Shame & Guilt in OCD: How to Banish It From Your Life
It is not uncommon for OCD sufferers to feel guilty and ashamed of their thoughts, urges, and/or behaviors. Why do people with OCD feel this way? Well, primarily because they realize that their thoughts, urges, and behaviors are unrealistic and improbable, but they cannot stop obsessing over things and/or engaging in compulsive behaviors (i.e., rituals or routines). What the general population does not understand is that OCD sufferers do not want to have these thoughts or perform these actions.
No, these individuals want to be “normal” just like everyone, yet something constantly stands in their way. That something is obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. Because people with OCD are unable to live a “normal” life, they feel shame and guilt. They feel ashamed of their thoughts and urges, and/or behaviors, and guilty because they are unable to prevent or stop them. OCD sufferers are often tormented by their thoughts, urges, and/or behaviors. It is embarrassing and unbecoming and people with OCD know this.
People with OCD hate how they embarrass loved ones, romantic partners, and friends with their non-stop repetitive rituals or routines. These individuals not only feel guilty because they cannot stop the unwanted thoughts, urges, and/or behaviors, but also because of how their behavior affects other people. The worst thing that can happen to someone with OCD is to be labeled or stigmatized.
People with OCD also do not want to be the butt of jokes or myths. That is why OCD is considered a “lonely condition.” Thus, it is sometimes easier to self-isolate from others, than to allow them to see what you are dealing with daily. So, these individuals “hide” from other people, so they will not find out about their obsessions and compulsions. “Hiding,” however, does not ease the pain of having the condition, or the feelings of guilt and shame that often accompany it.
Shame and guilt should not prevent you from getting the OCD help you need to have a happier, healthier, and more productive life. Impulse Therapy is an online OCD program that can help you gain control of your obsessions and/or compulsions, so you no longer feel ashamed and guilty about your condition.
This online program not only provides you with a wealth of OCD reading material, audio recordings, tips and suggestions, an OCD assessment, and cognitive-behavioral therapists but also a lifetime of emotional support. Impulse therapy can teach you healthy coping skills and strategies, so guilt and shame do not cause your self-esteem to plummet.
Wanting to stop OCD-induced shame and guilt before it ruins your life? If so, look no more, because this article is going to explain why you feel this way and teach you how to keep these upsetting emotions in check.
What Should I Know About OCD?
Did you know that OCD affects 1-2% of the general population (i.e., about 1 in 50 people)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that affects people of all ages, races/ethnicities, genders, health statuses, educational or financial backgrounds, and sexual orientations. OCD involves non-stop, unwanted, upsetting, and unrealistic thoughts, urges, and fears (obsessions) that may lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
OCD may include the following obsessions:
- Fear of dirt, bacteria, germs, and contamination
- Excessively thinking or worrying about being harmed or harming other people
- Frightening and unrelenting sexual or violent thoughts
- Need for symmetry, order, perfection, and/or precision
OCD may include the following compulsions:
- Excessive hand-washing, cleaning or sanitizing
- Repeatedly checking and rechecking things, for instance repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked once you leave for work.
- Arranging objects (i.e., cars, dolls, Legos, etc.) in a certain order
As you can see OCD is often a debilitating condition that disrupts almost every area of your life, so it makes sense that people who struggle with the condition feel ashamed and guilty.
Are Shame and Guilt the Same Things?
Contrary to popular belief, shame and guilt are not the same things.
When a person feels shame, he or she is judging himself or herself (oneself) negatively. But, when a person feels guilty, he or she is judging the behavior (not oneself) negatively.
When shame and guilt are linked to OCD, it means that the OCD sufferer is ashamed of himself (as a person) for having the condition. In essence, this person is ashamed of himself or herself because he or she is not like other people. It is this person’s intrusive thoughts, urges, fears, and other behaviors (rituals or routines) that cause him or her to feel guilty.
Why Do I Feel So Ashamed and Guilty About Having OCD?
