Are Your Affirmations Turning into OCD?

3 min readSep 13

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 thought 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 from 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…


Essays, stories & poetry about OCD, culture and society, by Eric. OCD-Free the book: