OCD and Self-Compassion (Part 1)
Self-compassion is a key component required in the effective recovery of OCD.
In this episode, Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, discuss the importance of showing yourself kindness throughout your recovery journey and three distinct steps you can take and implement today.
What is self-compassion?
Kelley: Think of compassion. And then think of self. Yes, you’re there to apply compassion toward the self which is a lot easier said than done for a lot of us. In fact, one of the comments we received was, why is self-compassion so yucky or gross to me? And I would say I had a very similar experience.
Loving yourself is very counter intuitive. We’re taught that it’s ‘love myself versus loving others’. Culture puts us down. It tells you that you have to be hard on yourself. And that’s how you get things done.Kelley Franke, LMFT (2.47)
Beating Yourself Up
Lauren: We have this mentality of bust out the whip, go to town. We’re doing things in some way, shape, or form that we want to be doing them or that part of us wants to be doing them. And we see this a lot once you have a basic understanding of how OCD works, you find yourself still engaged in compulsions and there’s this tendency for people to beat themselves up as if that’s going to stop them from doing compulsions.
And if anything, it tends to make people feel worse about themselves and then want to do things to make themselves feel better. It’s a vicious cycle because you’re anxious and feeling in need of momentary relief. And you don’t feel strong and resilient because I’ve been beating the hell out of yourself for performing those compulsions.
The Second Arrow
Kelley: The second arrow… basically someone gets shot in the leg or shot somewhere and the shot is the initial pain. And then the suffering comes in. And this is not really a second arrow but it’s saying the second wave of pain comes from being so upset that you even got shot in the first place.
You can’t avoid pain. Pain is inevitable. We are human, that’s going to happen. But suffering is optional. And that’s what the concept of that theory is.
Lauren: I think with self-love, or beating up on yourself versus self-compassion especially in OCD, in this analogy the first arrow is the pain that arrives from the disappointment or frustration you might initially feel having done a compulsion. But then the second arrow is when we don’t accept that we’ve done the compulsions and move on to try and avoid doing it the next time. The second arrow comes when we spend that extra amount of time beating ourselves up for doing that compulsion.
Step 1: Mindfulness in Self Compassion
Lauren: When we’re practicing self-compassion, like with anything, it can be helpful to break it down into bite-sized pieces… So first is mindfulness, which, of course, we talked about a whole lot on here. And the basic definition that we both tend to use is present moment awareness without judgment.
Acknowledgment of those thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges without judgment opens the door to having a different response. Because otherwise, you’re probably going to capitulate to the old behavioral patterns that you are predisposed to.
Step 2: Common Humanity
Kelley: Common humanity is acknowledging that other people experience pain and suffering as well. And it widens our landscape because we get very hyper-fixated and get tunnel vision of our pain and suffering. And that is keeping us stuck whereas if we shift perspective and realize that we are not the only ones experiencing these struggles we can start looking at things a little differently.
And it’s also very validating to know that anybody in this context would be struggling, they would have this experience as well or something very similar. So it normalizes and validates it, and it kind of keeps us in a reality check as well.
Lauren: And that just that piece of connection that we’ve talked about before is so important, right, the loneliness that happens in those moments when you do turn inward, and you’re just sort of staring at the thing that’s not working it, it’s very difficult. I think what I love about this part of the self-compassion equation is specifically looking at the circumstance that you’re in and thinking, I bet a lot of people with OCD have a difficult time not doing compulsions, aren’t they? Yes.
Step 3: Love and Kindness
Kelley: So the third piece is love and kindness.
Lauren: I think it’s uncomfortable. Because we haven’t practiced it. It doesn’t mean anything that it’s uncomfortable to show yourself love and kindness.
It’s uncomfortable because of the lack of practice, because you’re in the practice of saying nice things to other people, and most of us are not in the practice of saying nice things to ourselves. Anything is going to feel clumsy when you first start doing it. It’s like riding a bike, you’re not immediately going to have it all figured out, and it’s gonna feel weird or off.Lauren Rosen, LMFT (15.15)
Kelley: Some people have just a harder time accepting kindness. It’s just a disgusting factor for me. Trust me, I’ve come a long way! But I can still access that feeling of disgust sometimes.
…It’s such a huge component of recovery because the more we beat up on ourselves like Lauren said earlier, the more stuck we become in all of it. The pain is already there. Why are we putting salt in it now?
Lauren: Yes. And even beyond the realm of OCD, if you walk out of the treatment process and you’re not talking to yourself differently then that’s a real shame. Because your brain is the only one that you have to live with 24/7. And you deserve to live with one that is going to be supportive and yes, have expectations of you and maybe be firm in moments, but be loving, and be kind.
Kelley: I’m reading a really good book about compassion, and how a lot of people use the word compassion instead of love. Because he says the word love has become like God, cultures have made it a sick word. Like, I love food. I love this easily. But that’s not the true definition of love. So people use the word compassion instead. But really, it’s self-love, if you’re looking at the true definition of how it originated. Love isn’t about food. It’s about seeing people suffering, and then understanding that, having compassion and then vice versa with the self.
…we’re developing a healthy relationship with ourselves. And most of us have been in really abusive relationships with ourselves. We wouldn’t expect that if we screamed at somebody else, that our relationship would be healthy and good. And yet, there’s this expectation that we should be able to just treat ourselves that way.Lauren Rosen, LMFT (1851)
How do you display self-compassion without really giving reassurance?
Kelley: Anything can be compulsive, once we start doing it to gain reassurance and you have to have an honest inventory in these moments, am I getting this to get a hit? First of all, am I doing this compulsively? So that’s probably step one. Lots of times people do get concerned and overly involved in whether or not something is compulsive.
Lauren: It’s like the example we gave earlier with OCD sufferers who experience taboo intrusive thoughts, it’s okay to think to yourself that actually lots of people with intrusive thoughts think things like this. But if we’re saying it to get reassurance that there’s not something wrong with you or you’re not bad, or this isn’t indicative of a problem…That’s where it becomes an issue. So keeping it broad, I think is a good, a good way to tackle it.