If you have OCD, your thoughts and images that cause you so much distress are more than likely not correct. You are probably making mistakes in your thinking; known as thinking errors or cognitive distortions.
Correcting these mistakes in your thinking is part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a good first step to helping you with your OCD.
Your thoughts in OCD
If you have never undertaken Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, you might never have questioned the validity of your thoughts that occur before you carry out compulsions. This post is a good starting point then to look at your thoughts.
Example thoughts that may trigger compulsions
Did I lock the door? Someone could break in and harm my family, steal my stuff, and it will be my fault.
If you typically react to this type of thought and believe there is a chance that it could happen, it will make you feel anxious, and trigger you to go back and check the door.
You go back and check as you do not want to be the one responsible for harm to your family. But what if the thought was wrong?
You might accept that it could be wrong, but why take the chance and check anyway.
These anxious feelings that lead to compulsions, in this example, checking, arise from your interpretation of the event, not the event itself and is in fact a cognitive distortion; a thinking error.
There are common cognitive distortions that are used in CBT, but I want to talk to you about mistakes in your thinking that are more relevant if you have OCD.
Thinking errors related to OCD thoughts
Thought-action fusion: You believe that thinking the thought means it must be true. Having the thought itself, is just as bad as carrying it out.
Responsibility exaggeration: In your mind you overestimate your role in things. You exaggerate how accountable you would be if harm occurs, or how much to blame you would be if others come to harm. In the example of the door, you would believe that it would be your fault if something happened to your home or family.
Threat exaggeration: In this cognitive error you exagerate how likely it is that something terrible will happen; you over estimate the danger in seemingly every day occurences. In the example of wondering did you lock the door, you overestimate the threat that something terrible will happen.
Importance of thoughts: Belieiving that your intrusive thoughts mean something terrible about you as a person. See also Am I bad person for having intrusive thoughts?
Need for certainty: Believing that you need absolute certainty that nothing wrong will happen in relation to your thoughts. In the above example you would need to have complete confidence that you failing to return to check the door would not cause any harm to your home or those you love.
In the example I used above, someone could break in, harm my family, steal my stuff and it would be my fault, I want you to take a moment and test the validity of that thought using the above thinking errors.
You can see that the following cognitive distortions occur.
- Threat exaggeration
- Need for certainty
Yes, someone could break in, but it may not be your fault, they may enter through another way that is not related to the door, and the door probably is locked, remember it is your doubting that the door is locked, this does not mean that you forgot!
More than likely, no-one will break in, nothing will happen, but I can almost hear your saying, but how can I be sure? That’s your need for certainty.
You are not expected to read this short post on thinking errors and think great, that’s my OCD sorted! Instead I am guessing it might make you feel a little anxious, or thinking what good will this do me?
Talking about thinking errors in OCD is only one tiny part of how CBT helps with OCD, but if you at least start to look at your thoughts using the example thinking errors above, you are beginning to break down the hold OCD has over you.
Next time you feel the urge to carry out a compulsion, stop and check the thought or worry you had first and see what thinking errors you are making.
Further reading: Verywellmind