Hyper-responsibility. Something many OCD sufferers will find themselves battling with at some stage. I often describe it as feeling as if you have the world’s weight on your shoulders. That impending feeling of heightened responsibility, that in turn makes you fear even the smallest of things. This responsibility however, should not be mistaken as something we’ve chosen to enforce upon ourselves. I really didn’t choose to start believing that my thoughts would affect people’s wellbeing and that it was up to me to protect those close to me from ill health. It just comes as a trait of OCD. Just like people don’t choose to carry out compulsions. Instead, they feel forced and compelled to carry them out as a result of being under a crippling mountain of anxiety. It’s not as simple as just a choice.
For me, hyper-responsibility always centred around family and those close to me. I felt like I was responsible for keeping them safe from illness. That my actions could negatively impact them if I wasn’t extremely careful. Of course, rationally I knew that my internal thoughts had no impact on the physical wellbeing of those around me, however rational thinking and OCD are two things that unfortunately don’t work in tandem! OCD pushes aside any rational thoughts and can make you think the most craziest of things. What makes it difficult is that hyper-responsibility can start off a negative loop. You have the fears created by hyper-responsibility, such as “what if my thoughts make my family ill, I must protect them”, which in turn will trigger off a wave of anxiety that will usually prompt a compulsion (mental or physical) in response to try and alleviate some of that heightened anxiety. However, as we know, carrying out compulsions only gives short term relief and before you know it those thoughts creep back in, the anxiety returns and the cycle starts again. This can be incredibly frustrating to the sufferer, as it feels like a never ending loop. However, what’s crucial in the process of breaking these negative cycles is the intervention before the thoughts take over, thus hopefully preventing the compulsion from coming into play. Of course, I know this is much easier said than done, but it really is the key.
Now there are many ways of going about trying to break this negative cycle. Some people would argue that one way is better than the other, however the most important thing is what way works best for you. Each persons OCD is individual to them and so techniques used to tackle their OCD will be too. From my experience, what I do to try and tackle the thought “what if my thoughts make my family ill, I must protect them”, would be to tackle it in stages. So for me, stage 1 is identifying the thought and when I feel that pang of anxiety spike, take a step back and try to talk back to the negative voice. Now, like I said earlier, OCD and rational thinking don’t really work together too well, so talking back to the negative OCD voice can be very tricky, but it is possible. I would then try and talk myself through the thought. “Do I really have any impact mentally on others wellbeing?” “Thoughts are just thoughts, nothing else,” and then I would challenge it and talk back (mentally or physically) to this controlling voice. If I then felt the urge to carry out a compulsion to ‘neutralise’ the thought, I would try and delay it. So I would wait a minute before carrying out the compulsion and then the next time I would try 5, then 10 ect, and depending on how confident/stable I felt at the time, build up until I was able to sit with the thought until the anxiety subsides, without carrying out the compulsion. This most definitely did not happen overnight, it takes time. OCD is one tough cookie and it will take some beating down, but just take the process slow and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to resist compulsions, or if a thought takes charge again. Stage 2 would commence after I am able to sit with the thought after challenging it and not carry out a compulsion. Now when I get the thought “what if my thoughts make my family ill, I must protect them,” instead of acknowledging it and challenging it, I ignore it. I try and allow to pass as just a thought, because that’s really what it is. Once I’ve given myself a better understanding of how my thoughts work and the rational side of them through stage 1, I then work on not letting them even get a word in. This is really the end goal in this particular process for me, because you will never be able to stop yourself from intrusive thoughts (intrusive thoughts being the powerhouse behind the hyper-responsibility) Everyone has them! It’s just what you do to deal with them that is key.
Hopefully this was somewhat helpful?! I find it quite difficult typing out mental processes, but hopefully this might have helped in some way. Also, I recently created a Facebook page, so feel free to visit if you’d like. Click for FB page. 🙂