I still struggle a lot with OCD guilt. You know the kind I’m talking about — guilt over things that either no one else cares about, or that happened decades ago and you can’t change now, or that never happened and you’ve invented entirely out of nothing.

A few examples from my own Guilt File:

  • I’m a terrible daughter because I wasted my college education on a history degree and now I can’t support my parents so they can retire.
  • I could have prevented my childhood cat’s cancer if I’d just tried harder.
  • Something I said to a friend a decade ago made them hate me and they’re too polite to tell me.
  • I might have done a Lesbian Thing that made someone uncomfortable before I knew I was a lesbian without thinking about it or realizing it, but somehow I’m still a creep.

And so on.

While therapy and medication has helped most of my other OCD symptoms and definitely lessened this one, it still pops up pretty frequently. Last night, it woke me out of a dead sleep for several hours.

I don’t want to go up on my medication dosage. Last time I did, I had a hypomanic episode. Now I know what to watch out for, and so do my doctors; it would probably be safe. But I’m very uncomfortable with medication anyway, so I just don’t want to risk it.

So when this happened last night, I wallowed for a little bit, and fought it for a little bit. These are the reactions I always have when hit by irrational guilt. They never work, and they’re never going to, because that’s how OCD operates. The guilt and the mental version of the flight response are what your OCD brain wants. They’re absolutely natural reactions, but they also give the OCD brain what it wants.

So I took a deep breath and told myself, “This isn’t working. Try something else.” I started with breathing, and then began implementing what I am learning through mindfulness meditation: Accept the feeling and experience it, then let it drift away.

And it actually worked, a little. Enough for me to fall back asleep, anyway.

The guilt is still trying to latch on today, and it’s not at all comfortable. But by simply allowing myself to feel it for a minute, then setting it aside to do something else, my OCD brain is not finding anything to latch on to.

I don’t think this will work every time, at least not at first. I’m still very much a newbie with mindfulness. But it’s helping today, and that’s what’s important, right?

How do you deal with OCD guilt?

Photo by Lachlan Hardy