OCD and Addiction: How to Defeat Your Inner Tyrant


This article was written by author, priest, and addiction counselor Richard Hartnett.

Since the inner Tyrant plays such an important role in our obsessions and compulsions, we will examine the methods it employs to manipulate and control us. This knowledge will give us the insights and tools we need to challenge its commands. It may help to imagine the Tyrant as a con artist or a blackmailer who deceives us in order to exploit us.

In various ways the Tyrant intimidates us so much that we become preoccupied with its influence on us. We cannot stop thinking of what might happen and we lose our ability to evaluate risks realistically. We become superstitious and think that by performing certain acts we will satisfy the Tyrant and be released from our worries.

Let us now expose the faulty logic used by the Tyrant to deceive and control us.

  • Exaggeration: The Tyrant distorts our perception by exaggerating our responsibility for what might happen. It also frightens us by dismissing the possibility of any positive outcome. “If anyone gets hurt, it will be all your fault.”
  • Unfair Comparison: The Tyrant highlights our flaws by comparing us to seemingly perfect people. “You’re nothing but a selfish and lazy bum.”
  • Over generalizing: The Tyrant exploits our mistakes and imperfections to draw its conclusions about us. “Can’t you ever do anything right? You’re such a bumbling idiot.”
  • Emotional Reasoning: The Tyrant argues that our insecurity is due to our disobedience. “If only you listened to me and did what I told you to do, you wouldn’t be so worried.”
  • Repetition: The Tyrant wears us down by repeating its pronouncements over and over. “Do it again until you get it right!”
  • Jumping to Conclusions: It uses flimsy evidence to substantiate its judgments of us. “You goofed, so you’re never going to amount to anything!”
  • “Should” Thinking: The Tyrant speaks with words of obligation and duty. “You should, you must, you ought to, you have to....” It imposes impossible demands on us.
  • Second-guesses: The Tyrant instills a lot of doubt in us by questioning everything we do. “Are you sure you locked the door?”
  • Name-Calling: The Tyrant has a long list of names it uses to make us feel defective, weak, inept, inferior, inadequate, depressed, defeated, hopeless, alienated, estranged, isolated, rejected, unloved and alone. “You stupid jerk! You’re a worthless piece of junk. Who in their right mind would ever care for you?”

The ultimate effect of the Tyrant is that it diverts all our energy away from creativity into futile efforts to regain its favor. We try even harder to appease the Tyrant, but of course it will never approve of us no matter how hard we try. And this struggle also undermines or interferes with all our intimate relationships.

Helpful Tools For Long-Term Healing

Just like addiction, OCD is a chronic illness. No single method works for everyone, and relapses are not uncommon. We have exposed the subpersonalities involved and now we want to demonstrate how to activate the healing forces inside us all to subdue this painful condition.

Keep a Journal

In order to make any headway in coping with obsessions and compulsions, it is vital to gather the evidence. Writing it down prevents it from slipping away, and it provides a record for analysis. It is important that journal keeping itself doesn’t become an obsession, so there is no law that says you have to write every day or write so many words.

Go to Obsessive Compulsive Anonymous meetings

Join a fellowship of people who are applying the Twelve Steps to their common problem. You are not alone.

See a therapist

Get some guidance and encouragement from a professional psychologist or a clinical social worker. They may use some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you challenge the irrational beliefs underlying your obsessions and compulsions.

Consult a clergy person or a spiritual counselor

They may assist you in drawing strength and guidance from an inner resource. You can learn to rely upon your healthy inspirations.

Talk with a sponsor or a good friend

They can lead you through the Twelve Step approach to recovery as well as provide you with their understanding and shared experience.

Read books and go to web sites to learn about your condition

You can benefit from the experience of others in this way, as well as learn how to listen to your Healthy Self as it speaks to you through what you read and hear.

Cultivating contact with our Healthy Self is crucial for our long-term well-being. If at first we cannot locate it within us, then we can listen as it speaks through other people who are aware of its presence in them.

Our progress may be gradual, but with persistent effort we can learn to diminish the power of our obsessive and compulsive tendencies. By naming the subpersonalities of ours that lurk beneath these inclinations, we can objectify and study them. And in doing so, we automatically draw upon the wisdom and compassion of the healing forces within us.

Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.

Click here to buy "Sobriety and Inspiration" on Amazon.

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