Shame is all too common among people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Almost every person who I have worked with has expressed feeling ashamed and embarrassed about the content of their intrusive thoughts or the nature of the compulsions they engage in to combat them. This has been true for my clients whether they have been struggling with obsessions about contamination, self-harm, relationships, or something else. A common question I hear is “Why can’t I do X, Y, or Z like a ‘normal person’?” Along with such questions usually comes a barrage of self-critical thoughts like, “I’m such a weirdo” or “I’m so weak for repeatedly giving in to my intrusive thoughts.” In addition, it certainly doesn’t help to hear friends, family, and strangers – even if unintentionally – belittle your struggle when they talk about “being so OCD” as if this were a punchline.
Hopefully you are already well aware that highly effective, evidence-based treatments for OCD exist (e.g., Exposure and Response Prevention, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)and are provided by our expert clinicians in the Portland Psychotherapy Anxiety Clinic. A lesser known component of these treatments is that they often involve an explicit focus on developing skills to more effectively respond to shame and self-criticism. Below are two examples of how evidence-based OCD treatments might address shame and self-criticism related to OCD, including links to helpful resources.
ADDRESSING SHAME VIA ENHANCING SELF-COMPASSION
People, including individuals with OCD, are often naturally skillful at acting compassionately towards others. However, it can be much harder to turn that compassion inwards. Therapeutic approaches to enhancing self-compassion include learning about self-compassion, understanding how it operates in your own life, and developing a consistent self-compassion routine via practicing self-compassion-focused exercises. To learn more about self-compassion and to see example exercises, use the following links:
ADDRESSING SHAME VIA COMBATING OCD STIGMA & MISINFORMATION
The reality is that most people’s understanding of OCD is limited to media caricatures they have seen of people who are highly perfectionistic and/or extremely focused on cleanliness. One of the most common initial tasks of OCD treatment is to dispel common myths about OCD and provide more factual information. Whenever possible, I like to incorporate individuals’ main support systems in this “de-mystifying OCD” process. It becomes easier to feel less ashamed about OCD when you and the people around you understand OCD and feel like you’re on the same team in treating it. For folks who encounter OCD-related stigma especially frequently, treatment may also involve learning and rehearsing ways to practice self-advocacy. Lastly, people often find it helpful to develop a sense of community in order to feel less isolated and alone in their struggles with OCD. To learn more about OCD and to see example exercises and resources, use the following links: