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Personality Disorders

Avoidant vs. Dependent Personality Disorder

Personality disorders consist of three main clusters: cluster A (which is characterized by “odd, eccentric thinking or behavior), cluster B (which is characterized by “dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior”) and cluster C (which is characterized by “anxious, fearful thinking or behavior”). Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD) is part of cluster C, along with Dependent Personality Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (Mayo Clinic, 2016). Those with APD harbor a sense of social anxiety and fear of rejection, which manifests itself in avoidant behaviors and social isolation. 

Social situations are extremely anxiety-inducing for those with APD, and they can therefore come across as very shy and timid within these situations. It’s important to acknowledge that people with APD do not wish to avoid fulfilling friendships and relationships; rather, their anxiety and fear makes them feel compelled to avoid all social situations, leaving them with feelings of loneliness. They consistently feel as if they are being judged by others and that others view them in a very negative manner. While many people can feel shy and judged sometimes, those who have been diagnosed with APD exhibit patterns of behavior that are severely negatively impacting their everyday lives and relationships. 

Just like those with APD, those with DPD experience feelings of low self-esteem, but this low self-esteem manifests itself in an extreme dependence upon others and fear of abandonment. While people with APD avoid social situations and therefore find difficulty building relationships, those with DPD are often afraid of being alone, and can therefore develop unhealthy, codependent relationships. Unfortunately, they are also more susceptible to falling into toxic and abusive relationships, because their fear of being alone means that they are more likely to put up with abusive and harmful behavior (Cleveland Clinic, 2020).

So, how do people with APD and DPD receive treatment? Oftentimes, those with APD will seek out treatment themselves, because their patterns of behavior are causing such intense feelings of isolation and emotional pain. However, people with DPD will likely have more difficulty understanding that they need help, since they can still develop relationships with others that may feel fulfilling despite their codependent nature. Since people with both disorders have low self-esteem and thought patterns that are so deeply ingrained within them, it’s important for them to become involved in therapy and work closely with a therapist to resolve their issues and aim to change their behaviors and raise their self-esteem. 

What this means is that more awareness must be brought to personality disorders in general; people dealing with APD and DPD will have much less difficulty receiving help if they are able to name what they’re going through. Because personality disorders have to do with traits and behaviors that are deeply ingrained into someone’s personality, people with personality disorders might believe that they are unable to change their patterns of behavior. With consistent therapy, however, they will be able to address their issues head-on and receive the help that they need to develop happier and healthier relationships with others. 

 

References

Cuncic, A. (n.d.). What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder? https://www.verywellmind.com/avoidant-personality-disorder-4172959 

Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). (n.d.). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9783-dependent-personality-disorder 

Personality disorders. (2016, September 23). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/personality-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20354463

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Personality Disorders

Borderline Personality Disorder in Women

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is one of the more commonly known personality disorders, and is characterized by “difficulties regulating emotion,” meaning that those with BPD “feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time” (National Alliance on Mental Illness). This makes it more difficult for them to properly navigate relationships and social interactions.

BPD is overwhelmingly more common in women than in men. According to the DSM, “there is a 3:1 female to male gender ratio” (Sansone, 2011). Why is this the case? And what does this mean for our general perceptions of BPD? Firstly, doctors are more likely to diagnose women with BPD, possibly because the symptoms of BPD align more closely with a stereotypical perception of women, especially women with mental illness. We can see this concept even in the media we consume. There’s a whole genre of movies depicting the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” an emotionally unstable young woman whose flighty and immature characteristics are idealized by a man who perceives himself to be average and boring in comparison. This results in mental illness in women not being taken seriously. 

If we glorify these damaging traits and behaviors, women who suffer from BPD are less likely to see their symptoms as damaging and harmful, and will therefore not seek help. But even women who know of their mental illness and are seeking help can run the risk of entering into a relationship with someone who enables these symptoms that are glorified and simultaneously shames them for the symptoms that are perceived in a negative light. How are women supposed to juggle this, especially in their most intimate relationships? For centuries, there has been a fascination with women who are mentally ill. In the 19th century, women who were diagnosed with “hysteria” were turned into a spectacle, with male doctors performing public experiments on them; even today, around 69 percent of mentally ill women have experienced some form of domestic violence (Rodriguez-Cayro, 2018).