There are many reasons why you may feel ashamed and guilty about your condition, such as:
The Need to Be “Just Right” or Perfect
OCD sufferers tend to feel as though everything needs to be “just right” or perfect to feel at ease. Even one hair out of place can sometimes cause shame and guilt. And, when these individuals are unable to attain perfection, they may feel ashamed, guilty, and even unworthy of happiness, other people, and/or rewards. So, you are most likely feeling ashamed and guilty because you have set abnormally high expectations that are impossible to achieve.
Genetics is another reason why you may be feeling shame and guilt because of your OCD. Studies suggest that there is a strong link between OCD and genetics. More specifically, researchers have found that people, who have at least one close relative with an anxiety condition, like OCD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, panic attacks, etc., or depression have a high risk of developing OCD. Thus, if you are feeling embarrassed by or guilty about your condition, you can attribute, some if not all, of these feelings to genetics.
Brain Structure & Function Abnormalities
The structure and function of your brain could be causing you to feel ashamed and guilty about your condition. According to researchers, OCD is associated with shame and guilt. Neuroimaging studies indicate that people with OCD have more grey matter in their brains, because of structural abnormalities. Because of the excess grey matter, you may interpret and process information differently than someone without OCD. Moreover, studies suggest that certain brain regions (i.e., orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)) in a person with OCD is hyperactive. Hyperactivity in these brain regions can cause racing thoughts, impulsivity, anxiety, rapid mood fluctuations, and compulsive behaviors. So, if having OCD is making you feel ashamed and guilty, there is a good possibility that it is a “brain thing” that is causing it.
A Fear of Being “Out-of-Control”
People with OCD tend to have a fear of losing control of themselves, other people, and the situation. A lack of control can trigger shame and guilt in some OCD sufferers. More specifically, feeling as if you have no control over what is happening to you (i.e., what you are thinking and doing) can spark feelings of shame and guilt. You may also feel ashamed and guilty if your thoughts are sexual or violent, especially if you are highly religious and were taught that having these types of thoughts and urges are immoral, taboo, and unacceptable. The shame and guilt stem from your inability to control your thoughts, urges, and/or behavior.
A Hypersensitivity to Criticism
Finally, people with OCD may be more hypersensitive to criticism, than people without OCD. This hypersensitivity can trigger feelings of shame and guilt. So, you may be ashamed and feel guilty about your OCD because you are unable to reach your lofty goals or extremely high expectations, or constantly be “perfect.” When someone criticizes you, even if it is objective criticism, you probably take this as an assault on your character and/or self-worth. As a result, you become triggered to the point that you feel ashamed of your thoughts, urges, doubts, and/or behavior.
Can Shame and Guilt Worsen My OCD Symptoms?
It is possible. Shame and guilt may worsen OCD in the following ways:
Extreme Angst & Avoidance
Severe anxiety, a common sign of OCD, can cause someone with the condition to avoid their OCD triggers – i.e., people, places, situations, events, etc. And, if you feel ashamed and guilty about the intrusive, involuntary, and unwanted thoughts, urges, fears, doubts, images, feelings, and/or compulsive behaviors, you are more likely to avoid what is causing them for fear of being “outed,” judged, labeled, stigmatized, or criticized by others. Shame and guilt can prevent you from confronting, challenging, or resisting your obsessive thoughts and feelings, and/or compulsive behaviors. And, angst or anxiety (from shame and guilt) could cause the OCD cycle to keep repeating and your OCD symptoms to worsen. Being paralyzed by anxiety, fear, shame, and guilt can also delay your OCD treatment.
Depression can also trigger shame and guilt in some OCD sufferers. Understand that some people with OCD suffer from a comorbid condition involving OCD and depression. And, depression can cause or worsen shame and guilt. OCD sufferers, who are depressed, may experience shame and guilt over feeling so “down,” which could exacerbate their OCD symptoms. Researchers also suggest that depression could intensify obsessions and compulsions making it challenging to treat them.
