Excessive Responsibility and OCD
This audio discusses the concept of excessive responsibility to help those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) challenge the underlying thinking
of certain types of compulsions.
Many people with OCD have problems with excessive responsibility because they want to control or prevent bad events.
When you first listen to this audio it may be uncomfortable because it challenges irrational beliefs. However, if it seems relevant to the obsessions you have, it is best to listen to it repeatedly to help change the thinking.
Transcript of Excessive Responsibility and OCD
Often people with anxiety disorders, particularly OCD, feel as if they are responsible for everything that occurs. As a result of this overly developed sense of responsibility, they often feel guilt when they haven't done anything wrong. The feelings of guilt, however, often lead to symptoms of anxiety and distress. People with OCD may engage in compulsions to alleviate the anxiety and distress. If the person can learn to address the initial belief regarding feeling responsible, they may be able to reduce or even stop the rest of the process.
This audio is to help address those feelings of responsibility and guilt. Changing the thoughts behind the feelings takes time. Just telling yourself something a few times does not change your thoughts and feelings. If this audio is relevant to your situation, you need to listen to it frequently and tell yourself these new ways of thinking as often as possible. By doing so you will create a new pathway in your brain that will challenge the old pathway of excessive responsibility, guilt, and anxiety.
To challenge the idea of excessive responsibility, you need to recognize that it is not possible to be responsible for something you can't control. If you examine this idea, I think you would agree that logically, you need to be able to control a situation to be responsible for it. Or you need to be able to control a person's behavior to be responsible for them or their feelings.
Many people have an erroneous sense of control so it is also important to determine when you do and do not have control. Those with OCD often believe they have control over outcomes when they do not. For instance, a person might believe “I check the stove and electrical appliances when I leave the house. That gives me control over whether a fire occurs. If I don't check and there is a fire, it is my fault.” But this is a mistaken belief. Checking these items does not reduce the risk of fire. Therefore, if the person does not check and a fire occurs, it was not controllable and the person can not be responsible for it.
Certainly, there is a reasonable amount of cautious behavior that allows us to control our environments. However, beyond that reasonable amount, additional efforts do not make a difference. So the person with OCD needs to learn how to recognize what is a reasonable amount of cautious behavior. However, most people with OCD already know this.
The difficulty is with convincing themselves that they can stop at a reasonable amount. The reason it is difficult is because the individual is using the irrational thinking style of emotional reasoning. In other words, they might believe “If I feel anxious and guilty, I must be responsible or at fault.”
See how this is backwards from the idea of “I can't be responsible for something I can't control?” Instead, this is the belief that if you feel responsible, you must be responsible. Emotional reasoning is the tendency to judge behavior based on feelings. However, it can often be inaccurate. It is important, instead, to judge your feelings based on your behavior. Therefore, if you have not done anything wrong, then your feelings of anxiety and guilt are inaccurate. And if you don't have control over the outcome, then you couldn't have done anything wrong. You can't be responsible for something you can't control.
So, how do you know when you don't truly have control. One way to know is to determine if you can predict the outcome with a high level of accuracy. The greater your ability to predict the outcome, the greater chance you have at controlling the outcome. However, notice I said with a “high level of accuracy.” For instance, if a person has a fear of contracting HIV, they might predict that touching dried blood will contaminate them with HIV. However, there is no accuracy to this prediction, therefore whatever compulsions they engage in to avoid dried blood do not actually provide any ability to control the outcome.
However, even if you can predict an outcome, it doesn't necessarily mean that you can control it. A good example of this is the decisions of other people. You don't have control over other people, therefore you can't be responsible for their decisions and the outcome of those decisions. For example, a child with the magical thinking type of OCD might think “If I count my steps and end on an even number, then my parents won't get divorced.” In this situation, the child is trying to control the decisions of others by engaging in a compulsion. But, the child cannot have control in this situation and is not responsible for those decisions.
Sometimes people mistakenly believe they are responsible for the feelings of others such as “She is sad because I didn't do what she wanted.” This cannot be any more true than being responsible for the thoughts of other people. Feelings are information that we receive about our interactions with the world just as we think about our experiences. Feelings are not bad just as thoughts are not bad. Therefore, we don't need to prevent others from feeling certain types of emotions. But the bottom line is we don't have control over their emotions and can't be responsible for them just as you don't have control over others' thoughts.
However, some people with OCD believe they should try to control other people's thoughts. For instance, they might believe “If I am perfect and don't make any mistakes, then he will think highly of me.” Again, there may be a reasonable amount of conscientious behavior that might influence others' opinions. However, beyond that reasonable amount, we can not control other people's thoughts. In fact, with the example of trying to be perfect, sometimes perfectionists can be annoying and frustrating to others. This is a good example of not being able to control others' thoughts and feelings. Therefore, if you can't control others' thoughts and feelings, you can't be responsible for them.
I know that I keep referring to a “reasonable amount” as a way of determining when you have control. If you are uncertain what a “reasonable amount” is look at others' behavior. For instance, someone might believe that they should wash their hands for a lengthy period before cooking for others so that they don't get others sick. However, a reasonable amount has been determined to be 15 to 20 seconds. And if you wash your hands too much and especially with anti-bacterial soaps, you may wash away the good bacteria that helps fight illness. In this case, going beyond the reasonable amount can be detrimental.
Therefore, beyond what is reasonable, you do not have control. And if you don't have control, you can't be responsible. So if you have an overly developed sense of responsibility, it is important to repeat frequently to yourself “I can't be responsible for something I can't control. And I can't control things I can't predict. Nor can I control others' thoughts, feelings, and decisions. Feeling bad or guilty does not mean I did something wrong. Sometimes feelings are inaccurate. If I can't control something, I am not at fault. I can't be responsible for something I can't control.”
Continue to listen to this audio and repeat these thoughts frequently to yourself. The more you do so, the more you will create a new pathway in your brain. A pathway that believes “I can't be responsible for something I can't control. And I can't control things I can't predict. Nor can I control others' thoughts, feelings, and decisions. Feeling bad or guilty does not mean I did something wrong. Sometimes feelings are inaccurate. If I can't control something, I am not at fault. I can't be responsible for something I can't control. I can't be responsible for something I can't control.” New pathways need to compete with the old pathways so they need to be strong. The more you repeat these thoughts, or similar ones of your own, the stronger they become and the more you believe them.