The Winding Path

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June 2024: My Protector – OCD

Posted on Jun 29, 2024

June 2024: My Protector – OCD

The month of June has been an interesting one for me. In a sense, I have lived two parallel lives – that of 30 years ago and today. Reading old journal entries has been eye-opening and healing. I have been able to forgive that younger version and welcome her into my integrated Self. My professional training and experience have enabled me to process those ‘ancient’ experiences – a bit like an archaeologist on a dig site, I imagine. 😊 In particular, I was able to unpack my (back then) undiagnosed OCD – its roots and raison d’être.

I discovered my OCD serves a few different functions that interweave with the same or similar roots. The first observation was that my OCD provided an external locus of control (or sense of self) where my internalized one was lacking. In particular, my obsessive-compulsive religious beliefs and practices. I dedicated my life to God based upon the conviction of the interplay between God’s Sovereignty and Barb’s submission. This was reinforced in my home life but with inconsistent results. I was to claim fealty to my stepmother’s sovereignty with my unwavering submission and unquestioning obedience. This transferred to my understanding of and relationship with God. The irony is that the same faith that exacerbated my mental illnesses also kept me alive – gave me a somewhat consistent external locus of control. Emphasis on the word consistent. Without it, I might have veered into much more severe symptoms that would’ve compromised my “high functioning.” Another irony. If my functioning had become more noticeably compromised, what would’ve happened? My birth mother’s experience very likely would’ve repeated itself. Hence, having a spiritual experience and faith in a Transcendent Other remains important to me, but looks vastly different from my youth.

In a complicated side note, this correlates with having a trauma bond with God based upon my experience of a trauma bond with both my parents. Technically, a deeper layer of the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that developed to fill the void where my sense of self should’ve been. Once again, we wade into the weeds of unmet attachment needs. To review, an ideal childhood is one of consistency, safety, and security – a place or family dynamic in which we gain a healthy sense of self in order to go out and explore the world, only to come back to our centre, regroup, and go out again. The purpose of this process is to develop a sense of “I’m okay.” Instead, I developed a sense of “there’s something wrong with me.” As do all children of unstable or chaotic home environments. We develop a core belief of insufficiency and incompetence which generates a need to constantly seek external validation – our locus of control or sense of self is externalized and thus very vulnerable to the whims of others.

The second function my OCD serves is an attempt to protect me from experiencing embarrassment and humiliation. A bit ironic given it uses internal shame to prevent external shame. Best I can figure is that the Inner Critic is preferable to external criticism, shame, and judgement. Punish myself, push myself to be perfect before someone else figures out there’s something wrong with me and I have to deal with consequences and repercussions – which is related to preventing punishment and leads us to another function.

A meme helped make the connection between OCD and preventing anger – a compulsion to be perfect to prevent my parents (or teachers, etc.) from getting angry with me. In this month’s journal I noted: “The root of my OCD. I don’t recall the OCD starting until we moved to the Graysville area. And it just kept getting worse as family tensions did. But it was so gradual. My OCD doesn’t just try to prevent shaming – it also tried to prevent anger. I think that is lessening; but I still don’t want anyone to be disappointed with me – whether it’s clients, friends, or family.” Or authority figures! Hence my angst about my traffic ticket and the next function of my OCD.

A fourth purpose of my OCD is to help manage the chaos (both external and internal). From my journal this month: “Believing in the delusion of sovereignty & submission kept me in a perpetual state of angst; but it also provided a framework or mechanism to manage shame. And my OCD helped manage the chaos. As long as I kept my ducks in a row, I might be spared criticism, judgement, and shame. That external locus of control. Keep everyone plus God happy, and all will be “well” – meaning peaceful. I had no comprehension of wellness – just the absence of angst. And the angst was always my fault. I did something wrong – that’s why I didn’t have peace. If only I had known it was faulty wiring.” It is worth noting I have also been a compulsive organizer since I was 7 years old. But it was considered one of my quirks rather a symptom or coping mechanism.

Fifthly, my OCD was a way to fill the void – that emptiness where my sense of “I’m okay” should’ve been. From my journal: “I credited my restlessness as being out of God’s will – not getting something right – when the crazy thinking was simply triggered OCD with cPTSD. I wanted to fill the emptiness. And OCD did a great job! And to avoid the emptiness, I over-analyzed everything.  The emptiness meant I had failed somehow – when it was my parents who had failed to meet my attachment needs” and develop a sense of “I’m okay.”

