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How to overcome OCD and the feeling that our brain is bullying us?

Why does OCD act like a bully?

OCD can feel like the brain is bullying us. It can be terrifying, frustrating and uses fear to control us. It can cause embarrassment and shame and will continue until we find a way to stand up to it. OCD is a cruel condition that can take control of every aspect of our lives and it is difficult to cope and deal with much like with bullying. I believe there are a number of similarities linked to experiencing bullying and experiencing OCD, I’m going to explain four of these below.

1. Bullies use fear to control their victims, and so does OCD.

Fear is such a powerful response in humans; that when we feel bullied then our fear can lead us to do anything to keep the bully happy. The fears, thoughts and emotions caused by OCD can be terrifying, which can be linked to the fight or flight system. This is an inbuilt survival/alarm system - the anxiety system- in our brains that is designed to protect us when it assesses that we are at risk of physical or psychological harm. As anyone who has experienced OCD will know, the feelings linked to fear are very strong and cause such a powerful response that the feelings can override the logical side of our brain and cause us to doubt ourselves. These fears take over us and can dictate our thoughts and actions—much like a bully does.

2. Bullies can torment and threaten to do something to us or a loved one if we don't do what they tell us to do, and so does OCD

Of course, the thing with OCD is that it knows all of our worst fears intimately. When the threat system is triggered off, the worries/fears can feel very real and terrifying. This can be because of what our brain tries to make us believe will happen if we do not listen to it. OCD can drive us to act in ways to protect ourselves and others from psychological harm due to the threats it creates.

3. Bullying leads to embarrassment, shame, and self-criticism and so can OCD

When we experience OCD there can often be a sense of shame and embarrassment linked to it. This can sometimes be because someone will unfairly blame themselves for having OCD. Likewise, bullying can lead to self-criticism and shame as someone may incorrectly blame themselves for that. The can lead to self-criticism which can then lead to low self-confidence and low self-worth. The shame we feel can make it difficult to talk to others about what we are going through, the same way that bullying is difficult to talk about. This can sometimes make it more difficult to access the help we need. On the one hand, logic tells us that we should not think or behave in some of the ways that OCD makes us, but then emotionally the anxiety and the fear is so strong that we cannot stop. This can lead to frustration and more anxiety and low mood as we may feel more hopeless about not being able to overcome it.

4. Bullying will usually continue unless we stand up for ourselves and so will OCD

Of course, because of all these reasons bullying is hard to deal with. Anybody who's experienced bullying will know how hard it is to stand up to a bully; it can feel like it's impossible and we can feel stuck or trapped. It's the same with OCD; it can feel like there's no way out of it and no way to change because the feelings, thoughts and emotions are so powerful. However, as with any fear, if we learn how to understand it then we can learn to manage it and face our fears to ultimately overcome it as best as possible. So in terms of trying to understand OCD I think it is important to ask the following question.

When we experience OCD, why does it feel like the brain bullies us?

It can feel like the brain bullies us because of the impact of OCD. However, when we look at the definition of bullying, "repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone emotionally or physically”, it’s clear that the parallel isn’t entirely accurate. Though OCD causes us harm in terms of psychological distress, the intention of the anxiety system is entirely the opposite. As OCD is linked to the anxiety system it is there to try to protect us from emotional and physical harm, not to harm us. The problem is that the anxiety system is overprotective and has the mindset of “better safe than sorry”. For example, the brain assesses that having the thought of doing something bad is the same as actually doing that behaviour and so it makes us check that we have not done that, leading to compulsive behaviours. So sometimes due to the anxiety system being overprotective it can mean that we develop a fear of certain thoughts. The more we fear the thoughts/emotions/physical symptoms linked to anxiety, the more we will have them. So although it can feel like the brain is bullying it acts more like an overprotective parent. Sometimes, although parents may have good intentions in terms of protecting their children, the parents can end up being too cautious and preventing their children facing theirs fears which prevents them building their confidence about facing certain situations. This is how I believe OCD can work in the brain and so once we start to understand the underlying processes linked to OCD, we can learn about how to face it and deal with it.

So how do we deal with the feeling that the brain is bullying us?

-Recognise the bully for what it is, a part of our brain which acts like an overprotective parent, which has the mindset of being better safe than sorry. It is not our fault that the anxiety system is over cautious and trying to protect us but it is within our control to help build up the systems confidence about facing certain thoughts and feelings and so once we prove to it that we can face the thoughts, feelings and emotions then we prove to it that it does not need to be as protective.

-Recognise that the more we shy away from the fears, the more we fear we will experience and the longer it will impact us.

-Recognise that there are ways to help us face our feared thoughts, emotions, behaviours in a gradual way.

-Recognise the importance of giving ourselves credit for any time we face our fears.

-Recognise there are ways to help us through the process of facing our fears such as CBT, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and EMDR, through the help of a therapist or through self-help approaches.

Please get in contact today if you would like to talk more about overcoming OCD

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