"Self-Doubting" Disease Can Be Debilitating

 Vijai P. Sharma, PhD. Clinical Psychologist

This is the first in a series on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Picture a morning scene that happens day after day in the life of some people afflicted by a certain problem.

You have locked the door and you get in the car to drive to your office, and then you begin to wonder if you locked it or not.  The tension begins to mount.  Did I or did I not?  SO you get out of the car and check the door.  Of course, you had locked it, so you get back in the car.  By the time you settle back in your seat and are ready to turn the ignition on, the doubt re-emerges.  You are not sure if it was properly locked or you don't have a distinct memory of actually locking the door.  SO you get out of the car one more time to check the door again.

This can go on for several times in the morning, often resulting in your getting to work late.  You know it's pointless to do it over and over again, and you want to stop it only to find yourself helpless against the tension of leaving something undone.  You feel frustrated since you know it is your own mind that is tricking you.  This is a daily routine for a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

A devil story goes like this:  The devil is proudly displaying his destructive weaponry to the warmongers who have assembled to buy the most potent weapons so they can create havoc on the earth.  When he is asked what is the most destructive weapon in his arsenal, everyone begins to look at the most sophisticated nuclear devices enshrined on the high pedestals.

The devil turns his face away from nuclear, chemical and mechanical devices of mass destruction and points his finger to a tiny abstract form lurking in the dark and says, "This is the most destructive weapon I have ever invented."  The warmongers are huddling over each other, straining their eyes in the dark to figure out this mysterious form, and then the label is illuminated which reads, "DOUBT."

"Yes!  This is the most destructive weapon I have because nothing destroys the peace of mind as good as doubt does," the devil says.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a disease of self-doubting.  The individual can't help it, as the disorder is perhaps cause by a chemical condition in the brain, OCD is obsessional doubting, the compulsive need to check and recheck and do it over and over agaoin and still feeling unsure.

I once met a person who would not go anywhere without a trusted person walking by his side.  He was afraid of being by himself, lest he admit to something he had not done.  He was constantly afraid that he might admit to some crime he had not committed.  He could not work because if the money were missing from the register or if an error were detected with which he had no involvement, he would begin to wonder if he were the guilty party.

Fortunately, such an extreme form of self-doubting is rare.

OCD is not confined to checking and rechecking.  It can occur in the form of obsessional thoughts or compulsive behaviors or perhaps both, as is true in many cases.  And individual is troubled by obsessive thoughts that repeatedly intrude on his mind uninvited and unwelcome, and he or she unwantedly performs compulsive behaviors over and over again.

To understand the plight of a compulsive washer, a teacher who was going to teach about OCD experimented with washing for an hour.  He washed his hands over and over again for an hour in the privacy of his bedroom.

What impressed him most about the plight of an OCD person was his inability to do anything else.  There were so many other things that came up during that hour that he needed to attend, but he could not because of his "compulsive washing."  The ring of the telephone, the knock on the door, the nagging assignment, so on and so forth.  All other needs and urgencies have to be ignored in the interest of the compulsive behavior.  ON top of that he has to hide his activity to save himself from "embarrassment" from other memebers of the household, including a drop-in visitor.  

Living an hour as an OCD person was like fighting a battle that never ends and winning a victory that one can never celebrate.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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