I recently posted a poll to Twitter asking people what they most wanted to know about my OCD: The fear of contamination, checking things, health anxiety or obsessions of guilt.
I started writing a post about all, but it turns out people are most interest in the latter; guilt. And so, I thought I’d write a whole post about it.
Believe it or not, guilt is a big part of OCD. I know, it was news to me at first, too.
In an article on BeyondOCD, it explained that doubt and guilt are two of OCD’s main features.
It reads: ‘While it is not understood why this is so, these are considered hallmarks of the disorder. Unless you understand these, you cannot understand OCD.’
The author adds: ‘In the 19th century, OCD was known as the “doubting disease.” OCD can make a sufferer doubt even the most basic things about themselves, others, or the world they live in.
‘Doubt is one of OCDs more maddening qualities. It can override even the keenest intelligence. It is a doubt that cannot be quenched. It is doubt raised to the highest power.’
Doubt comes in many forms within OCD, often we just don’t realise this. When it comes to OCD, people have their own ‘thing’. Some people wash their hands multiple times, others check the doors and ovens to make sure no harm comes to their home while they’re out. These aren’t just rituals, they’re doubts. Every time we re-check that door, we’re doubting whether it was really locked. Every time we wash our hands again, we’re doubting they were clean enough the first time we washed.
However, doubt doesn’t have to be about a physical thing – and occur emotionally, too. That’s where the guilt comes in.
A big part of OCD is feelings of intense guilt and the need to confess things. I didn’t realise this until recently. I’ve been struggling with guilt and I came across an OCD forum from people living with the same thing. When I put it all in place now, it makes sense.
When I was around seven or eight, I was on a family holiday and I was in a tent with a male family member – who was a year younger than me – playing mums and dads, as you do when you’re little. Half a year later, I broke down to my dad about it. I felt it was wrong. He was a boy, I was a girl, I was only little but I understood at the time that girls fancy boys. I worried whether playing mums and dads had meant there’d been something sexual in it. Of course, there hadn’t been – I was eight, for god’s sake. But that didn’t make it any better.
Even throughout my teenage years – and now – this is a memory that makes me feel uneasy because it’s one that made me feel so dirty at the time. Like I was bad.
The problem is, this is a memory I’d even as a little girl spent time obsessing over. I realise now that this is a symptom of OCD. We forget this because we spell ‘OCD’ out by its letters. We forget that it stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. ‘Obsessive’ being the most prominent word in this case.
Just recently, at age 22, my guilt has been triggered again. I won’t go into it, but something happened a while ago that was completely out of character for me and I’ve spent the last week playing it over and over in my head, thinking about what I’d done and what I could’ve done differently. I’ve played various scenarios over in my head and it’s got so bad that I’ve actually started to convince myself of things I haven’t actually done.
Seriously, I’ve spent the evening crying because my head is telling me I’ve done something that I have absolutely no recollection of. I know in my rational head it’s not real, but my irrational head says otherwise.
In a study by Italian researchers in the journal Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, published in September 2016, it suggests that those with OCD may perceive guilt to be more threatening than most people do – leading them to finding it totally intolerable.
Those who feel intolerable guilt get rid of it the only way they know how: by confessing. OCD confessing is like washing your hands twenty times in a row. It’s a short sense of relief each time.
This is something I’ve been trying to control recently. I’ve been confessing and confessing and confessing to things that make me feel guilty. The guilt goes for a little while, before it hits hard once again with yet another thought to feel guilty about.
It’s a vicious cycle, and one that’s predominant in OCD – it starts with an intrusive thought, it’s followed by a ritual and it’s eased with a short sense of relief.
It’s a cycle that’s not easily broken, either.
I wish I had some advice for others going through these overwhelming feelings of guilt. But the only advice I can offer is not mine – it belongs to some wise woman on an OCD forum.
When you have an awful sense of guilt over an uncontrollable thought, ask yourself these questions:
What do you have to feel guilty about?
Is the guilt ‘real’ or is it your anxiety talking? AKA, is this a new sense of guilt that’s come out of nowhere, or have you actually done physical wrong?
Why do you feel guilty?
Assess the guilt. It’s likely you feel guilty because you have OCD and you are giving importance to your intrusive thoughts.
Who benefits from you confessing?
It may seem like a relief to you to get it all out, but it’s only temporary. Is confessing going to help you, or the person you’re confessing to, long-term?
Remember, you have OCD. OCD does crazy things, and the only way we can control it is learning to cope. Coping with guilt is hard, but it can be done. At least, that’s what I’ve heard – and what I’m hoping.