I’ve previously written about recovery avoidance in reference to obsessive-compulsive disorder, where those who have OCD refuse to embrace proper treatment and fight their disorder. In general, recovery avoidance is attributed to two things: fear and incentive. All things being equal, a person will not seek recovery unless the incentive to get better is stronger than the fear of getting better. Those who are familiar with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy know that the thought of engaging in this treatment can be terrifying to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder; they are being asked to face their worst fears and refrain from completing compulsions that they believe, on some level, keep their world “safe.”
For those of us without OCD, this is often difficult to understand. While many of us can relate to experiences where we have had to face our fears, dealing with OCD seems to take “facing our fears” to another level.
Why is this?
I think the answer to this question lies in how OCD operates – it is tricky and deceitful.
Think of the most important things in your life – what you value more than anything else in the world. It could be those you truly love, your work, or your integrity, to give a few examples. Each person has his or own unique values.
If you have OCD, it will latch on to those values you hold most dear and convince you that certain things need to be done to safeguard them. OCD pretends to be on your side – it is disguised as a friend who will protect you from harm and will keep you from losing what is most important to you. All you have to do is perform compulsions as OCD commands, over and over again, and all will be well. And on some level, those with OCD feel these rituals do their job; their deepest values are indeed protected.
So when it comes time to do ERP therapy, those with OCD often feel that they are not only being asked to face their greatest fears, they are being asked to go against everything they believe is keeping their world intact. They are being asked to betray a friend, and they must be willing to face a world of uncertainty where anything can happen. Of course this is the world we all actually live in, but adhering to OCD’s requirements has created an illusion of safety.
So how does someone with OCD escape its clutches?
By understanding the inner workings of OCD and how it seduces sufferers. A good therapist can help here. Once OCD is seen for what it really is – a big bully – those with the disorder are more likely to embrace ERP therapy and work toward a life of freedom. It might not be easy, but nothing worthwhile rarely is.