Additionally, BPD has been seen to develop as a result of abuse in childhood, as around 40 to 70 percent of those with BPD experienced childhood sexual trauma (Rodriguez-Cayro, 2018). Unfortunately, women who are mentally ill are more likely to exist within cycles of abuse and trauma throughout their lives. And not only do they suffer from the stigma that comes with being mentally ill, they suffer from the sexism that has resulted in the negative perception of women’s intelligence and emotional stability for centuries. 

So, how do we combat this? If we can more properly educate people about BPD and mental illness in women, we can limit the preoccupation with mentally ill women in popular culture, and perhaps movies will more accurately showcase what it’s like as a woman to struggle with mental illness. It should be clear that mentally ill women are not just interesting love interests that compound the emotional suffering of the male main character. They have their own stories and struggles and complex inner lives. If we aim to help women who have suffered from abuse and developed mental illness instead of demonizing or idealizing them, we can help these women develop healthy relationships with others and live happy, fulfilling lives.

 

References

Borderline Personality Disorder. (n.d.). https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder 

Littman, E., Littman, E., & Panel, A. (2020, June 25). When Women Battle ADHD and Borderline Personality Disorder. https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-and-bpd-women-borderline-personality-disorder/ 

Rodriguez-Cayro, K. (2018). Please Stop Using My Mental Illness to Fulfill Your Fantasy. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/sexist-crazy-woman-fantasies-hurt-borderline-women 

Sansone, R., & Sansone, L. (2011, May). Gender Patterns in Borderline Personality Disorder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3115767/

Categories
Personality Disorders

More than Just Seeking Attention: Histrionic Personality Disorder

Personality disorders, because they do not seem to fit our typical understanding of mental illness, often go ignored and unmentioned, leaving those with these disorders unable to name what they’re going through, and therefore without the knowledge that they can get help. A specific personality disorder that goes largely undiscussed is Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD), in which a person exhibits “a long-standing pattern of attention seeking behavior and extreme emotionality” (Grohol 2020). Those with HPD often act out of a sense of insecurity and low self-esteem, basing their self-worth on the opinions of others. 

But don’t many people—especially in their younger years—suffer from low self-esteem and feel the need to act out? How are we to tell the difference? In order to become diagnosed, a doctor will “begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical and psychiatric history” (Casarella 2020). There are cases in which physical illness can cause symptoms similar to those present in people with HPD. Therefore, if there seems to be no danger of physical illness, patients will be referred to a psychiatrist/psychologist who will perform a thorough assessment of the patient in order to determine whether to diagnose them. Additionally, HPD has been shown to run in families, indicating that some genetic component is involved.

The low self-esteem and desire for validation of those with this disorder can be extremely damaging for their personal life and day-to-day interactions. Maybe you have a friend you deem to be dramatic, and you criticize them harshly for this. But those with this disorder who haven’t yet sought treatment and don’t know how to properly deal with their symptoms often cannot control their attention-seeking actions. This need for attention is so deeply rooted within their personality that it’s incredibly difficult for them to actively work against it. A big problem lies in the fact that those with HPD often don’t believe that they need therapy; they “tend to exaggerate their feelings and to dislike routine, which makes following a treatment plan difficult” (Casarella 2020). They might only seek help if they truly feel that their life is being significantly impaired by the disorder, which can be very difficult for them to admit and acknowledge. 

The more knowledgeable we become about personality disorders as a whole, the more likely people with HPD are to acknowledge their symptoms and seek treatment. You’ve likely only heard of very few personality disorders, and the rest go largely unexamined and invisible within society. The more often we can recognize the signs and symptoms, the less likely we are to harshly judge our dramatic friends or berate them for symptoms of their personality that can very well be out of their control. If you suspect that a friend of yours is acting out due to low self-esteem and seeking attention in a way that seems irrational and far too grand, it’s important to suggest therapy so that they can seek help. Even if that friend isn’t diagnosed with HPD, therapy can still be very beneficial for them. As the stigma behind seeking mental help continues to be dismantled, we can all learn the benefits of working to dismantle our negative behaviors and perceptions of ourselves.

 

References

Casarella, J. (2020, September 27). Histrionic Personality Disorder Symptoms, Causes, Treatments. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/histrionic-personality-disorder 

Grohol, J. M. (2020, January 14). Histrionic Personality Disorder: Symptoms & Treatments. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/disorders/histrionic-personality-disorder/ 

Tartakovsky, M. (2020, January 9). Histrionic Personality Disorder Treatment. https://psychcentral.com/disorders/histrionic-personality-disorder/treatment/.  

