An inference that sneaks into your obsession cannot render it valid. So, for example, suppose you have a contamination obsession. Imagine your fear is contracting a blood-related illness from dirty scissors and other sharp objects like razors. You might hear (inference) of something terrible happening to someone who visited their hairdresser. You then fear it could happen to you. But even though nothing can legitimise an obsession, doubt gets sandwiched between it and your authentic self and confuses you.
Uprooting The Inference
So on that basis, let’s uproot hearsay and look at it. Can you see with your senses and common sense that there is nothing concrete about gossip? It is an assumption and the starting point for OCD to instil doubt and make a case against your authentic self. It might have already started it and convinced you of other inferences and how these add credibility to the obsession—for example, remembering a time when your mother cut your hair and accidentally nipped your neck with the scissors. In other words, the personal experience (inference) of your mother nipping your neck appears relevant to the matter but isn’t.
Even still, since inferences make the obsession seem believable, OCD claims that you must be more careful or you will suffer terrible consequences. Therefore, in the instance of having a haircut, doesn’t it make it more plausible that the awful thing that happened to someone at the hairdresser (hearsay) could happen to you, too? After all, personal experience shows how easy it is to cut one’s neck when having a haircut. See how deceptive OCD can be?
Before The Obsession
But let’s go back to before you developed the contamination obsession. Did you ever worry about the terrible thing happening to you? For example, did you feel something nagging at your brain, accusing you of being careless around scissors. For instance, failing to ask a hairdresser if they sterilise them after each haircut? And utensils, did you feel urged to check they were thoroughly clean when you ate at a restaurant? Did the nagging make you avoid haircuts and eating out? If your answers are no, then your authentic self did not worry about needing certainty. In other words, your mind was free from doubt about contamination before OCD, and you enjoyed the perks of life.
OCD Introduces An Imaginary Self
But, unfortunately, since you have a propensity for OCD, it found a way to get your attention and make you feel uncertain. First, it introduces an imaginary self. In this case, a contamination obsession. Next, it threatens you with the feared illness, convincing you that your authentic self is in danger.
Therefore, in this case, let’s suppose you sit in the hairdresser’s chair, and the memory of the terrible thing happening to someone at the hairdresser’s suddenly crosses your mind, even though it was hearsay. This is a trigger that elicits doubt. Instantly, you question if the same awful thing could happen to you, and your anxiety rises. This is the doubt that starts the obsession, making you fear the imagined consequence. So, in that same instance, you decide not to have your hair cut and leave, and as you do so, you check no scissors touched you.
Following The Doubt
Notice here that you followed the doubt where it led you away from the situation, an avoidance (ritual), and had you check for danger (another ritual) to make certain things were safe and reduce anxiety. In this case, you try to work things out in your imagination, not with your senses and common sense in the here and now. Still, it eases your anxiety, and you think everything’s okay. But then, later, you feel uncertain again and need to go over your mind that the scissors didn’t touch you. It becomes a pattern.
But recall that the scissors can only touch your imaginary self (the obsession). In other words, whatever intrusive or ruminating scenarios you have are not reality based. Even still, anything’s possible in the here and now, but that doesn’t mean OCD’s threats have anything to do it. Nonetheless, you may feel uncertain at this point and decide you daren’t take risks. Subsequently, hairdressers and restaurants are out.
Why Accept Uncertainty
But suppose you accept uncertainty. You feel apprehensive about what might or might not happen, but you’re okay with it. But, moreover, imagine you know that doubt is only a FEELING of not knowing the truth or what lies ahead. In other words, every day, we take risks but don’t consciously think that harm will come to us (except maybe a little bit at times, naturally). In other words, we don’t let the probability of things happening to us stop us from living life in the moment.
Making OCD Inactive
However, when you put this into context regarding OCD, probability differs. Since nothing can validate an obsession, terrible things can only come true in your imagination. Therefore, what is the point of rituals? Remember, you don’t need compulsive behaviours to protect your authentic self because an obsession isn’t about you; it’s about an imaginary self OCD presented to you. So, would it be fairer for you to make OCD inactive by not doing the rituals? When OCD becomes idle or weak, it cannot so easily torment your mind with contamination fears and introduce its other imaginary selves (themes) to you.
In short, the solution is NOT to be guided by the core of OCD: doubt. You’ll sink further into OCD’s imaginary world (the obsessional theme) if you are. So instead, you can think back to before you had the obsession and live the way you did then. By making OCD inactive, you can go for a haircut, eat at restaurants, and do other things you enjoy. Of course, it may still try to get your attention, maybe with a different theme next time. However, since you’re aware of how OCD operates, you’ll know not to let it bother you so much. You will be less tempted to follow doubt and more attuned to staying in the here and now. Subsequently, you will guard against doing rituals and keep OCD non-functioning.
Source: Kieron O’Connor and Frederick Aardema, 2012 Clinician’s Handbook for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Inference-Based Therapy eBook : Aardema, Frederick, O’Connor, Kieron: Amazon.co.uk: Books
3 Effective Ways to Treat OCD and Reclaim Your Life: Evidence-Based Treatments for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder eBook : Edwards, Carol: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store My book includes information on inference-based cognitive therapy, approved by Frederick Aardema. This therapy is another evidence-based treatment for OCD, aside from exposure and response prevention.