Similar to all of the above, OCD also tries to protect me from the pain of disappointment and getting hurt. If my brain can over-analyze every option or possible outcome, then maybe it can prevent bad things from happening – whether from my own mistakes and missteps or from others.

The most significant discovery was that my OCD serves as a way to manage waiting and uncertainty/ambiguity. At one point this past month, I was feeling a familiar restlessness and listlessness – a sense of being in limbo – waiting for something to happen – which I connected to my father wound. From my journal:

“Always waiting for dad’s attention, approval, protection. Those three things are quite significant – it is also what I waited for in my marriage. To fill the void, the emptiness, the sense of “something wrong with me” – I would overthink, over-analyze, obsess. I don’t need to do that anymore: obsess to fill the void or manage the restlessness. While certain interactions remind me of that old dynamic, I can choose different responses, different coping strategies (rather than default mechanisms). I can calm and reassure my inner child: let her know she is loved and cared for. She is okay – nothing wrong with her core, her flame, her light. Her brain and nervous system have some glitches to be worked out, but they do not define her or her worthiness. I deserved so much more as a little girl. More than what my parents were capable of giving. I need to let that shit go. I need to love with detachment. Complete detachment – in that I won’t allow the mistreatment to land on me. I observe and relinquish it. I do not accept it. I let it fall at my feet – to be stepped over or walked away from. It is not mine to pick up or clean up or destroy. Let it lie there to rot on its own. It will take a lot more recovery before I can do that well…And this talk of waiting for approval, attention, and protection made me think of waiting in general. I hate waiting – of any kind – because it generates angst. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for punishment. Waiting for bread crumbs. Waiting for peace & joy. Waiting for healing. Waiting, as a child, to be loved and cared for. That hits a chord – all waiting reminds me of that last one. To be loved and cared for. Hence why ambiguity in romantic relationships drove me to OCD responses. I couldn’t handle the angst of that emptiness – the void of the father wound. So while I was unloved as a child, that is no longer the case. I love that inner little girl deeply and passionately…Deep inside, she was a wonderful little girl who learned it was safest not to express herself. And now I have the opportunity to release the OCD – at least as it relates to the father wound. I am okay. I am loved ‘as is’…Another connection to waiting: my 5-yr-old self waiting for mom to come home – and/or waiting for my “new” mom to show up. Waiting to be taken care of and loved. Waiting always triggers that longing, even if what I’m waiting for isn’t related to love and belonging and basic attachment needs.”

My journal entry continues with a conversation with my amygdala about what waiting is and isn’t (this ‘reprogramming’ or rewiring will take repetition and persistence). “I don’t need to worry about waiting anymore. I am loved and taken care of by my True Self and the entire Universe.”

The last function of OCD that I observed is also related to waiting: to stop the hemorrhaging of the original father wound. From my journal: “In 1994, it appears my fixations transferred from one fellow to the next. Once that wound was opened, it hemorrhaged until I shoved the gauze of yet another potential mate into it…My OCD needed to put something in the open wound to stop the bleeding. And I had no comprehension of intrusive/racing thoughts at that time.” I think this imagery speaks for itself; but if you need me to unpack this further, feel free to send me a message. I was surprised to read in my September 1994 journal that I had made a connection between obsessing about male attention and the apparent unconcern I felt from my father – but I had no way to unpack or process that observation. I know I kept seeking his approval for another two decades. And my marriage, instead of staunching the flow, only added to it – as noted earlier.

My concluding thoughts of this very long blog: it reminded me of writing a research paper. I combed through my June journal entries for references to OCD and made the discovery of its multi-purpose-ness. Hopefully my effort to make sense of it has made it relatable and/or helpful to my readers. Healing is a long journey – one I will be on until I take my last breath. As a therapist, I am honoured to come alongside fellow travellers on their own healing journeys. My hope is that we are all just helping each other ‘home’ – to that sense of being okay at our very cores – a place we can explore from, to return to regroup and recenter, only to go out and explore again and again. Like petals on a flower. Happy travels!

4 Comments

  1. Awesome blog! I relate in so many ways – thank you for sharing – it gives me hope 😊

    • Thank you. That means a lot. 🙂

  2. I can relate 🙂

    • Hugs, my friend! 🙂

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