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Personality Disorders

OCD vs. OCPD: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

What do you think of when you hear the term Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder? Something that might come to mind is a very similar disorder, known as OCD. Those with OCD experience obsessive, triggering thoughts that significantly disrupt their daily life and cause them to perform ritualistic actions. While many may have conceptions about OCD, it is still a widely known and discussed mental disorder. But what about OCPD? What exactly is the difference between the two?

OCPD is “characterized by a pervasive preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control (with no room for flexibility) that ultimately slows or interferes with completing a task” (Skodol, 2019). Therefore, those with OCPD strictly focus on order and needing things to be in their control, whereas those who suffer from OCD can have symptoms that manifest a larger variety of ways. 

Personality disorders are generally defined as “pervasive, enduring patterns of perceiving, reacting, and relating that cause significant distress or functional impairment” (Skodol, 2019).  Someone with OCPD experiences a need for perfectionism and order that significantly impairs their daily functionality. Of course, many people struggle with the desire for perfection, but OCPD is clinically diagnosed when this perfectionism significantly impacts a person’s work and social life. 

Those with OCPD “are excessively dedicated to work and productivity; their dedication is not motivated by financial necessity. As a result, leisure activities and relationships are neglected” (Skodol, 2019). Though we live in a culture that glorifies financial and career success, it’s incredibly important for one’s own mental health to create a balance between work, social activities, and hobbies. The need for perfection causes people with OCPD to prioritize work over all else; while this might have positive effects in terms of climbing the corporate ladder, it is ultimately detrimental in the long run.

But how do people with OCPD receive help? The treatment for OCPD is largely the same as for any personality disorder; this treatment is known as psychotherapy, in which “clinicians try to identify interpersonal problems as they occur in the patient’s life…and provide skills to develop new, better ways of reacting” (Skodol, 2019).  Essentially, what this means is that those with OCPD—if they desire to receive treatment for their disorder and hopefully better their interpersonal lives—should consistently attend therapy and openly discuss their problems with a therapist; their therapist will be able to identify the source of these problems and help them alter their behavior.

The problem lies in the very rigidity that exists as a symptom of OCPD. Because of their sense of stubbornness and unwillingness to change, people with OCPD may not want to admit that their perfectionist behavior is significantly hindering their daily life; they might suffer in silence for far too long. This is why it’s so important to raise awareness about personality disorders such as OCPD; the more aware people are of what OCPD is and whether they might have it, the more likely they will be to acquire the help that they truly need in order to better their mental health and interpersonal livelihood.

 

References

Savvy Psychologist, & Hendriksen, E. (2019, April 11). OCD vs. OCPD: 5 Differences. Quick and Dirty Tips. https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/mental-health/ocd-vs-ocpd-5-differences 

Skodol, A. (2019) Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) – Psychiatric Disorders. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/personality-disorders/obsessive-compulsive-personality-disorder-ocpd 

Categories
Personality Disorders

Psychopathy in Popular Culture: American Psycho

When we think of psychopathy, we often think of a coldhearted killer, a person with no sense of remorse or empathy, someone we might deem to be “crazy.” We think of someone dangerous, cruel, and cunning, someone almost entirely non-human in their apathy and propensity towards violence. Perhaps the most famous example of psychopathy in popular culture is Patrick Bateman, protagonist of the novel—and eventual film adaptation—American Psycho. Bateman is pristine, obsessed with order and control, ambitious and incredibly power-hungry. He attempts to charm his way into power positions, shows little regard towards the women in his life, and becomes extremely angered when things don’t go his way. 

This paints a picture for us: psychopathy is the wealthy white man in a business suit who treats women as if they’re disposable and will stop at nothing to climb the corporate ladder. But is this an accurate representation of psychopathy? What does it really mean to be a person with psychopathy? 

Those who suffer from what we know as psychopathy or sociopathy actually suffer from antisocial personality disorder (APD), in which a person harbors “an ingrained pattern of behavior consistently disregard and violate the rights of others around them” (Sussex Publishers 2019). But what does it mean to have a personality disorder? Personality disorders largely go unmentioned within the larger discussion of mental illness and mental health. A personality disorder can be described as “an enduring pattern of personal experience and behavior that deviates noticeably from the expectations of the culture” and is persistent over one’s lifetime and severely impacts their everyday livelihood (Sussex Publishers 2019). Psychopathy and sociopathy exist as an extreme version of APD, but why is there a distinction between the two? 

