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OCD and Rigidity
Since I was eight years old, I’ve lived with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it wasn’t until I had my children that symptoms began to progress. It took me hours to get us out of the house because if they didn’t have their meals and snacks at an exact time, or if we didn’t all look “perfect,” then there was no way I was leaving. If my ex-husband made plans for us as a family without discussing it with me first, I would have a meltdown and refuse to go. However, my rigid thinking was never intentional but an extreme fear if my life didn’t go “just so.”
Individuals with OCD and rigidity consider the world a very threatening environment, depriving them of the ability to see that what they’re doing is leaving them stagnant and not conducive to their well-being. These strict rules eventually cause anxiety, and therefore, we need to learn how to shift from rigidity to flexibility.
Flexibility vs. Rigidity
People with flexibility are more spontaneous, take risks, and tolerate uncertainty. They endure adversity, learn from their mistakes, and are receptive to different perspectives. Flexible individuals can adapt to change – for example, if their favorite coffee shop is out of their usual latte, they might decide to order another drink or find another coffee shop. Ultimately, they are less prone to depression and anxiety.
Individuals with rigidity don’t do well with rules or regulations or consider others’ perspectives. They don’t tolerate uncertainty or adapt well to change – for example, if their friend has to change plans for valid reasons, they become enraged. Unfortunately, they are more susceptible to disappointment and frustration, leading to depression and anxiety.
Here are some ways to develop flexibility:
Some individuals can work on their OCD independently, but having a therapist can also be a great addition. They can assess and evaluate the situation and then provide you with the proper tools to work through your symptoms.
A therapist might utilize different treatment methods or a combination based on the individual’s needs.
Here are a few examples:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy – OCD often stems from a faulty perception of ourselves and others, and we tend to have negative thinking patterns, thus creating obsessive thoughts and rigidity. Your therapist can work with you on reducing these ruminating thoughts.
- Psychotherapy – Many individuals who struggle with OCD and rigid thoughts have a history of childhood trauma. You might have used protective methods to save your psyche from getting through difficult times as a child – for example, when my childhood trauma occurred, I would have these repetitive patterns of tapping objects or walking over cracks to prevent impending doom. Then, as an adult, I constantly checked my stove and door, had ritualistic prayers, wouldn’t allow anyone to drive me in their vehicle, and so on until these symptoms became debilitating.
In other words, what worked for us as children does not work the same for us as adults and becomes a maladaptive way of coping. It is imperative to learn that any form of compulsion is only a temporary solution to decreasing anxiety. Therefore, working through trauma can help you gain more proper coping skills.
- Exposure and Response Therapy – This type of therapy is a behavioral technique used to treat anxiety disorders. It entails the therapist working with the individual by slowly exposing them to their stressor/s. For example, the therapist exposes the individual to a new routine after having the same pattern for the past ten years. It sounds contradictory and will at first provoke more anxiety, but the more it is performed, the easier it will become. To find more information on exposure and response prevention therapy, you can find it here: Exposure and Response Prevention – (ocdtalk.com)
2. Switch up your routine.
Start by changing your daily routine. I’m not saying it won’t be a challenge at first or that you have to make more than one change at a time, but allowing for some changes can break you from the stuckness.
For instance, it can be something as simple as making a different kind of sandwich than usual for work or taking a different route to the store. Try your best to get past the initial anxiety, as the more you expose yourself, the greater your stress will begin to dissipate.
3. Observe your behaviors.
Examine your daily routines for a short while by either mentally taking notes or jotting them down. Try to note the occurring events and label the behavior when you become rigid. For example, you begin to experience anxiety because you can’t take your usual route due to road work. Or, you become overwhelmed if your favorite restaurant closes early. In addition, see if you can have friends or family help by pointing out when you become rigid. For instance, you become angry because you want to play tennis, but your children want to play volleyball.
4. Stay in the moment.
I struggle with anticipatory stress every morning when I wake up, so when I become anxious, I think of the movie “Are We There Yet?” to bring myself back to the moment.
We often get so ahead of ourselves that we don’t know how to live in the moment. So, instead, we endure unnecessary stress by either thinking about what our next step will be or expecting everything to go wrong. It’s a matter of using mindfulness. For example, focus on that cup of tea or bite of toast rather than allowing your mind to wander. Staying in the moment can help eliminate the stressors in your mind – even if just for a short while.
5. Learn to compromise:
Did you ever have a friend in school who wouldn’t compromise? If so, I imagine you eventually either didn’t want to play with them or stopped entirely. As adults, we wouldn’t want that to happen, so it’s essential to consider a friend, family member, or colleague’s thoughts and opinions. See if you can at least meet them halfway.
Rigidity to Flexibility
I never thought I’d become spontaneous and able to handle unexpected changes or plans, and now I have. These changes have taken so much weight off my shoulders. Therefore, you can go from rigidity to flexibility with the proper resources, support, and repeated exposure, freeing yourself from anxiety.
If you need some support on your recovery journey, you are always welcome to join our OCD community. We have a wealth of information and support available to you. By entering our discussion forum, you can connect with others who understand what you are going through. You can also find helpful tips and advice from people who have been where you are now.
- About the Author
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I am a mental health advocate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Initially, I worked as a therapist but shifted my focus and became a Certified Peer Specialist. Currently, I present at inpatient facilities through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and other organizations. I am also a mental health blogger and web content writer, where I draw upon my personal history, education, and professional experience. My work has been featured on the NAMI blog and as a regular contributor to The Mighty blog.
You can find me at Bipolar Warriors – YOU ARE NOT ALONE