Relationship OCD is a very common and confusing form of OCD. COVID-19 has really impacted the way we live with more people working from home and layoffs on the rise. ROCD can really take advantage of these situations being around your partner 24/7 is not easy to begin with and this is a perfect catalyst for ROCD to be triggered.
Dr. Stephen Phillipson describes ROCD as:
“It’s a subset of OCD where a person is preoccupied with establishing whether their feelings for their partner are sufficient to maintain the relationship or be in the relationship.
People with ROCD have a tsunami of emotional distress over often more meaningless aspects of their partner, in terms of whether they would be a suitable partner, and so there is a tremendous amount of endless navigation or rumination about the qualities of what they think are correct or justified to continue in the relationship with.There is just an endless preoccupation, there is an endless answer seeking, sometimes even reassurance seeking from one’s partner.
Common symptoms of ROCD involve endless answer seeking and endless rumination about their partner’s qualities, and whether their internal feelings justify being in the relationship. They become very focused on their level of arousal as a proof that the person that they are with is justified to remain with. The probably is, the more that we focus on and put pressure on ourselves to have a very passionate response, the less likely we are to have that response. So it’s common that there is a tremendous amount of sexual malfunctioning or sexual apathy, because of that inverse relationship between the pressure to be sexually aroused, and then the way the brain responds to that pressure to be sexual, it’s very paradoxical.
There can be a focus on a partner’s appearance there can be a focus on a person’s character. I’ve had patients have associations about loved one’s own dating history, in terms of how long did their partner wait before they engaged in certain sexual acts as if that would provide them with reassuring evidence, or uncomfortable evidence about their partner’s character.”
A common thought process for people with ROCD is to check if their significant other has good character or if they are attracted to them. They tend to have intrusive thoughts that try to paint a horrible picture of your partner. This can be very distressing on a relationship, your partner becomes the target of the intrusive thoughts which can lead to a lot turbulence in the relationship. ROCD in specific is very difficult to deal with as relationships by nature are difficult and complex knowing when you have legitimate concerns vrs OCD is sometime hard to navigate. I encourage anyone who is going through ROCD to speak with a trained OCD therapist to help them navigate this subset.
Picture a scene from a horror film playing over and over again in your mind, but this horror film is not any horror film it is about yourself, your loved ones and innocent people. The horror film is vivid with images and words popping up. You are left feeling helpless and terrified and doubting who you are as a person. How could I think these things? Do I want this? Who am I? Will I snap?
OCD wants you to be afraid of the horror film and always be enslaved to its storyline. But just like a horror film the audience knows it is not real, without the suspenseful music, special effects and graphic images it wouldn’t impact the viewer. OCD feels real because of the graphic images, thoughts and things the person cares about. If the sufferer can be an audience member and realize it is not real, sit back be uncomfortable but know that nothing is actually happening OCD will loosen its grip.
OCD is defined as: Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges, or images that don’t go away. They cause a lot of anxiety. These obsessive thoughts can be uncomfortable. Obsessions aren’t thoughts that a person would normally focus on, and they are not about a person’s character. They are symptoms of an illness.
I wanted to shed light on mental images in OCD, a lot of times people who do know about OCD know about the intrusive thoughts or the compulsions. But what about the mental images? Many people who suffer with OCD are plagued by mental images that are often disturbing & distressing in nature. This makes the fears amplified to the point of the individual now picturing in detail their worst nightmares. Aaron Harvey describes it in an interview with Cosmopolitan.
“One of the things I have to deal with the most is harm OCD, and it’s really challenging. When I step into the shower and see the razor blade, it will automatically trigger [an image of] me, like, mutilating my genitalia. If I react to those images, they just get worse. It’s kind of like living in a nightmare. …I’ve struggled with sexual identity as a result of repeated, intrusive sexual thoughts about men, despite being straight. During sex, I may have dozens of intrusive thoughts spanning incest, violence, and other unwanted imagery that steals the beauty of the moment. I have graphic flashes of friends and strangers engaging in bizarre sexual acts” – Aaron Harvey (creator of instrusivethoughts.org)
The images are extremely debilitating, and getting to a point where you are okay with just allowing them to pop in and out is extremely painful and difficult. The images cause a lot of distress, so suffers gut reaction is to try their hardest to get rid of the thoughts. But as we know trying to push away and resist the thoughts fuels OCD and makes it worse.
