Feeling the need to compulsively confess every minor indiscretion you may or may not have done can be a symptom of OCD. This article shows how people with OCD, consumed with guilt, doubt and worry, falsely believe the only way to feel better is to confess, which can be as extreme as wanting to disclose what they think they may have done to the authorities.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is where the person obsesses over something and then feels compelled to do something to feel better or prevent something bad from happening.
What is compulsive confession in OCD?
This is when the person obsesses over something they may or may not have done and feels the urge to confess to alleviate the anxiety they are experiencing. This compulsion to confess is driven by intrusive, unwanted thoughts and images that create a feeling of negative and uncomfortable guilt. Compulsive confession aims to reduce this guilt and get some form of reassurance from the people they confess to.
The person might confess to a religious figure, a friend, a family member, or someone in a position of authority. It could also be ritualized, such as having to disclose a certain number of times or in a particular order, or non-ritualized, such as confessing until the individual feels relief from the stress of intrusive thoughts.
What are the symptoms of compulsive confession?
The symptoms of feeling the need to confess or disclose thoughts or urges due to compulsive confession OCD include:
- Intrusive thoughts, images, memories, and flashbacks about what happened.
- Intrusive thoughts and worries about being immoral, bad, mean, sick, racist, deceitful, cruel, hypocritical, despicable, or unauthentic.
- Thoughts about needing punishment for your actions.
- Overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame.
- An overwhelming need to confess even when the indiscretions are very slight
These thoughts are often too strong to resist, and the person may feel compelled to confess or disclose the thoughts or urges to someone. This compulsion can lead to a cycle of anxiety, relief, and anxiety as the person feels the need to confess or disclose more minor issues.
The need to confess differs from the need to apologize, often used to seek reassurance. Confessions can also be used to seek solace, as people with OCD may think that if they confess, then the consequences, such as the children getting sick from eating the cookies, will not be their fault. However, this only reinforces the cycle of obsession and compulsion and does not provide long-term relief.
The experience of relief after confession can contribute to the symptoms of compulsive confession OCD in several ways:
- The immediate relief and sense of freedom can become addictive, making it harder for someone to resist the urge to confess.
- The longer the cycle continues, the shorter the relief lasts, and the more dependent someone can become on this release. The process can become so entrenched and consuming that the only way to break it is to become uncomfortable.
- Those who struggle with compulsive confession OCD can benefit from learning to tolerate “having a secret” and gradually increasing the time between confessions.
- Confessing to avoid anxiety or distress
What causes compulsive confession in OCD?
The cause of compulsive confession OCD is unresolved guilt. People with OCD often ruminate on past events, worrying about doing something wrong and feeling guilty. This guilt can be challenging to resolve and become a cycle of rumination and confession as the person seeks relief from the responsibility by confessing.
As a result, this guilt can become a source of guilt and shame, causing an increase in intrusive thoughts, worries and feelings of needing punishment for the perceived wrongs. Compulsive confession OCD is a struggle to gain control and emotional relief from these overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame.
How do you recognize that you are compulsively confessing your thoughts or obsessions?
- First, be mindful of your thoughts, and whether you have any obsessions or compulsions you cannot control.
- Pay close attention to any confessions that you make. Are you confessing more than usual? Are the confessions repetitive and excessive? Do they come after specific events or situations? Are they directed towards religious figures, family and friends, or partners?
- Are you seeking reassurance from other people after confessing? Does confessing make you feel better, or do you only feel temporary relief?
- Lastly, does this compulsion to confess interfere with your daily functioning?
This article from PsychologyToday may help you determine if your thoughts are part of OCD.
How to stop compulsively confessing
Step 1: Recognize that compulsively confessing your OCD thoughts or obsessions is a symptom of your OCD. Understanding its purpose and underlying nature is the first step in overcoming it.
Step 2: Practice exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) with the help of a trained therapist. ERP is designed to help you resist the ritual of confessing and practice processing the anxiety that comes with it.
You can read more on ERP here; this article will help you start practising ERP at home.
Step 3: Instruct the people in your life whom you usually turn to for reassurance not to indulge your confessions. Explain to them why confessing is a symptom of your OCD and ask them to remind you instead of reassuring you.
Step 4: Rather than confess, label your thoughts as a symptom of OCD. Tell yourself inside your head I have just had an OCD thought.
Step 5: Create a plan outlining specific goals and strategies for overcoming compulsions. This plan should include steps for addressing the causes of your compulsions and activities designed to help you recognize and manage your anxiety.
Step 6: Stick to your plan and be patient with yourself. Recovery from compulsions takes time, but with consistent effort and dedication, you can learn to take control of your thoughts and reduce the need to confess compulsively.