- Mental and physical pain are processed in similar regions of the brain.
- Our inability to escape from RUT’s relentlessly drives flight or fight physiology, and people may become ill.
- There is a healing sequence to solve them – separation of identity, thought diversion, lowering anger, moving into creativity, and dissolving your ego.
- It is a dynamic process with all of these happening daily. Eventually, as it becomes automatic, and you are free to live your life.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is manifested by extreme anxiety that is driven by Repetitive Unpleasant Thoughts (RUT’s). Most people associate it disruptive compulsive behaviors such as hand washing, climbing up and down stairs, following a rigid daily regime, and the list is endless. However, there is also a form of OCD called, “internal OCD” where a person has an unpleasant thought and “counteracts” it with a pleasant thought. Either form has no endpoint and is considered a diagnosis to be managed and not solved. That is simply not true.
RUT’s are universal
Essentially every human being has some level of RUT’s. At what point do they become severe enough to be considered OCD? Why not discard the diagnosis and consider the process on a spectrum of human consciousness. The classic definition of OCD is when the thoughts/behaviors interfere with your capacity to carry out activities necessary to live a functional life.
What about enjoying your life? With internal OCD, there are no outward manifestations, but your quality of life might range from unremarkable to miserable. There also many “acceptable” behaviors such as working hard, overexercising, “passionate pursuit” of a hobby or vocation. All of these can be just fine, but what is driving them?
As I have talked to patients carefully over the 40 years, I gradually learned that mental pain is a much bigger problem than physical pain. I would ask patients that if could get rid of their physical pain with surgery and they would still have their ongoing anxiety versus resolving their anxiety and living with the pain, the majority of people wanted to get rid of the mental pain.
There are also come cousins of OCD. Consider them in the context of behaviors to cope with the unpleasant sensations created by anxiety (threat physiology). They include:
- Hair pulling
- Nail biting
- Eating disorders
- Excessive attention to physical appearance
- Hoarder’s syndrome
- Skin picking
- Extreme convictions regarding religion, politics, or any social issue
- Imposing these “ideals” on others is the next step because control lowers inflammation. The more power the more control.
Any addiction is an attempt to mask anxiety.
Avoiding anxiety (threat physiology) drives most human behavior
Avoiding anxiety is the driving force keeping all living creatures alive. It is the result of stresses and challenges, not the cause. Amongst the many stressors in our lives, the inability to escape from our thoughts is a major one, maybe the worst. Although we cannot control our thoughts, many activities create sense of control. Suppressing RUT’s just makes them-worse.
“Worrying” seems normal to many people. But is not particularly enjoyable. Why do we spend so much time worrying about so many things, many of which we have no control over? One reason is that it provides a feeling of control. Somehow, worrying enough will help solve the problem. What it does is that it keeps your brain and body fired up and you have less energy to effectively deal with challenges.
Or maybe you have an “anxiety disorder.” Everyone has anxiety, so why would we call it a disorder and why would you personalize these intentionally unpleasant sensations that evolved to keep you alive. It is what you have, not who you are.
What about those who don’t have any of these behaviors. Even many well-adjusted people living normal enjoyable lives can experience a level of RUT’s that interfere with their quality of life. Actually, when life is relatively calm, these repetitive thought patterns can significantly increase. Then as one pursues pleasurable activities to distract themselves, it doesn’t work and is actually highly inflammatory. The data shows that a hedonistic lifestyle creates aggressive inflammatory cells called “warrior monocytes.” In addition to attacking viruses and bacteria, they also go after your own tissues. The other factors that stimulate their formation is social isolation and CHRONIC stress.1 Your body knows how to effectively deal with acute stress, but it needs a break to rest and regenerate.
Degrees of OCD
Obsessive thought patterns are inherent in human cognitive consciousness. There are degrees of intensity, and they vary day-to-day depending on the level of your stressors and the state of your nervous system – calm or hyperactive. Again, even if your life is relatively calm, they can also be problematic.
OCD, the extreme manifestation of this situation is considered a diagnosis to be managed and can’t be solved. However, medicine has not consistently addressed the body’s physiology. When you are in a flight-or-fight state, your brain also becomes inflamed and these thoughts will fly out like clay pigeons at a shooting range, except there are trillions of them. The medical profession has also not acknowledged the seriousness of the effects of less intense RUT’s on people’s sense of well-being and health. They still drive threat physiology. They are often referred to as a “monkey mind” or he/ she is just having a nervous breakdown. These thinking patterns are a problem and our inability to escape them is even more problematic.
There are four aspects of solving RUT’s and each of them will be discussed in detail in future posts. They all happen simultaneously and indefinitely. Eventually, as your brain evolves away from them, you no longer have to “work at dealing with them. They are:
- Diverting, not controlling, them – mindfulness, expressive writing, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- “Turning down the heat” – when you are trapped by anything, your threat state fires up even more, and you are angry. Anxiety is activated and anger is hyper-activated threat physiology.
- Nurturing creativity and joy. This is where the real healing occurs as you move away from these spinning circuits.
- Dissolution of your ego – we work hard to attain enough self-esteem to feel better about ourselves. However, most of it is based on cognitive distortions that drive RUT’s even more. Without an ego to defend, these racing thoughts will abate – often dramatically.
This set of approaches evolved from my own 15-year ordeal with severe “internal OCD.” Not only do I not experience these vivid, almost visual thoughts, I don’t seem to have the random distracting thoughts I had before I became ill. There is also a vast amount of research looking at the mechanisms of why and how they occur, and now there is lot of neuroscience data supporting these ideas. The challenge is to present them in a manner so you can pursue your own healing journey. No one else can do it for you.
As your brain heals, your body heals. As your body heals, your brain will heal. The reality is that they are just part of one unit – you.
Our inability to escape our unpleasant thoughts is inflammatory. Since half of your brain has inflammatory receptors, it also fires up. The diagnosis of OCD is considered to be relatively uncommon, except many people suffer from RUT’s that interfere with the quality of their life. Obsessive thought patterns are considered to be unsolvable and just managed. However, medicine is not generally addressing the physiology. There are four aspects of dealing with OCD that will lower the intensity of these thoughts:thought diversion, lowering anger, moving into the creative part of your brain, and allowing your ego to dissolve. They are solvable.
Questions and considerations
- What percentage of your waking hours are you occupied with racing thoughts?
- Do you find yourself avoiding thinking about certain things? Do you notice how often they keep popping up?
- Are you aware how common they are and how many people are bothered by them?
- The medical world doesn’t consider OCD a problem that can be solved and the lesser issue of RUT’s is not often addressed. By using all of the approaches presented, they are not only solvable, but you can move into a wonderful life
- RUT’s are a function of the mechanics of the mind. Talk therapy alone is ineffective and it can be likened to having a conversation with the engine of your car.
- It is important to understand that these “stories” and thoughts become embedded in our brains as concretely as any physical object. The problem is that since this is your frame of reference, how can you really see the problem? They become normalized.
- Cole SW, et al. Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes. Genome Biology (2007); 8:R189. doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r189