ERP is a great tool against the images, exposing yourself to the images and not allowing yourself to engage in compulsions will allow the reaction subside. To really challenge yourself purposely try and think of the images and confront the discomfort.
Exposure Response Prevention, commonly referred to as ERP, is a therapy that encourages you to face your fears and let obsessive thoughts occur without ‘putting them right’ or ‘neutralising’ them with compulsions.
Exposure therapy starts with confronting items and situations that cause anxiety, but anxiety that you feel able to tolerate. After the first few times, you will find your anxiety does not climb as high and does not last as long. You will then move on to more difficult exposure exercises.
Being asked to face your fears is perhaps one of the bravest aspects of treatment, and is where the approach of the therapist is most valuable, helping a person understand the cognitive reasons behind an exercise and being there to help encourage and motivate them to face the challenges it involves. If the therapist actually participates in the exercises too, this helps build up trust and confidence in what they are asking the person with OCD to do.
I just came back from the annual OCD conference in Austin, TX and it was incredible! I encourage anyone who is suffering with OCD to attend the conference, not only are you around pioneers in the field like Doctor Johnathan Grayson and Jon Hershfield, but to meet like minded individuals is just so incredible. The conference was full of resources, talks, peer supports and so much more!
Here are a few key take aways:
The doctors from Bergen Norway came to present around the 4-Day Bergen Treatment
Brainsway TMS received FDA approval and will be getting approval in Canada most likely by the end of this year
ERP (Exposure Therapy) is the gold standard
ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) helps with pushing yourself past the thoughts and the pain by practicing mindfulness and radical acceptance
Suffers with OCD are the kindest, bravest and most compassionate people I have ever met I will hold on to these incredible interactions for ever.
Next years conference is hosted in Seattle!! See below for information:
It is hard to put in words the distress that OCD causes; it is this weight that follows you around everywhere you go. You can’t escape it, and you can’t run away from it. Throughout the day and night these echoes of thoughts, images and sensations are there with you, the story line so vivid and crippling we fall surrender to its demands. All moments are slightly stolen because your there but your OCD is also there with you.
There has been so much I have lost to OCD, so much I fear because of OCD. I try to beat it and overcome it, but there are days where you are overwhelmed. It is important to remember that OCD does not define you, and even though our minds have turned on us we can live with this monster.
The struggle is real and ongoing; it is hard to explain how your mind can become your biggest hurdle in life. The dark lens of OCD alters reality, and forces us to want to maintain control.
It is so scary to take risks, and to feel brave enough to trust yourself and that this is just OCD. For me my OCD has manifested in a few different forms, but the best way to describe it is imagine watching a horror film over and over again in your mind, but this isn’t any normal horror film all the characters in this story are the people you love and care dearest for. You can’t do anything to stop it, and are forced to be subjected to this torture. The people you would do anything for you would sacrifice anything for you have to live with being bombarded by never ending thoughts and ideas that you can’t protect them and if you don’t engage in certain behaviour they won’t be safe. Even when you are told this is a disorder this is what the disorder does a part of you still is afraid that what if it isn’t? What if they are wrong and there is real danger? You have to ask yourself has what I have been doing worked so far? Am I happy? Maybe I should take the chance that nothing bad will happen and this is just OCD, and every doubt I have is also OCD? It is so hard to take that leap of faith but it is worth a shot to try, I still every morning have that struggle between doubt vs taking a risk. The days when I chose risk always turn out more fulfilling but it is hard to remember that when doubt feels so strong.
I have decided that life will be filled with challenges, uncertainties and pain. But along the twists and turns there will be these beautiful moments, connections and experiences that make it all worth it. We can either let OCD rob us of those moments or accept that it is going to be painful and filled with uncertainty but it is better then letting OCD win.
“In order to write about life first you must live it” – Ernest Hemingway
nOCD is a great app to use during treatment with or without a therapist. I have been using it for over 6 months now and have really felt the impact the app has. It allows you to input your triggers, track your progress, do exposures and even share it with your therapist. I would really recommend this app to anyone who is suffering with OCD, it also gives you the encouragement to get through those tough exposures and delay the compulsion. What I also like most about the app is that you can look back and truly see your progress and if things have become less triggering for you.
Dr.Jonathan Grayson is an expert in the field of OCD, he has contributed tremendously in patient treatment. This a beautiful explanation of how it feels for someone who has OCD. It can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable opening up to loved ones about the disorder, especially since there is a lack of understanding in the mainstream media. This video is a great way to have someone engage in having a preview of what a sufferer experiences.