Self-Compassion: Treating Yourself with Kindness in OCD Battles

Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is difficult enough, but if you lack self-compassion, it can not only make daily life more difficult but can also slow down your recovery. I shall give you a quick example before I go on with the article.

Let’s say you came to me for therapy ( I am a psychologist .) From experience, I know the courage it takes not just to make the appointment but to tell a stranger of the thoughts you have been having in your head. You are deeply ashamed of them and worried, hence seeking therapy. If I then criticised you and talked down to you, looked and sounded horrified by what you said and told you what a despicable person you were, it would destroy you. So why do that to yourself?

This research paper defined self-criticism as negative self-evaluation that results in feeling worthless, guilty and a failure. Those feelings alone are why I have worked with people over the years as they lack confidence or feel depressed, and if you are adding those feelings on top of an OCD diagnosis, I am guessing you feel very bad indeed.

If you were in session with me now and I witnessed any critical self-evaluations, I would stop you right away; I would be horrified, and for many people, seeing another human being genuinely upset at how you are talking to yourself is a shock. You get so used to a certain style of self-talk that you do not question it, but you never would speak to anyone else with such a lack of compassion.

When I was doing my research for this article, I came across this excellent article from the BBC, and I recommend you read it when you have time. It has a wonderful quote from Kristen Neff from the University of Texas: ‘ Most of us have a good friend in our lives who is unconditionally supportive. Self-compassion is learning to be that same warm, supportive friend to yourself.’

You really do need to be able to support yourself, be a friend to yourself and be kind when you are going through therapy to help yourself with your OCD.

How self-criticism affects your chance of recovery

Some things can only be gleaned from experience, and what I have seen over my two decades of helping people with OCD is that the way you talk to yourself inside your head, not your obsessions but your critical self-talk, really affects how well you get on in therapy. It is anxiety-provoking when you start to work on your obsessions, letting them happen, and trying not to ease the pain through compulsive behaviours, which is what we do in exposure response prevention (ERP.) All the textbooks, self-help books, and therapists will give instructions on how to carry this out, but what they may lack in recognising is the self-critical dialogue that affects therapy but may not be treated as it is technically not part of OCD.

Dr Elaine Ryan Founder of MoodSmith, PsychD

Self-criticism is a common trait among individuals with OCD. It often manifests as harsh, negative self-talk, with individuals berating themselves for their obsessions and compulsions. This self-criticism just makes your symptoms worse, creating a vicious cycle of distress.

If you are constantly criticising yourself, you increase the sense of responsibility and guilt that goes along with OCD, which makes you more anxious, and inevitability leads to more compulsions. Not addressing your self-talk is, therefore, an integral part of treatment.

Research has pointed to the therapeutic benefits of self-compassion in mental health treatment. In the context of OCD, self-compassion has been found to reduce anxiety and depression, common comorbid conditions. This same self compassion is also necessary for the mental health of your therapist, as this paper has shown that although often neglected, self compassion is a buffer for mental health professionals as well.

How to be kinder to yourself

Mindfulness I would say is to best place to start. There is a loving kindness meditation that you can do and I shall be honest, it might sound a bit silly but I can speak from personal experience, it really does change how you treat yourself in a positive way. This is how I personally do a loving kindness mediation.

  • Start by sitting comfortably
  • eyes open or closed, whatever feels best
  • then bring your attention to your breathing, don’t change it, be aware of breathing in and out, then start to say the following to yourself silently
  • may I be happy
  • may I be healthy
  • may I be kind

That’s it. Over time what you are doing is cultivating kindness towards yourself and it can counteract the otherwise harsh self-talk.

You can also use cognitive restructuring which I have already detailed in this article.

Self-Compassion Affirmations for OCD

Self-compassion affirmations are powerful tools for challenging and softening self-critical thoughts. They can be used to foster a kinder self-dialogue and to reinforce the practice of self-compassion.

Here are some examples of self-compassion affirmations tailored for individuals with OCD:

  1. “I am not my OCD. I am a person who is dealing with OCD.”
  2. “I am doing the best I can, and that is enough.”
  3. “I am worthy of love and compassion, just as I am.”
  4. “I am more than my thoughts and feelings.”
  5. “I am learning and growing, even when it doesn’t feel like it.”

Gentle reminders

I would recommend printing those out to taking note on your phone so you have them with you when you start to be rude towards yourself.

  1. “What would I say to a friend who was experiencing the same thoughts and feelings as I am?”
  2. “How can I show myself kindness in this moment?”
  3. “What are some strengths or positive qualities that I possess despite my struggles with OCD?”
  4. “How can I remind myself that I am not alone in my struggles?”
  5. “What are some ways I can practice self-care and self-compassion today?”

As a final I cannot stress enough how important it is to show kindness and compassion towards yourself, even long after you have conquered your OCD, always be kind to yourself.

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