You And Your OCD


I thought of you at the Anxiety Disorders Association conference last weekend. What, you say? Me? Well, yes, in a way, you! At conferences like this, one can get a little lost in the myriad choices of workshops and seminars that are offered, so I decided to focus on OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) seminars and sharpen my skills around treatment in that area.

So I’ll bet you’re wondering why I thought of you. One key principle and starting point in working with anyone suffering from OCD is this: are you willing to learn to tolerate uncertainty? You see, OCD sufferers may have an obsession—what if I get sick from touching that doorknob?—and then develop a compulsion—washing hands incessantly—to try to create some CERTAINTY that they won’t get sick. It’s a vicious cycle because CERTAINTY is elusive and, at the end of the day, unattainable, even if the client increases the compulsions to the point of sterilizing their home and never leaving it!

Most folks who don’t have OCD live with uncertainty with relative ease. It actually may occur to anyone that touching that doorknob may make them sick, but then they are able to shrug it off. But, just as OCD sufferers tend to develop obsessions around things they really care about, most everyone else tries to assure certainty in some part of their lives. I often see it when non-OCD clients are trying to make a decision about something very dear to them. In those moments, uncertainty about the outcome of their choice becomes untenable.

You see, all of us long for certainty and none of us can effectively get it in most areas of life. How many people a decade ago felt certain they would be able to pay off their mortgage? Or were certain their spouse would be faithful? Or that their loved ones would live to a ripe old age? If we waited around for true certainty, none of us would buy houses, or get married, or let our kids go skiing. Too risky! In many people of faith I know, believers wish that God would hit them over the head with a clear, certain, choice nearly every step of the way. I have come to believe that is because of that little bit of OCD in all of us. It goes something like this: if God makes clear the answers to me, then I don’t have to live with the uncertainty that maybe I made the “wrong” choice. You see, uncertainty is everywhere, and at some point, all of us are challenged to tolerate it, just like my OCD-suffering clients. How about you? In what areas are you seeking certainty where it cannot be found?

For a great website on OCD, click here. If you think you are suffering with it, get an evaluation with a professional who works with OCD clients and who uses ERP.

Click here for my page on anxiety treatment.


  1. Do you think it may be the case that the common Wester Christian experience my lead to a sort of OCD? Leaders often encourage people to seek God’s will… and we lift up those who say “God spoke and told me to do this.” I’m not saying that trying to discern God’s will is bad. I’m just wondering if he is really all that concerned with our striving.

    In short, if we knew God’s will, there would be very little room for faith. Living in and with uncertainly could achieve the very same thing that “seeking God’s will” is intended to do.

  2. Love your comment, Brody! I think a lot of believing people use their process of seeking God’s will as an avoidance of the distress that tension in the of the life of faith brings. A true discernment process in the end leads to some measure of peace (but peace with tension!) NOT an elimination of one’s own opinion, wishes, or efficacy.

  3. This fits wonderully with the Teilhard de Chardin poem. In a life full of [uncertainty, suspense, instability, incompleteness], establishing an anchor of [patience, trust, certainty] is such a remarkable help.

    I often find myself “pairing” the suspenseful / uncertain parts of life with inherent certainty. (e.g. I don’t know who’s going to win the Stanley Cup, but I’m certain a year from now I won’t actually care. Okay, that one is kinda lame, but you get the idea.)

    This is better: I don’t know how long my life will last, but I’m certain of my mortality. Even a “negative” point of certainty provides a handle to hold, to explore.

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