts they are having.  Hopefully the diagram above will help you understand what someone with OCD goes through daily in their thought process. We will use me as an example.

The first thing that happens is I get a bad thought in my head.  An example of this is a thought that I have quite frequently. I often have a thought of harming people. I feel like I am going to lose control and actually harm someone.

The next thing that happens is that I over interpret the thought. I start to give the thought meaning.

After I give the thought meaning I will start to distress about the thought and wonder, I really must want to hurt someone or I wouldn’t have this thought, I am a monster.  Maybe this isn’t OCD and I really want to harm someone.

The next step is trying to get rid of the anxiety. My flight or fight response is in overdrive. My mind is telling me to get away at all costs.  If I can’t get away I will start to do a compulsion. Usually this is in the form of mentally neutralizing the thought.  I do this by saying, You would never do that, you are not that type of person.  This works for a while and the anxiety goes away. But only for a short period.  It is called negative reinforcement .By neutralizing my thoughts I am training my brain to do mental compulsions to get rid of my anxiety.  It doesn’t work in the long run.

After my anxiety is down, I am hypersensitive to the thought I had.  My heart may still race and I may not have any energy and still be scared of the thought.

After all of this I am back to the beginning waiting for another obsessive thought. Then the cycle starts all over again. Sounds fun doesn’t it?



PART 2: With Therapy

In Therapy I am learning how to get out of this circle. I will explain how.

I will get an obsessive thought and instead of giving it importance, I say it is just an OCD thought. I am not supposed to give the thought any meaning, however, I am not supposed to suppress the thought.  I am supposed to let it sit there. (It sucks!)

My goal is to sit with my anxiety and let it peak. I am not supposed to do a compulsion or run from the anxiety provoking situation. Over time my anxiety will peak and then start to go down. (This doesn’t happen overnight, it can take week/months of exposure to start habituating)

Once it goes down, I am not as hyper sensitive to the thought as I was.  Over time the thought will not bother me.

It is easier said than done. I still struggle daily with my thoughts. Sometimes I give in and do the compulsions, but I have been able to resist them 70% of the time. It is really hard to retrain your brain, but it can be done with hard work and a good therapist.

So if you know someone with OCD and can’t understand why they can’t get thoughts out of their minds and do compulsions, hopefully this blog will have helped.

If we could just stop thinking about our thoughts, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

Stay Strong!


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