Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder, and anxiety disorders develop as attempts to ensure that our physical and emotional needs are met in the future. Anxiety disorders like OCD first begin when a life experience prevents emotional needs from being met.
So, if we suffer bereavement, then important emotional needs, such as the need for emotional connection with a person we are close to and the giving and receiving of attention will go unmet. Or, if we come down with severe food poisoning, perhaps contracting salmonella or some other illness, then we may lack the energy and health to be able to do the things we used to do, and the need to feel in control of our lives goes unmet.
In response to these unmet emotional needs, the resulting stress and anxiety may become hardwired into our brains, to try and prevent the event from happening again, and this will take the form of an obsessive compulsive disorder.
The obsessive part of OCD are the anxiety fuelled obsessive thoughts, which remind the sufferer to carry out the compulsive behaviour, to try and meet emotional needs and lower the anxiety. These thoughts can be highly distressing and intrusive.
So, if the OCD arises in response to the loss of a loved one, the sufferer may feel compelled to perform rituals to prevent it from happening to somebody else. Or, so as not to ‘betray’ the memory of the person they care about, they may carry out the rituals in an attempt to keep hold of the person’s presence on their life. This can get in the way of processing grief in healthier ways and moving on with their lives.
If, for example, the OCD arises to prevent food poisoning from happening again, the sufferer may feel compelled to exercise complete control over the preparation of food, by only eating food they have cooked and sterilising all cooking utensils and surfaces. Of course, this is likely to get in the way of meeting other needs for sharing attention, emotional connection and having fun with friends; especially if the sufferer feels they have to turn down dinner invitations or avoid cafés and restaurants.
OCD can be challenging to shift and may need a combination of interventions to alleviate. Because the symptoms of OCD are triggered by raised stress levels, ensuring that emotional needs are met in healthy ways reduces the likelihood of symptoms being triggered. A combination of deep relaxation, cognitive therapy and reframing the life experience which gave rise to the OCD, can help to keep to lower stress levels and break the pattern of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
For more information about mental health and wellbeing visit suffolkmind.org.uk or call 0300 111 6000.