The OCD Bully II


My second post on the topic of the OCD Bully is going to pick up where the first one ended: the hope that exists for people with OCD in the form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). 

When writing 'Myself am Hell' I wanted to be balanced in showing the terrible and destructive power of OCD to affect every part of a person's life, as well as the fact that this mental health condition plays by certain rules and is therefore limited by those rules. 

Writing the above paragraph puts me in mind of a quote from the film 'The Dark Knight', where a mobster points out to Batman the difference between the criminal fraternity's perception of the hero and of his nemesis, The Joker. The mobster says that the criminals know Batman has rules and therefore lines that he will not cross, whereas The Joker has no rules and is therefore, by implication, more terrifying to the criminals than the previously widely feared figure of Batman.

I only mention this to highlight that sometimes rules can be limiting. The criminals know that the worst they will receive from Batman is a severe beating and maybe some time in the slammer. If they cross The Joker, they have no idea what the consequences might be. The Joker is capable of anything and everything. There is no widely-circulated rule book for dealing with The Joker as there now is for dealing with Batman. My point is that, in this instance, Batman's effectiveness as a scourge of the criminal underworld is seen as being limited by the rules and methods - the absolutes - of his modus operandi. 

For Batman in 'The Dark Knight', read Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and its effects on people receiving CBT and ERP. It's an incredible moment when you realise that the power of OCD is limited by its rules - its absolutes. Because if you can learn those rules, you can use them to your advantage and limit the effect that OCD is having on your life. The great thing is that we don't even have to understand why the condition is the way it is and operates in the way it does; we just have to play our part in the way we respond - or more accurately don't respond - to the intrusive thoughts.

In my previous OCD bully post, I talked about the fact that OCD is not "you" and is not your identity. OCD will also try to persuade you to engage with it at the level of argument, reason, and evidence-gathering. Whenever thinking about OCD, I always seem to return to 'Paradise Lost' and the ways in which John Milton depicts temptation and fall. 

In Book IX of the epic poem, Satan - in the form of the serpent - is able to trap Eve at the level of thought, detail, and argument:

                                                                     ye shall not die:

                       How should ye? by the fruit? It gives you life

                       To knowledge

                                          (Bk IX. ll. 685-87) 

Just like an intrusive and obsessive thought, Satan's words are designed to create doubt in Eve and thereby undermine her belief in the cornerstone of hers and Adam's existence: God's only command, not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. And as with OCD, Satan presents Eve with an apparent solution to hers and Adam's lack of knowledge of Good and Evil: eat from the tree and become elevated to a new status just as he - the serpent - has been. Satan's words are like an obsessive thought in Eve's mind. They torment and disrupt and they offer a false and terrible solution to the problem they are creating:

                                                               in her ears the sound

                         Yet rung of his persuasive words, impregned

                         With reason, to her seeming, and with truth

                                                                                (Bk IX. ll. 736-38)

Satan makes his words "sound" like truth and reason to Eve in the same way that OCD masks itself in the cloak of truth and reason when attacking us with thoughts that have not one bit of truth to them. Eve has no manual for dealing with the words of Satan so she takes them at face value and uses the evidence of her eyes to see a beast who has seemingly been elevated to the level of a human being by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. We do, though, have rulebooks and manuals for dealing with OCD. CBT and ERP help us not to engage with the obsessive thoughts at the level of argument and evidence-gathering, not to take them seriously and dignify them with our time and energy. In the course of time, then, they become far less "persuasive" and we can see them for the untruths that they are.


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