Are Your Affirmations Turning into OCD?

I use affirmations and other scripted thought to help calm and center myself. But, with my history of debilitating OCD, I frequently check in to make sure those scripts aren’t turning into OCD rituals.

For example, when I am distracted from present moment awareness by intrusive worries and fantasies, I will stop my mind in its tracks and think, “I am aware of those thoughts and feelings.” After breathing into that awareness, especially into how the thoughts are triggering physical sensations like a racing heartbeat, I can let them dissipate and allow myself back into awareness of my body and my surroundings, to enjoy the present moment. I sometimes take it one step further and add the thought, “I am aware that I am aware of those thoughts and feelings.” This meta-awareness really helps me to detach from things that are not useful, like catastrophizing or replaying past disasters in a loop.

It occurred to me the other day that I might be using those scripted thoughts — the ones meant to help me release unhelpful thinking — as a ritual. Do I really need to always add the second part (“I am aware of being aware….”)? The way to differentiate helpful affirmations and techniques from OCD is to notice if that thinking is becoming too ritualized. That is, do you give in to an urge to repeat them a certain number of times? Do you find yourself compelled to use affirmations to the point where they become a distraction form the present moment awareness and you are stuck in affirmation loops?

More simply, are your erstwhile healthy affirmations beginning to control you instead of you controlling them?

OCD can be thought of as emanating from the left side of the brain. When your right brain is trying to enjoy the wordless bliss of just being, is your left brain intruding with repetitive words and phrases in a subconscious attempt to stave off fear and doom?

Language and repetition doesn’t have to be the enemy of tranquility. After all, the rituals of religious service and prayer can help to return you to peace and calmness. Just so long as it doesn’t cross the line by controlling your life, preventing you from doing things you want to do, or making those things more difficult. So, if you find that you must pray every time you do anything throughout the day, you may want to question whether prayer has turned into an OCD ritual. Likewise, if you find that phrases like, “I am relaxed, I am tranquil, am fearless, I am care-free” have to be repeated, say, 21 times, those affirmations have been hijacked by your left-brain ego. In that case, it’s time to intentionally break those habits before they break you.

One Ride Rule:

If your version of OCD has you doing rituals while driving, it can feel next to impossible to resist those urges and enjoy a pleasant car ride. There is a way around that problem, and it will strengthen those healthier neuropathways and allow the habitual ones to fade.

Decide in advance to have an OCD-free car ride. When I get in my car for a long drive, perhaps a day trip, I think of it as a great opportunity to practice freedom from OCD. I make a pledge right when I get into the car that this trip will be free of OCD. My ego-mind knows that I can always do OCD after the trip, so it doesn’t feel that threatened. As I’m driving, if something happens that would have normally triggered an OCD response, I remember that I am on an OCD-free trip. A few breaths later, I feel a great sense of liberation.




Essays, stories & poetry about OCD, culture and society, by Eric

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Essays, stories & poetry about OCD, culture and society, by Eric

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