Shame and guilt can prevent people struggling with the condition to seek OCD help. Why does this happen? Primarily, because of fear and embarrassment. In other words, people with OCD often feel too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their thoughts, urges, mental images, doubts, fears, and/or behaviors with other people, even loved ones, friends, or OCD therapists. Thus, shame and guilt can delay your OCD treatment, possibly leading to more severe OCD symptoms. In other words, untreated OCD symptoms can escalate over time, damaging or destroying relationships, friendships, your self-esteem and self-confidence, money, employment or work opportunities, etc.
How Can I Stop Feeling Ashamed and Guilty Because of My OCD?
The good news is there are many ways to effectively cope with OCD-induced shame and guilt, such as:
Being More Aware
You cannot stop OCD-induced shame and guilt if you do not realize that you are experiencing them. If you are unaware of what you are feeling or sensing, those feelings will continue to torment you until you recognize and acknowledge them.
When you have OCD, feelings of shame and guilt can make you feel alone and misunderstood. These negative emotions can make you feel unlovable, unwanted, and unworthy. Feelings of shame and guilt can also trick you into believing that you do not deserve happiness, love, respect, or success because there is something wrong with you.
The emotional distress associated with shame and guilt can make you emotionally withdraw and isolate yourself from others – because of your condition (OCD). As result, you develop a mindset that you will never “fit in” anywhere and that you will never be successful, happy, or “normal.”
You will blame your thoughts, behaviors, and even yourself for your predicament – loneliness, embarrassment, and guilt. So, pay attention to how you are feeling, sensing, thinking, and behaving. Perhaps, document in a journal each time you experience OCD-triggered shame and guilt. Once, you become more aware of how you are thinking and feeling and what you are doing, you will be more likely to seek OCD treatment for your OCD symptoms and feelings of shame and guilt.
Shame can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and self-confidence. Shame affects how you see yourself. In the case of OCD, you are probably ashamed of having the condition – of not being “normal” like “everyone else.” People with OCD, who experience shame, tend to blame themselves for having the condition. It is a personal embarrassment – one they desperately try to hide from others.
Fear of being “found out” often drives shame. Guilt can also cause devastating effects on one’s life. People with OCD, who experience guilt are embarrassed by their intrusive thoughts, urges, etc., and compulsive behaviors (rituals or routines). These individuals are deathly afraid that people will shun, judge, and/or criticize them because of how they think and act. They are afraid that other people will view them as “freaks,” so they hide their thoughts and behaviors.
OCD sufferers who are plagued with guilt also feel this way if their thoughts and behaviors hurt, disappoint, or embarrass others, especially friends, loved ones, romantic partners, and co-workers. So, what should you do? Be honest about how shame and guilt are impacting your OCD.
The worst thing you can do is pretend you are not experiencing shame and guilt because “closed mouths do not get fed.” In other words, if you refuse to acknowledge what is happening to you, you are unlikely to receive the OCD help you need. Even if you do not tell anyone else what you are feeling and experiencing, at least be honest with yourself. At least if you are honest with yourself, you can take steps to boost your mood.
Challenge Your Intrusive Thoughts
Intrusive thoughts can cloud your judgment and perception, making you falsely believe that you are “defective,” “evil or immoral,” “pathetic,” “freakish,” “crazy,” and/or “less than.” You may be ashamed of yourself for having the intrusive thoughts, and experience guilt at the types of thoughts, you are having – i.e., sexual thoughts involving children, animals, violent thoughts, etc.
So, the most effective way to stop these intrusive thoughts is to challenge them. Force yourself to look at these thoughts from an “outsider point-of-view.” How realistic are these thoughts? In other words, are these thoughts likely to prompt action? If not, then, is it safe to say that these thoughts are simply a useless annoyance? Are you exaggerating about what could happen? Is it also safe to assume that if you do not engage in compulsive behaviors nothing bad will happen? What would you tell a friend who was having these negative thoughts? What advice would you tell him or her?
For instance, you are unable to stop thinking about your wife. Your mind keeps telling you that she is not one – that she has a ton of flaws and “defects.” So, you are unsure if she is your “person.” Maybe, she is not good enough for you. She is not perfect. What if she is cheating on you? Perhaps, you should do some investigative work. You call her, but she does not answer.
