Confessing as a Compulsion
Today our hosts, Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, are here to talk to you about confession as a compulsion.
This comes up a lot. More than you might realize. The difficulty lies in its sneaky ability to crop up without noticing it as a compulsive behavior. It often takes the form of subtle reassurance-seeking.
So, without further ado…
Let’s dive in!
Confession was one of my earliest compulsions
Kelley: I think confessing was one of my earliest forms of compulsion. I remember specifically, that I was playing hide and seek and I had broken a lock in one of the guestrooms in my grandparent’s house. It was just a janky lock and I broke it. At first, I blamed my cousins, Holly and then Cali, but then I had this overwhelming feeling that I had done something bad.
So I confessed and told my gran that it was me. I told them I was just kidding, it wasn’t my cousins, but it was actually my fault. And I felt so much relief because I received positive reinforcement for confessing.
I was told that they were proud of me for doing the hard thing, taking ownership, and confessing.
When to know if confession is a problem
Lauren: I just want to point out, because of the example you used, that the initial confession is not a problem. If you’re apologizing and taking ownership of something we’re not saying that there’s anything wrong with that.
Confessing becomes problematic when you start confessing when you haven’t done anything wrong, and it becomes excessive.
For example, when you’re almost confessing all of your thoughts because you want someone to validate you and reassure you that you’re not a bad person.
Kelley: I used to do that all the time and I didn’t even realize it.
Lauren: And that’s what’s so hard, right? All of these behaviors we talk about can be compulsive and not compulsive. Many times I share things with you because I want validation, but I’m not doing it excessively. I’m not doing it over and over again with this sense of urgency even though it’s not going to change anything. Versus it being the right thing to do.
Confessing and ROCD
Kelley: It comes up a lot in relationship OCD. For example, I’m attracted to men and my partner is male. So sometime I might confess to him that I looked at this really hot guy. And then I look at him as if to gauge their reaction.
You’re sort of subliminally asking, what did you think of that? Did I do something bad?
Lauren: Right. If you’re with someone who’s trained, they’ll just Stonewall you.
Confessing in a therapeutic setting
Lauren: It comes up in therapy too and I’ve experienced this on the client side of things where you want to divulge everything to your therapist. Because otherwise they might not diagnose you correctly or give the correct course of treatment. So many times clients have said that they need to confess something new as if it’s different from what they’ve said before but it’s actually the same.
Religious Scrupulosity OCD and Confession as a Compulsion
Kelley: Moral stuff doesn’t come up for me in the context of cheating, for example. It appears more as a response to the fear of being a bad person. So the questions are more like, do you think I’m a bad person for doing that?
But in religious scrupulosity, you see it a lot in the form of prayer; asking forgiveness for their intrusive thoughts.
Lauren: And then within the Catholic faith, of course, you actually have the practice of confession. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with this practice. Whatever faith you happen to be, your faith is your faith. It’s having the awareness of the reasoning behind your prayers.
The downfall of confession
Lauren: It’s important to really understand the downfall of excessive confession. Firstly, it’s going to reinforce your reliance on this behavior.
It also puts a strain on your interpersonal relationships so in some way, you’re cheapening the relationship by using confession in this way.
Kelley: Right, you’re putting more burden and stress on the person on the receiving end.
But then there’s the element of becoming increasingly reliant on somebody else’s opinions. The more that you ask or outsource these questions in order to alleviate your anxiety, the more that you have to do it, and it starts to erode any sense of self-trust.Lauren Rosen, 9.44
Lauren: So that’s where it’s important to recognize the difference between trust as a feeling and trust as a behavior and take the actions that would suggest that you trust yourself in the absence of that feeling. And that’s where exposure and response prevention comes in when you happen to be a compulsive confessor.
Sexual Orientation OCD and Confessing
Kelley: In the context of sexual orientation OCD, you might confess that you found another person attractive. And then you’re into reassurance-seeking; Do other people think they’re attractive?
Lauren: …we were talking about the element of getting people to sign off on like a permission slip or consent slip. And I think that that’s what confession is in some ways. If you’re in an intimate relationship and you happen to be straight, sexual orientation OCD may have you concerned that you’re bisexual. So you might confess to your husband that you found a woman attractive. Well if he then stays in the relationship with you anyway, it’s like it absolves you. You’ve been given a permission slip.
If you feel the urge to confess
Lauren: … if you find yourself with that urge to just confess, one of the things that you can do is to take pause, delay it and see where you’re at in a couple of days’ time without having ruminated about it for those couple of days. Reflect on your values and what type of person you want to be and show up as in your relationships.