A series “Elevated Chat” of writings, articles, insights and musings from Dr. Michael G Millett
and the archives of Elevated Therapy International
Having trouble making up your mind?
Often, we are so frightened of making a mistake and make every possible excuse to avoid making ‘that’ decision in our lives. We try to exercise so much rigid control which of course is so often a self-defeating strategy. We need a better sense of balance and proportion about things in life, don`t we?
In practice, everyone sometimes experiences bad or unwanted thoughts and acts compulsively which is usually around minor issues which can be safely dismissed as “fleeting annoyances”. I believe that everyone has a little bit of OCD, general compulsive patterns or neurotic behaviours in them such as folding clothes in a certain way, and cleaning the house in a specific order or wiping the table twice to consider it clean.
However, OCD “catastrophising” like compulsive hand-washing, hoarding or checking things ALL the time is much more problematic, and the more serious types of compulsive behaviour may diminish the quality of life considerably for its sufferers.
In psychotherapy for anxiety disorders, the focus is often on the anxiety around neurotic behaviour characterised by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualised behaviours you feel compelled to perform. There are many theories of what causes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). One theory suggests that OCD develops because of ‘dysfunctional’ beliefs and interpretations. Studies have also looked at genetic factors and how different parts of the brain might be involved, but have found nothing conclusive. Another thought is that it comes from painful childhood feelings from trauma or abuse leading to feelings of isolation, and feeling helpless in an inhospitable world where you might ‘learn’ to use obsessions and compulsions to cope with the anxiety.
In behaviour therapy, to help OCD, we often use exposure and response prevention (ERP), systematic desensitisation, and thought-stopping, and we focus on searching for better ways for the client in coping with this difficulty through relaxation with imagery, breathing skills, self-hypnosis, and muscle relaxation.
However, what I am talking about here is `general compulsive patterns` that many people have – not OCD, and people usually respond in one of three basic patterns to gain control:
- moving toward people – the passive and people pleaser.
- moving against people – the rebel and aggressive way.
- moving away from people – looking to escape from the situation altogether.
These three patterns are not necessarily mutually exclusive. People follow them in a positive way at different times.
We all need to give way sometimes, stand up for ourselves, and stay detached at other times.
Clients from challenging backgrounds, often adopt one of these basic patterns as their habitual response.
The “toward” client becomes ‘a poor me’, very passive and anxious to please all the time.
They are constrained from being discerning and assertive.
The “against” mentality becomes very competitive, strong-willed with a big drive.
The “away” client is calm, detached, objective and very private. Often feeling superior and wanting to be recognised for that.
The three basic responses coming from the unconscious mind make us behave in automatic ways and often we wonder why that is. When we consider this question, we usually accept false narratives.
The person who keeps checking that the cooker is switched off, tells themselves that house fires are on the increase.
Appliances aren`t as good as they once were. Faulty items are on the increase, and you can`t be too careful.
This does not change the fact that he or she has checked the cooker is really off and cannot make it any safer by checking again.
People can be caught in a cycle of self-defeating behaviour, carrying-on habitual compulsive actions that sure enough cause failure and anguish. They adopt an outcome that they depend on to lead their behaviour automatically.
Many automatic reactions and compulsive behaviour limit your choices in life.
Such as overeating, perfectionism, alcohol and drug misuse, constant worrying, obsession with detail and being a workaholic.
However, some of these conclusions are correct: For example, “If I am law abiding, I won`t go to prison”.
Other unconscious conclusions are not helpful. Such as: “If I never take a risk, I`ll never experience failure,”
“If I keep worrying, I`ll see things before they happen and can avoid them,” and “If I keep my distance, no one can hurt me.” False conclusions like these provide only the fantasy of being in control. Perhaps they were true at some time in the person`s history. For example, the child who is scolded every time for failure, avoids taking risks and trying new things as an adult.
It is time to be honest with yourself – have you designed your life or blocked your dreams and ambitions on any level because of compulsive and habitual behaviour ?
You need to reach your full potential, and sometimes general behaviour and obsessive patterns need to be exposed and subsequently changed to open and advance your life.
This is often part of the obsessive personality type and believing that being responsible, fastidious and dependable always leads to success in career terms. Perfectionists readily organise their career life, home life and leisure pursuits too fixed and inflexible. However, perfectionism is not always negative as it can cause us to care about our work and to do our best. It is only when the desire to be perfect is unrealistic (compulsive perfectionism) where standards are set too high, and causes anxiety when we are unable to meet it, leading to high level stress and unhappiness.
Symptoms of Obsessiveness
- Difficulty and delay in making decisions, an irrational fear of making a mistake.
- Need for order, rules and routine.
- The workaholic and plodder who feels guilty when not working or doing.
- The worrier who often gets upset by mild criticism.
All of these have one thing in common – the need to be in control, usually coming from patterns of parents that were hard to please.
Patterns like these can be changed once you acknowledge that the source of your unhappiness is within you, and then work calmly on changing your reactions.
The following questions may help you identify and consider if you are inclined towards general obsessive or compulsive patterns / behaviour with a view to doing something about these rigid or obsessive tendencies or responses. Watch out for them !
Please remember, just because you may be inclined towards obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviours does NOT mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. With OCD – a diagnosed condition, these thoughts and behaviours cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships and rule every waking hour stopping you from being able to live your life the way that you want to.
1. Are you critical? Do other people see you as critical?
2. Do you get upset if someone criticises you, even in a small way?
3. Are you over independent?
4. Is it important that people in your life perform tasks in exactly the way you want?
5. Are you overly careful about sharing your time, possessions, or money?
6. Are you a pessimist by nature?
7. Is it hard sometimes to make decisions?
8. Do you have a lot of self-doubt?
9. Do you tend to only see the tress and not the wood?
10. Are you overly-attentive to detail?
11. Do you feel guilty about relaxing and doing nothing?
12. Do you guard your feelings most of the time?
13. Do you work too long on things to make sure they are perfect?
14. When there is a problem, is it hard to concentrate on anything else?