If you have OCD, learning new ways of managing difficult thoughts, feelings and urges with CBT for OCD is the key to living the life you want rather than the one OCD convinces you to lead. One of the approaches we focus on in overcoming OCD with CBT is to learn to relate differently to your thinking. There are many helpful metaphors which might help you to relate differently to your thoughts, but I particularly like this one…
It might help you to imagine your OCD as something like a very experienced, driven, but flawed prosecutor in a court of law. Think back to watching American courtroom dramas at the movies or on Netflix and picture the most opportunistic prosecutor who will stop at nothing until he can prove you are guilty.
The OCD prosecutor believes you are guilty and responsible for causing harm until proven innocent. You’re in the dock and you’re on trial. You, as the defendant, naturally want to defend yourself and prove the prosecutor wrong beyond all reasonable doubt. However, whenever you do this, you are playing into the hands of the prosecutor. Your problem is that you are trying to obtain proof for something which hasn’t happened. This defence case is going to cost you, and big-time. Hours of worry, guilt, shame, wasted hours putting in the effort of trying to argue your side of the story, proving once and for all, beyond certainty that you weren’t, couldn’t be or are never capable of causing the harm or wreckless abandon you fear. The OCD prosecutor means to win, and will use every doubt-enhancing trick in the book to keep you defending. You might get temporary evidence, but very soon the OCD prosecution will come back for another round, with another witness or another event.
You may even plead the defence that “it’s not me, it’s my OCD”. Often this will create a temporary adjournment in proceedings (to continue the metaphor), but occasionally a particularly crafty prosecutor can even use this against you. “What if you don’t have OCD, and these thoughts are a sign that you are a terrible person?” Forewarned is forearmed, it is true, it’s not you, it is your OCD, but a hotshot lawyer will even try to get you to doubt the diagnosis.
Fortunately, if you watch US courtroom dramas, you’ll know there is a route out of this. You can plead the right to remain silent. By telling the prosecutor that you choose not to respond to their demands for proof that you could not or would not act in the way you fear, be what you fear, or be to blame for what you fear might happen, you give the prosecutor no more material to work with. Over time the case will fall apart. There is no evidence to be found, no certainty to be obtained. You can choose to walk away from the proceedings, knowing that you no longer have to play into the hands of the prosecution.
Of course, this isn’t as easy as it sounds, but the metaphor itself may help to remind you not to play into the hands of your OCD mind. Working alongside a CBT therapist you’ll learn strategies to take you through the changes in thinking and behaviour which will help you to reduce your distress.
You can read a little more here: What is obsessive compulsive disorder?
Ali Binns is a CBT therapist based in Bath. She helps clients to manage their anxiety and mood using evidence-based cognitive behavioural strategies.