Taking the Shame out of OCD

Our innate needs can explain it.

Key points:

  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviours can cause misery, exhaustion and shame.
  • Yet their root lies in an innate need for ritual, say anthropologists.
  • Rituals help meet needs for sense of security, control, meaning and often connection.
  • We can use this understanding to treat ritual behaviours gone awry.

Kashfi felt ashamed, so ashamed that she had never previously been able to seek help. A bright, lively, attractive young woman, she was single, active socially and enjoyed her work in a film production company. What blighted her life was her driving compulsion to check, check, check – and to keep it a secret.

Before going to bed or leaving her top-floor flat, she went around it ensuring that all electric appliances were turned off and unplugged, gas taps were off, bathroom taps and shower hose were not dripping, counting to 100 for each check and repeating the sequence eight times. At work, she made sure all cupboard doors or filing cabinet drawers were shut, so that no one could hurt themselves, and avoided using the communal kitchen area, in case she left some appliance on. She was often dehydrated, as she wanted to cut down her need to use the toilet. Just as exhausting was keeping all this secret. She couldn’t bear for anyone to know.

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