The main difference between them is that people with psychopathy are considered to have “little or no conscience,” while people with sociopathy experience “a limited, albeit weak, ability to feel empathy and remorse” (Purse 2020). Therefore, people with sociopathy and psychopathy both exist on the very extreme end of antisocial personality disorder, though the only cases of APD showcased in popular culture seem to be characters who suffer from these extreme forms of the disorder.

Why is this the case? Why does popular culture seem so fixated on showcasing only the violent, coldhearted killers who descend into complete madness by the end of the story? The problem with how mental illness is conveyed in forms of media is that a character’s mental illness is often used as a prop to make the character more interesting, without any regard for how people in real life suffering from mental illnesses may feel about this. We are taught not to sympathize with these characters, not to feel for them or hope they get help, simply because they are portrayed to be crazy as opposed to genuinely suffering from something out of their control that can be helped with awareness, medication, and/or therapy. 

Bateman as a character exists as a perfect example of the misleading portrayal of mental illness within popular culture. We cannot and most definitely should not feel sympathy for him. He killed (or at least intended to, depending on your interpretation of the movie) people simply for the sake of his own pleasure and gain. His violence and complete lack of remorse show that he is suffering from the absolute worst case of APD: psychopathy. But why is popular culture so fascinated with psychopathy, so fascinated with displaying characters with mental illness who are so difficult to sympathize with? Why are we being taught not to sympathize with those suffering from mental illness?

Ultimately, though American Psycho is made for entertainment purposes, it’s important to examine the harmful themes being displayed in the movie and the lack of awareness about mental illness. Why is it deemed uninteresting to portray characters suffering from mental illness that we can actually sympathize with?

 

References

Collin, R. (2020, April 24). American Psycho is masculinity at its most grotesque – only a woman could have directed it. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/american-psycho-masculinity-grotesque-woman-could-have-directed/ 

Purse, M. (2020, June 15). How Sociopaths Are Different from Psychopaths. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-sociopath-380184 

Sussex Publishers. Antisocial Personality Disorder. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder 

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD and Loneliness

Loneliness is something that impacts everyone at some point. It’s normal to be or feel alone sometimes, especially in modern society, when people are becoming more economically independent and therefore able to live alone. But it becomes a problem when this sense of independence transitions into loneliness and feelings of isolation from others. Loneliness can be defined as negative, persistent feelings of disconnectedness due to the lack or absence of social relations in one’s life (Tiwari 2013). Persistent loneliness is actively harmful to many people, but can it be treated? Often, one must look at the causes of loneliness in order to treat it properly. People undergo vastly different circumstances that contribute to feelings of isolation,  thus one person’s solution for loneliness may not work for someone else.

It’s also incredibly important to acknowledge the way that mental illness coincides with loneliness for many people. For example, loneliness and isolation are commonly experienced by those with depression. However, people struggling with any mental illness tend to feel alone in their struggle. When your struggle is internal and nobody in your life has experienced what you’re going through, it can become very easy to feel extremely disconnected even from your closest friends and family members.

This becomes even more complicated when dealing with OCD. For many people, OCD can manifest itself via fears that you may be a danger or threat to your loved ones. These can be fears of committing violent or sexual acts. Therefore, someone with OCD may choose to isolate themselves from their loved ones in order to keep them safe. On the other hand, those with a fear of germs may choose to isolate themselves from others so as to avoid the spread of germs as much as possible (Singer). So not only are those with OCD dealing with intense and paralyzing anxiety, they are also dealing with the resulting isolation.

This is why widespread education about mental illness is so important. If people with undiagnosed OCD who may be feeling isolated and alone are educated about what they’re going through, they become one step closer to feeling less alone and feeling like they can overcome what they’re struggling with. Additionally, if their family members are properly educated on what OCD is and how its symptoms manifest themselves, they can build better support systems for their loved one and better understand why their loved one may be isolating.

Though loneliness is something that everyone goes through at one point in their life, it can be debilitating when coupled with a mental illness. While symptoms of OCD can aid in the development of feelings of isolation and loneliness, these feelings can be managed with proper treatment and proper support from one’s friends and family members.