You become stressed and your anxiety ramps up. What could she be doing? It is late – what if something bad happens to her? Should you be worried? Who are you kidding, you are already extremely worried. You have not heard from your wife in a couple of hours. What if she is hurt and in the hospital? What if she has run off with another man? Maybe, you could do better with someone else.
To get past your shame and guilt you will have to acknowledge that your intrusive thoughts are likely contributing to your feelings of shame and guilt. And, that these thoughts are most likely untrue. Once you have challenged your inaccurate thoughts, replace them with more positive ones. How? By surrounding yourself with positive affirmations.
You can purchase a positive affirmation book or notecards, or you can create your own. But, regardless, tack them up in every room of your home, and place them in your purse, bookbag, or briefcase, and even in your vehicle. Everywhere you go you should see positivity. The more you encounter positive affirmations, the more likely you are to believe what you are reading.
For instance, instead of automatically assuming that your wife is cheating on your or hurt somewhere, consider that she may be out running errands, on a lunch date with a friend, exercising at the local gym, etc.
Address Your Trauma
Surprisingly, some people develop OCD as a way to cope with trauma. This is especially true if the OCD symptoms (obsessions and compulsions) began during or shortly after a traumatic event (i.e., child abuse, domestic violence, a natural disaster, a combat experience, sexual assault, etc.). For instance, imagine that you slid on a block of ice on your driveway. The fall ruptured your ACL and fractured your ankle. From that moment on you will not step foot outside when there is snow or ice on the ground.
If you do step outside, you may feel compelled to continuously scrape the ice off of your driveway or avoid your driveway altogether by only walking in the grass. You may also need to take several deep breaths before you can take a step outside. Or, perhaps, you need to repeat the phrase, “I will be okay. I will be okay. I will be okay,” to feel safe enough to go out into the elements (i.e., snow and/or ice).
Maybe, you feel compelled to count the steps from your front door to your car before you feel safe. You may become ashamed of yourself for feeling traumatized and guilty about what happened to you. In other words, you may become “fixated” on blaming yourself for the traumatic experiences. If you are dealing with trauma-related OCD and have begun to feel shame and guilt as a result, you will need to seek OCD treatment.
An OCD therapist can use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure-response and prevention (ERP) therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and trauma counseling to help you challenge your illogical thoughts and fears, and behaviors, become desensitized to your OCD triggers, and accept that you have OCD and commit to the therapy process. OCD treatment programs, like Impulse Therapy, can help address your trauma-related OCD symptoms, so you no longer feel ashamed or guilty about how you feel or what you experienced.
You cannot fully manage or heal from OCD if you do not address the trauma fueling it. Once you address what happened to you, you will stop feeling ashamed of yourself (because of the trauma) and guilty because of what happened to you.
Develop a Strong Support System
Shame and guilt can make you feel alone, especially when you suffer from OCD. That is why it is important to develop a strong support system. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on when bad things do happen, a pat on the back, and lots of smiles when good things happen. In other words, it is important to have support. Support can give strength when you feel weak and it can keep you going when you feel like giving up.
A support system can provide you with valuable advice, an outlet for your thoughts, worries, fears, etc., and unconditional support. So, although OCD is considered a “lonely condition” it does not have to be. You do not have to go it alone and you do not have to hide your thoughts and/or behaviors from your “tribe.” They love you and only want the best for you, so tell them what you are thinking and how you are feeling because they care.
If you do not have a close group of friends and family members to add to your support group, consider attending an OCD support group to provide you with the support, compassion, and understanding you need to stop feeling ashamed and guilty about yourself and your condition.
Write It Down
Although, you may find sharing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with others may be embarrassing, writing down what is happening when the intrusive thoughts, fears, urges, etc., and compulsive behaviors begin. What helps stop these obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors? Writing down your thought, fears, etc., or “journaling” can help you reflect on what is triggering your obsessions and/or compulsions.
