a question, based on your latest page about OCD.
You introduced to me an
intriguing concept. How do you help your OCD grow bigger and stronger as
the protector and the guardian of love rather than fear, and how might that
play out in your daily life? Can you illustrate this concept for me? I like
the concept very much but am unable to imagine what it would “look
like” in my daily experiences. The OCD defense is a very strong
“force”; I can imagine that reappropriating the strength of this
“force” so as to assist one’s path to holiness rather than
destruction would be very useful indeed.
edirecting the strength of the
OCD defense, so as to make it your real protector, is indeed an astonishing
concept. Yet, because it’s a concept that defies common sense, hardly
anyone bothers to consider it. The fact that you ask about it speaks to the
depth of your yearning for the true faith.
To initiate this process of change,
it will first be necessary to accept the fact that all psychological defenses
have one underlying purpose: to protect you from some sort of
Psychological defenses get created
in childhood to protect us from emotional hurts inflicted by our environment
(parents, siblings, friends, and others). Because a defense’s original
purpose is protective, it will be necessary, if you want to overcome that
defense now as an adult, to understand how the defense has previously been
trying to protect you. That is, it will be necessary to respect the
original protective purpose of the
In this regard, think of the
defense as a child who feels suspicious, confused,
and frightened. If you try to force a frightened child to do what you
want, you will get only resistance and opposition; the only way to surpass the
opposition is to understand the child’s fear while
also understanding that the child’s behavior seems, to the child, to be
protective. Then you can negotiate with the child to establish new behaviors
that still protect you, but do so in a healthy, emotionally honest
respecting the original protective purpose of a defense, rather than just
“getting rid” of the
will aid you in changing your behavior without invalidating all the skills
and talents that the defense has used so far in its attempt (however awkward
and childlike) to protect you. Thus all those skills and talents that the
defense has used so far in its attempt to protect you can be redirected into
new and healthy ways of acting.
example, how a man trained as an assassin in the military could function
in civilian life. Yes, he could use his skills to work for the Mafia as a
“hit man.” Or, the man could renounce a life of killing and take
up a new career—such as a priest—that depends on utilizing some
of the same skills—confidence, patience, perseverance, working
independently, attention to details, sensitivity to the environment, clear
analytical thinking, etc.—that made him a good assassin.
isn’t this similar to what Saint Paul did?
Here is a general
example (not specific to OCD) of how the process of changing old behavior,
while respecting the original protective purpose of that behavior, can be
outlined. Note that this process is similar to the process of listening to and
directing an ego state.
Identify the problem
and your feelings.
I want to go to college,
but I feel anxious and afraid.
State the negative (false)
beliefs underlying your feelings.
anything is selfish.”
“I’m not worthy.”
“I don’t matter.”
“I don’t deserve to have any ambitions.”
“I will never succeed at anything.”
“voice” behind the negative (false) beliefs. That is, is it
the voice of your mother or your father or someone else?
It’s the voice
of both my mother and my father. It’s my father because, as an alcoholic,
he passively hid from taking responsibility in the family. It’s the
voice of my mother in her anger at herself and at
us children because of my father’s selfish passivity.
State the original
purpose of the negative (false) beliefs.
They protect me from
feeling hurt by my father when he got drunk and broke his promises.
“voice” of the original protective purpose.
“You have a
right to feel afraid. Staying hidden has kept you alive all your life. If
you expose yourself now, you will be destroyed!”
“voice” of the original protective purpose.
how much you fear betrayal. My father’s broken promises hurt deeply.
But now there are other means of self-protection available that you didn’t
know about in childhood. I can learn about them and use them.”
is, make a rebuttal to—the negative (false) beliefs.
ambition is partly selfish, and yet it can
also be of use to others. It’s also true that if I get a college degree
it will enhance my self-esteem and my prestige,
and yet it will allow me to do better work
than I can do now. So if I go to college, everyone can benefit.”
State how the
rebuttal still fulfills the original purpose of the negative (false)
Going to college
will protect me from getting hurt; that is, it will protect me from
the hurt of “burying” my true talents.
Predict how you
will feel—and why you will feel that way—if you carry out your
I will feel sad because
it will remind me that my father really wasn’t there for me.
underlying truth of those feelings. Then feel the pain as you experienced it
as a child. Note that the previous points can
be discovered relatively quickly through logic and intellect. This point
requires some deep, emotional introspection and for that reason it is often
the core work of psychotherapy.
E.g., “I felt
very sad all throughout my childhood because I was constantly disappointed
by my alcoholic father.” Yes, say it, and then feel what the child felt
State how those
feelings can now be a positive motivation.
My sadness that my
father wasn’t there for me can be an incentive for me to “be
there” for someone else.
affirmations about your decision.
I will protect myself
by going to college. I will learn how to be assertive and to protect my
I will make my best effort. I will not sabotage myself. I will
“be there” for myself to validate my own emotional experiences,
and I will “be there” for others.
I will never forget the betrayal inflicted on our family by my father, yet
I will work to forgive him rather than get stuck
like my mother in thoughts of resentment.
In regard to
OCD, remember that the underlying dynamic of OCD is
the neutralization of guilt because of impulses of anger and revenge, and
that the OCD defense is very, very good at sniffing out these impulses. Once
it detects these impulses, the defense forces you, with exquisite determination,
to perform rituals of neutralization, and it keeps your mind occupied with
incessant thoughts about how deplorable you are.
order to stop these obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals, endeavor first
to understand their protective purpose: to keep your mind from admitting
the truth of your emotional hurt. The defense, just like a little child,
feels terrified that if you admitted the truth of your feelings, you would
then carry out your impulses of revenge. The defense fears that you would
actually kill someone.
then, is like a watchdog who can hear an intruder miles away. But it’s
also a watchdog who acts on its own initiative to chase away intruders without
waiting for a command from its master. Thus, as the ultimate irony, you,
in fearing your ability to kill, end up allowing your OCD defense to kill
your own emotional life.
a solution to this problem, work with your OCD defense to allow it to keep
working as a watchdog but also to take direction from you. When the OCD defense
senses your emotional hurt, let it tell you. Then you can choose to respond
to that hurt in accord with Christian values. After all, you can bless your
enemies, rather than kill them, just as you can bless your defenses rather
than get rid of them.
It takes practice
and perseverance to do this, but, once you have the process working, your old
OCD defense, in its new role, will be able to carry out your directives of
love with just as much “force” that it carried out its own directives
Unfinished business in OCD
Invisible anger in OCD
1. Such as by suppressing it with medication.
2. To learn more about healthy boundaries, click
link to a web page about boundaries on my associated website, A Guide to Psychology
and its Practice.
Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
A treasure of a resource for psychological
and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips
in book form with a comprehensive index.
Psychological defenses help to protect us from
emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your
childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest
for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and
conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull:
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your
enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you.
You will go where you desire.