References

Five myths about loneliness. (2018, February 13). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180213-five-myths-about-loneliness

OCD and Isolation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/ocd-and-isolation/

Tiwari, S. C. (2013, October). Loneliness: A disease? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890922/

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD in Pop Culture: Daniel Radcliffe

You probably know Daniel Radcliffe from the wildly popular Harry Potter series. He, of course, played the titular character, Harry Potter; with his wide-rimmed glasses and the lightning scar on his forehead. But Daniel, in real life, was struggling with things vastly different from magical villains and Quidditich games. Radcliffe was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Radcliffe first developed the disorder at five years old, and has said that it would often take him up to five minutes just to turn off a light (Fintzy 2012).

Oftentimes, the lives of celebrities seem to exist as mythical, faraway things; we see celebrities as people we will never be able to relate to, because their lives seem so radically different from ours. However, the idea that Radcliffe can be going through something that millions of everyday people endure proves that mental illness can affect everybody drastically, even somebody who may seem to have the perfect life.

About his disorder, Radcliffe has said, “I had to repeat every sentence under my breath. I would encourage everyone to undergo therapy. It doesn’t mean you’re insane or weak. I haven’t had it this year so far and I’m missing it” (Fintzy 2012). Though he was diagnosed in childhood, OCD is a chronic illness, and it will be with him everyday of his life. While those who haven’t been treated yet may find the idea of therapy intimidating, it is ultimately a vital and extremely productive component of recovery.

It can be especially difficult for people to be vulnerable, open, and honest about their struggle with mental illness if they are in the public eye, already being scrutinized for everything that they do. Radcliffe himself has lamented about public pressure, and didn’t begin openly discussing his mental health issues until 2012 (Robb-Dover 2019). Although a difficult decision, why is it so important that celebrities like Daniel Radcliffe speak out about their mental health struggles? There’s something known as the “Angeline Jolie effect,” in which people tend to change their decisions and behavior based on the health and lifestyle choices of celebrities that we see on TV (Weston 2015). Therefore, as celebrities have begun to become more open and honest about their mental health struggles, those who have been struggling with mental illness begin to learn that they don’t have to be alone in their struggle, and that there’s nothing wrong or shameful about seeking the support that they need.

While Radcliffe may have been living the dream as a prominent child actor, he was struggling with very serious issues behind the scenes. OCD can affect everyone, people from every background and status in life. As awareness about OCD becomes more well-spread, and those who struggle with it finally learn its name, perhaps they will be able to find people who have shared their own experience and find help their own way.

References

Fintzy, U., Friedman, G., Schwartz, P., Paster, E., Cramer, P., & Horn, J. (2017, September 26). Daniel Radcliffe talks about childhood OCD and being a celebrity. Retrieved from https://www.jta.org/2012/03/13/culture/daniel-radcliffe-talks-about-his-childhood-ocd-and-about-being-a-celebrity

Kircher, M. M. (2015, December 4). Daniel Radcliffe’s audition tape for ‘Harry Potter’ is an incredible blast from the past. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/daniel-radcliffe-harry-potter-audition-tape-2015-12

Robb-Dover, K., & Robb-Dover, K. R.-D. K. (2020, January 28). How Daniel Radcliffe Overcame Alcoholism and Other Mental Health Issues. Retrieved from https://fherehab.com/news/how-daniel-radcliffe-overcame-alcoholism-and-other-mental-health-issues/

Weston, S. (2019, May 15). Why it’s important for celebrities to talk about their mental health. Retrieved from https://www.mypossibleself.com/blog/why-its-important-for-celebrities-to-talk-about-their-mental-health/

 

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD and Political Correctness

So your friend is really organized: cares a lot about keeping everything neat, freaks out when things aren’t lined up properly. She turns to you one day, after lining up all of the pens on her desk, and she says, “Sorry, I’m just soooo OCD!” And you’ve heard other people say things like this before. But why do people say things like this? Why are some people so flippant about a disorder that’s debilitating for so many?

