52: Mental Compulsions, Part 3

In this episode of Purely OCD, Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, continue the conversation on mental compulsions, in the third part of the series. The two discuss how to identify mental compulsions, what to do once you have identified them and what to expect from this practice. We will resume in 2-weeks and look forward to seeing you then!

How do we build awareness?


Kelley:  Some of the questions we had were how do we build awareness? And how do we? 

Understand your triggered content


Kelley: I have a few places to start, but one of them would be knowing your triggered conten. Being able to say, this is content that I typically get tripped up on and I get stuck on. So for example, if I’m reading a parent article on how parents are going to screw up with their child, I think, “Oh, my OCD is likely going to get tripped up here. So be aware, be extra mindful, try to be extra present, so that you can catch yourself”

Lauren: Yeah, that’s an excellent point. It’s almost like recognizing that you’ve awoken the beast. Right? The the beast can be awoken in many, many, many ways. But you’re so right that, being able to recognise that you’re entering a minefield. Now you know, this might be triggering and to be aware of how we respond.

Mindfulness meditation


Lauren: I think mindfulness meditation can be so important, so helpful because when you’re going about your daily life, and all of these things are happening, all of these sights and sounds and people vying for your attention, it can be harder to recognize that you’re having a thought too.

And so creating a space where you’re just getting really quiet. I mean, not that it has to be quiet. I think I actually mentioned this in my comment section last week, I meditated in a doctor’s office last week, right? It doesn’t have to be super quiet. However, the very nature of shutting down one of your senses like closing my eyes helps us focus. 

But also really placing your attention on a singular anchor, in the present moment, like the breath or like sound. It makes it really clear when you’ve gone off into thinking.

Kelley: And, you know, it’s a practice.  It takes a while to kind of get it on board and integrated. But noticing your emotional reaction to things can be really helpful. “Oh, I’m starting to feel anxiety. It’s in my chest etc” and be gentle and with a curiosity mindset of, what just happened there?

Is the narrative fact or fiction


Lauren: I love that point about checking in with yourself. And when you’re feeling an emotion we can look at them like an alarm system, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always alarming you to what you think it’s alarming you to. It’s sometimes completely independent of the content. But it is telling you that there’s some narrative that has been triggered up in your mind. And whether or not that narrative is, is fact or fiction is a different story.

Kelley: Yeah. Emotions are typically really inaccurate. 

Lauren: It’s like Plato’s cave, right? I’m gonna butcher this analogy… 

My recollection is essentially that the things that you’re seeing outside of the cave, are actually shadows of what’s actually occurring outside of the cave, right? So my point is that you’re not actually reacting to what’s happening. You’re reacting based on your perception of what is happening, your interpretation of what’s happening. And that’s where being aware of thoughts and thinking and emotion is so so, so important.

You’ve been triggered, now you have a choice


Kelley: Now you’re at a crossroads and you can either take road A or road B. Road A is, I can keep doing these compulsions. I keep continuing down this road. We all know where it’s gonna take me. Road B is I can turn my back on it and come back to something else that’s more important in my life. So you have a choice. And then the third step would be okay, if I’m going to go down road B, then how do I redirect and refocused?

Lauren: It is down to you, you’ve made the choice to walk down path B, well, what in the world is path B? And this is where our values and goals play such an important part in the recovery process because we don’t want to just refocus on anything because that starts to become compulsive. It becomes avoidant.  And I’m sure I’ve talked about it on here before, you and I have talked about it between distracting and refocusing our attention. Distracting, at least the conversation from my perspective, has always been that I just want to get that thought away. So I’m going to do this thing so that I don’t think about that. Which doesn’t work. It’s highly ineffective.

So the refocusing piece, is really about coming back to what you said before, which is what matters more to you than figuring this thought out? 

Recovery is not getting rid of intrusive thoughts and anxiety


Kelley: We’re not going to get rid of the anxiety in trying to avoid those intrusive thoughts.

It’s not an easy process. People get really frustrated early when they do all the things and it’s still there. Okay, keep going. That’s what recovery looks like. That’s what treatment looks like. It’s saying I don’t want to spread this illusion that somehow we’re going to get rid of intrusive thoughts and feelings of anxiety. They will always be there and it’s going to make them worse when you try to avoid, fight or try to stop them.

There’s a paradigm shift that happens in treatment that the only way to do it is by taking action differently. Right. And by running toward the thoughts and the feelings. It’s tough, but when you see that it works and that you can feel differently toward those thoughts and feelings you start to see what is possible.

Lauren Rosen, LMFT (14.40)

You will be pulled toward mental compulsions, and that’s okay


Lauren: I think the reason I wanted to speak about this specifically, because I know we both see this all the time, is people think that they are doing it wrong because the mental compulsions keep coming back. And they think that shouldn’t be happening but that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. And every time they come back, it’s another opportunity to refocus on what matters to you. 

But if you think you failed because you’ve gotten caught up in some sort of a ruminative process, then you’re going to jump into beating yourself up for having done so when the likelihood is that you got caught in it unintentionally. 

Kelley: And I would even argue that it’s an opportunity of growth. And there’s a confidence aspect, right? Where you can notice that you were triggered and caught in that cycle of rumination but where still able to get yourself untuck and bounceback. So there’s the confidence aspect. 

OCD treatment can benefit all aspects of life


Lauren: OCD treatment can really start to generalize to lots of different areas of your life. You can start to notice that you’re engaged in a thinking pattern that isn’t serving you even though it has nothing to do with anxiety. Maybe it’s just chewing on something over and over again, like a conversation that you had with somebody and you’re not coming up with what action you’re going to do differently or how you’re going to set a boundary or have a discussion. Instead, you’re just chewing and getting more and more upset. 

That’s an opportunity, right? Maybe you notice that you need to make a choice and do something that may make you feel uncomfortable but you know you need to do it anyway. You notice that you’re ruminating instead of making a decision and taking action.

What would you do when you’re brain is loud at nighttime?


Kelley: So I think the reality is that sometimes we have to accept that they’re there and still choose not to convulse but still allow ourselves to feel anxious. Maybe you don’t sleep but get up and do something else, like read a book. And that’s a choice of values, right? I’m choosing not to compose. I am trying to sleep. But maybe it’s too loud in bed in silence. So maybe I’m going to get up and read a book, all the while, it’s still going to be going off, right? 

We’re not trying to run away from it. It’s like choosing your own adventure here again because there are so many ways you can come at this. But for me, personally, I have a lot of anxiety at night. We all have anxiety all the time. But that tends to be when mine is on fire. 

Lauren: I think that that’s spot on. Generally, there’s a period of time when you just keep trying to fall asleep. That’s where I think, again, mindfulness meditation becomes so helpful because you can essentially meditate your way to sleep. By continually focusing on your present moment experience. 

Kelley: Anything other than ruminating might be I would say a good choice. 


Recommended resource:  CBTI, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, is a useful tool if you have a tendency toward insomnia.

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