It’s Not Me, It’s My OCD!


If you ever wonder if you have OCD or OCD tendencies, or if you can’t rid yourself of harmful thoughts, I recommend the book Brain Lock, Free Yourself from Obsessive Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. with Beverly Beyette. Below is a short synopsis of the book.

What is OCD? U.C.L.A. researcher Jeffrey M. Schwartz defines characteristics of OCD as compulsive rituals, unreasonable hoarding or uncontrollable runaway thoughts, uncontrolled eating, drinking, nail biting, hair pulling, compulsive shopping, gambling, drug abuse and impulsive sexual behavior. OCD is a life- long disorder with obsessions and compulsions that affects 5 million Americans.

OBSESSION: Intrusive, unwelcome, distressing thoughts or mental images.  From Latin meaning “to besiege”, the thoughts besiege and annoy the heck out of you.

COMPULSIONS: are the behaviors people with OCD perform in a vain attempt to exorcise the fears and anxieties caused by their obsessions. Giving into unwanted behavior strengthens the compulsion.

What is normal?  Suppose you meet an attractive person at a party and you can’t get them out of your mind.  You are not obsessed, you are ruminating and it is quite normal and pleasant.  Your thoughts are difficult to ignore but not impossible.  With OCD, the thoughts seem impossible to overcome.

Why can’t a person just use will- power to get over unwanted thoughts? Using brain imagining new research pinpoints OCD as a bio chemical problem caused from a malfunction in the circuitry of the brain. It is called “brain lock” because four key structures of the brain lock and start sending false messages. In most people the processing centers of their brain work smoothly like an automatic transmission on a car. But for OCD suffers their negative thoughts get stuck and never pass through the brain’s gateway. They just keep replaying and replaying like a record player needle stuck in the groove or scratch of the record.  But by applying the 4-Step technique, you can teach your brain to automatically shift and not get stuck forever.

What is the simple 4-step technique?  

Step One: Relabel.  Label the intrusive thought or urge just what it is: an obsessive thought or compulsive urge. Recognize reality and do not be overcome by the feelings these thoughts cause.  You don’t have to believe everything you think.

Step Two:  Reattribute.  Say to yourself, “It’s not me, it’s my OCD.” My brain is stuck in gear and its “error-detection circuit” keeps firing inappropriately.  This causes me to have very uncomfortable feelings but if I change my behavior and not give in to my compulsion, over time my broken gearshift will become unstuck.  When my brain starts to shift properly my uncomfortable feelings will fade.”  

Step Three: Refocus.  The key to the Refocus step is to do another behavior that you enjoy doing.  Usually you won’t need to distract yourself longer than 15 minutes.  Remember, OCD urges are very strong and powerful but they are stupid.  Take advantage of that stupidity and work around it by putting another more enjoyable thought in its place—shift gears.  If your car was stuck in the mud wouldn’t you leave it and go find another way home? The best kinds of refocusing activities are those that require concentration, strategy and involve other people. For example, good game of bridge, a crossword puzzle, or even some work problem; as long as it give you pleasure.  A physical activity such as jogging is not less effective because your mind can still be obsessing while you run.  Howard Hughes likely used flying his airplane as a way to distract him from his OCD.  

Step Four:  Revalue.  See the thoughts and obsessions as the useless garbage that they are.  Think to yourself, “That’s just a senseless obsession.  It’s a false message.  I am going to focus my attention on something else.” There is an 80% success rate with cognitive behavior therapy and medication. The 4-Steps breaks the lie anxiety tells the brain and changes the way your brain function.

 Source: Schwartz, Jeffrey M. (1997). Brain Lock Free: Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior. New York, New York: HarperCollins Books. To order the book:

Camille Curtis Foster, LCSW


Another good technique to distract yourself is breathing, see my post:

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