Good Morning Peaches!
I hope you are well, my friends, but if you are not, maybe something in my Friday’s anxiety post will help.
Today’s topic: Assigning meaning.
*Note- What I am discussing in today’s post is going to sound extremely strange to those of you without OCD. It is important to know that though these people are suffering in their minds, they are still intelligent, highly functioning members of society. Your boss, your best friend, the neighbor you wave to daily may very well have OCD and you don’t even know. A person with OCD is aware that what they are experiencing is not normal and want desperately to be better. A silver lining is that your friend with OCD has had to work extremely hard to find out what thoughts and feelings are worth following. They would be a good one to ask if you are looking for advice. 🙂
What Have You Assigned Meaning To?
What does it mean to assign meaning?
We assign meaning when we give ourselves a personalized significance to something. It’s not the meaning. It’s our meaning.
The inclination to assign meaning to things is something that everyone has, not just the person with OCD. But while someone without an anxiety disorder will not be distraught by the meaning they have assigned, the person with OCD will become highly anxious, fearful, and obsessed.
The nature of OCD is to try to bring order in a very disordered way. If you have OCD, you know that numbers play a huge role in the disorder. Our brain brings certain numbers to mind and those become part of our compulsions (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
Let’s say that you have assigned meaning to the number seven. You have done so because at some point your brain has given you a signal to pay attention to the number seven. In the person with OCD, these signals are so strong that they are extremely difficult to ignore. Because of these feelings of urgency, they think there must be significance to this number so it becomes a part of there compulsions.
I will detour for a minute to discuss compulsions for those that don’t know what they are.
OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. All of us, OCD or not, have random weird thoughts. But there is a fear response that arrises in the person with OCD that causes them to obsess about whatever it is. Because the fear response is so strong, the person begins to act out compulsions to get relief from the anxiety that they are experiencing due to the highly disturbing thoughts.
Here is an example of how this is played out. Someone hears of the terrible tragedy that someone has run over their child. It is the normal response to imagine this happening to ourselves. But where someone without OCD is deeply saddened by the news, they are able to carry on with their daily lives as they did before. But for the person with OCD, they are not only deeply saddened but their brain sends all these warnings signals (fear response) to the point that they feel they need to protect themselves from this happening to them. They now have intense anxiety when getting into the car to back out of the driveway or parking space. They check behind the car seven times. Getting in the car, closing the door, opening the door, getting out, checking for children, repeating seven times. When they have completed their “ritual”, there is a brief feeling of relief. But it doesn’t last long and the urge to act out the compulsions only grows stronger each time they complete a ritual.
So back to assigning meaning.
These posts are not therapy. These posts are to hopefully make you aware of what is happening to you and that you are not alone. You are not crazy even though it definitely seems like it. And that there is help!
First, you must become aware of your obsessions and compulsions. What are you obsessing about? What numbers is your brain bringing significance to? Many times it is blatantly obvious what your obsessions and compulsions are. But other times it not. I will tell my experience to help those of you that are unaware that what you are experiencing is OCD because it is all mental. Yes, this will all sound insane but lucky for all of you I am not humiliated by anything anymore. 🙂 From a young age, after hearing about the book of Revelation (not reading, hearing), I became obsessed with the end of the world. When I was around eight years old, I had a dream that I was in my bedroom looking out the window. I saw the moon even though it was daytime and was overcome with fear that the apocalypse was going to occur shortly. When I woke up I was distraught (fear response). From then on my brain sought out evidence that the end of the world would occur around something to do with the moon. The nature of OCD is to find evidence that there is significance to your obsessions. Everywhere I looked after having the dream, I saw the end of the world coming. On the news, in the Bible, in my community, everywhere. You can read more about why this is in my post The Searchlight of OCD. Because the nature of OCD, is to convince you that your thoughts and feelings are true, I believed that the end was near from the time I was eight years old, until I was in my thirties.
No one, not even me, new I had OCD. Why? Because my compulsions were all mental. Because I wasn’t washing my hands five times or locking my doors ten times no one noticed. But I did have compulsions. Because my apocalypse obsession began with hearing about the book of Revelation, the numbers that I assigned meaning to were the numbers given significance in the Bible. Seven, twelve, forty. My brain’s way of keeping check on my obsessions was to do everything in sevens. I was constantly counting in my brain in sevens, doing things on times that either was seven or added up to be seven. If I was doing something important, I made sure it was on the seventh of the month or the seventh day of the week or at least the numbers of the date would add to be seven. Twelve and forty had different meanings. If there were forty days between moons or anything that I deemed significant for that matter, I was filled with anxiety and worried that the end was near. Same thing with twelve. You can bet I was a nervous wreck leading up to 2012. Haha! It’s all obviously ridiculous but it was very real to me at the time and I know so many of you are experiencing the same kind of thing and need to know that it is ridiculous. You are longing for someone to show you proof that it is ridiculous.
Friend, there is proof everywhere that your obsessions are ridiculous. But your brain is programmed to find proof otherwise. Understanding this is crucial.
I also share my OCD experiences with you so that you can see in black and white what happens. You see how my obsessions and compulsions stemmed from some truth. There is a book in the Bible that is about an apocalypse. The numbers seven, twelve, and forty are in fact significant numbers in the Bible. There are verses about the moon and stars being signs from God. But the truth stops there. My OCD brain added a bunch of NON-truths to this and then found evidence to support them! But even though I assigned a meaning to all of these things, none of them were the meanings. Nothing good will happen because it is 7:00. Nothing bad will happen because it is the 6th of the month. It doesn’t at all matter how many days are between full moons, or constellations, or eclipses. Do you now see what OCD does? It spins the truth in your mind and then seeks out evidence to make it true to you.
I hope this may have opened your eyes to what is going on. If you identify with any of the above, here are some action steps to take.
- Make an appointment with a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders.
- In the meantime, make a list of your obsessions and then try to identify your compulsions. They are the things that you are driven to do when the fear response arrises.
- Try your best to take your thoughts and feelings captive. Do not be so quick to believe them. Try to remember where they came from and try hard to sort out what is truth and what is not. This is HARD work. You will likely not be able to do it alone but you can do what you can until you receive professional help.
I know a lot of shame comes with OCD so let me just give you some encouragement. You friend, are learning to do something that many never will! You are learning to not be driven by your thoughts and feelings. This is such an IMPORTANT lesson that unfortunately many don’t learn because they don’t have to. Believe it or not, all of this will help you on this crazy journey called life.