Journaling can also help you better understand why you are experiencing shame and guilt. What is causing these feelings? Writing down or “journaling” your thoughts and/or behaviors can help you better understand them and with increased understanding, your shame and guilt will disappear. Journaling can also help you keep track of your OCD triggers and symptoms in real-time.
Relaxing can do wonders for both your mind and body. It can also banish feelings of shame and guilt. More specifically, it can reduce your stress, ease your anxiety, improve your health, and induce calmness in your body. Relaxation can also decrease feelings of shame and guilt. When you are stressed, anxious, depressed, ill, tired, frustrated, tense, unhappy, etc., you are more likely to experience negative emotions like shame and guilt tied to your OCD.
You are also more likely to experience more intense obsessions and compulsions. So, when you start to feel ashamed of yourself because you have OCD and guilty about your thoughts and behaviors, practice stress-management techniques (I.e., deep breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness meditation, hypnosis, etc.) to help you relax. Start with 10 minutes and add time as needed.
Get Out of the House
If your OCD is causing you to experience shame and guilt – get out of the house. In other words, do not isolate yourself from others. Shame and guilt can make you feel like you must hide from others – do not do that. You may be deathly afraid of contracting a virus, like COVID or monkeypox, so you self-isolate as a way to self-protect. The thing is isolation and loneliness can also fuel shame and guilt. Although some OCD sufferers believe that self-isolating will keep them safe, it can also trigger negative emotions, like shame and guilt, which in turn can, and often does, worsen OCD symptoms.
So, when feelings of shame and guilt pop up, visit your parents, a sibling, or a friend. Go on a date or to the gym. Run errands or enroll in a class at a local college, take a stroll around the neighborhood, volunteer at your local homeless shelter, animal shelter, or domestic abuse center, and/or commune with nature. If your friends and family live in another city, state, or country, Facetime with them to keep in touch. Connecting with other people can help you feel less stressed, anxious, depressed, lonely, ashamed of yourself, and guilty of your thoughts and behaviors.
Seek OCD Therapy
One of the most effective ways to manage and cope with your OCD-induced shame and guilt is to talk to someone, preferably a mental health professional, who has been thoroughly trained to treat people with OCD – and any related emotions. An OCD therapist can help you better understand why you feel so ashamed of yourself and guilty about your thoughts and behaviors. He or she can also help you come to terms with your condition (OCD), so feelings of shame and guilt do not keep returning.
Sometimes, the best OCD treatments do not solely focus on the obsessions and compulsions, rather they also include the thoughts and emotions that often accompany it. An OCD therapist can help you address your angst, depression, shame, and guilt, so you have a better chance of OCD recovery. Couples/marriage therapy, family therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, addiction counseling, trauma counseling, and/or grief counseling are other therapies that can help reduce or eliminate OCD-induced shame and guilt.
Try a Medication
If OCD therapy alone has proven unsuccessful, you may be prescribed a medication to help you better manage your OCD symptoms and feelings of shame and guilt. The most common medications used to treat OCD are selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), although tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), antipsychotic medications, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), etc., are also sometimes used to manage OCD symptoms. Medications are usually prescribed to balance an OCD-sufferers brain chemistry and normalize his or her brain activity.
Sometimes, a brain chemistry imbalance can affect a person’s thoughts and mood, causing him or her to become depressed, anxious, and/or stressed. It can also, in some cases, spark shame and guilt in those struggling with OCD. Medications can reduce obsession and compulsions, and thereby lower your risk of experiencing shame and guilt.
Keep in mind that medications are usually the last case scenario – when OCD therapy is ineffective by itself, when a person is suffering from treatment-resistant OCD, or when an underlying condition, such as depression or anxiety appears to be contributing to OCD or OCD-induced shame and guilt.
Note: Do not forget to practice self-care. What does self-care entail? Well, self-care could involve spending time with loved ones and friends, adopting a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest, taking vitamins and minerals, trying CBD, reading about your condition, doing things that bring you joy, going to doctor’s appointments, etc.
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