Compassion for Compulsions: Why You Are Not the Problem


Doing and thinking things repeatedly when the rational mind knows the repetition is unnecessary causes many people to think, “What is wrong with me?”

Unfortunately, we tend to think of something being wrong with our self or soul, instead of limiting the problem to a glitch in the brain.

We should be able to transition smoothly from one activity to the next, knowing that the first activity is completed. If this transition doesn't occur, it is not because we are weak-willed or choose to be a worrywart.

So what is the problem? What goes on in our gray matter when we check the lock on the front door for the 10th time in a half-hour?

Transition Trouble

Although much of the mechanism behind OCD is still a mystery, many scientists believe the biochemical problem is related to the brain’s striatum.

Your brain’s striatum has two parts:

  1. the caudate nucleus
  2. the putamen

The caudate nucleus and putamen work together to filter and process the complex signals sent from the frontal cortex, or front part of the brain. The frontal cortex is considered responsible for planning, thinking, movement and feeling.

If the striatum is not processing signals properly, there will be hiccups in our planning, thinking, movement and feeling. We call these hiccups, such as repeatedly checking a door lock, symptoms of OCD.

A hiccup can occur when a person decides to do something or move. If intrusive signals for other movements or feelings are not properly filtered out by the striatum, the transition to the desired movement will be disrupted (hiccup).

When a smooth transition to a desired activity does not happen, the frontal cortex becomes over-active, trying to force the transition to take place.

Where the Compulsion Repeat Behaviors Come From

In the front part of a person’s brain is an area named the orbital cortex. It is designed to detect system errors, or hiccups. If the orbital cortex becomes overheated and continues to detect a problem, a person will get the feeling that “something is wrong” and must be taken care of, even if it has already been done.

Put Blame Where It Belongs

With great effort, individuals in treatment for OCD learn to override the danger signal being sent by the orbital cortex, and this eventually resets the transition mechanism of the striatum so that it functions smoothly.

Part of becoming free from the symptoms is realizing symptoms are not who you are. When you can separate yourself from the symptoms and view them objectively, or as if you are a bystander, it will be possible to work on disobeying the impulse to repeat thoughts and actions.

Meanwhile, if you have OCD, keep reminding yourself that there is nothing wrong with you, the person. You are not being punished, are not bad, weak, and do not deserve OCD.

Source: Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders

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