Oftentimes, many people trivialize an illness simply because they do not understand the severity of the illness and the reality that comes with struggling with it. And when these people make statements that trivialize mental illness, they probably don’t think twice about it. However, what this does is perpetuate the idea that OCD, rather than being a serious illness that requires proper diagnosis and treatment, is nothing more than a quirky personality trait not to be taken seriously (Storo 2015). When this idea is continually perpetuated, OCD sufferers are discouraged from seeking the help that they need. They have developed a misunderstanding of what OCD is and fail to take their own symptoms seriously, or they believe that others won’t take them seriously.

What this means is that people need to understand the harm that the kind of language they continually utilize may be causing. This bleeds into an overall debate about something known as political correctness, which has been defined as a set of language, attitudes, and ideologies that are largely deemed to be correct within the overall political landscape, and are sensitive to those who are socially or politically disadvantaged (Weigel 2016). As the world becomes more globally connected and people become more socially aware and educated about the various disadvantages of others, some have begun to criticize what they understand to be the policing and limiting of language. Many have argued that political correctness has gone too far. After all, don’t we have freedom of speech? How responsible must we hold ourselves for the feelings and comfort of others?

When it comes to this question, it’s important to ask yourself: how would you feel if you suffered from an illness or social disadvantage that people continually trivialized and delegitimized? It’s often easy for some to dismiss the struggles of others if they have never been touched by those struggles themselves. This is why it’s so critical to spread and publicize  proper information about OCD, other mental illnesses, and the various struggles of others as a whole. As people become more educated and better understand the actual reality of many OCD sufferers, they will be better to understand the danger of language that trivializes the struggle of those with OCD, and will take their own language more seriously as they become more sensitive to the disadvantages of others. In the future, more and more people will begin to think twice before they say that they’re “sooooo OCD.”

References

Pogored. (2019, November 22). What’s the Difference Between Perfectionism and OCD? Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-the-difference-between-perfectionism-and-ocd/

Storo, S. (2018, December 26). Trivializing OCD: How Culture Makes a Serious Mental Disorder a Punchline. Retrieved from https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/blog/trivializing-ocd-how-culture-makes-a-serious-mental-disorder-a-punchline/

Weigel, M. (2016, November 30). Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy Moira Weigel. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD and the Road to Recovery

For many people suffering from significant and debilitating illnesses, their illnesses are chronic. An illness is chronic when it lasts for a significant amount of time and may have to be dealt with for the majority of one’s life. Examples of chronic illnesses include cancer, dementia, and diabetes (MedicinePlus, 2018). But physical illnesses aren’t the only ones that are chronic. Many people who suffer from mental disorders have to cope with their disorder for the rest of their life.

Therefore, what exactly does it mean to recover from OCD? Firstly, it’s important to understand that a lot of people suffering from OCD don’t seek diagnosis and treatment until the illness has dominated nearly every facet of their life. This is largely because of its invisibility. People often don’t want to admit that they’re struggling, or can’t even name exactly what they’re struggling with. Many OCD sufferers also suffer from something known as recovery avoidance, in which they actively avoid seeking help and receiving treatment, because they are fearful of what it means to attempt recovery. Though OCD is a disorder that causes many people to surrender control over their own actions because their intrusive thoughts and fears are so all-encompassing, many sufferers experience a paradoxical sense of control when they are able to perform the compulsions that rid them of their feelings of fear and lack of control over their environment (Singer, 2018).

Something else that may contribute to someone not seeking recovery for OCD is something known as incentive deficits. When a person doesn’t have a strong enough incentive to do something, they’re not going to act. Many people who suffer from OCD experience a lack of incentive to recover, and “a person will not seek recovery unless the incentive to get better is stronger than the fear of getting better” (Singer 2018). What’s unique about mental illnesses is that they can become so intrinsically linked with  a person’s sense of identity. When a mental illness affects every facet of someone’s behaviors and the way that they go about life, it can be difficult to imagine any other way of existing, and difficult to imagine who they can become without their mental illness.

Therefore, it’s important for people with OCD to have support systems made up of people who understand the challenges of the illness and who will help them have incentives to recover. When OCD is all a person’s ever known, it can be difficult to rip themselves free of that and learn to live a life that’s not dominated by the illness. It can be even more difficult to face recovery, because many treatments for OCD will force them to face their fears head-on. A popular treatment for OCD is something known as Exposure and Response Prevention, in which a person with OCD is exposed to situations that trigger their anxiety and their compulsions, and then force themselves (or are forced by a therapist) not to perform their compulsions (International OCD Foundation). This is important because, as the process continues, their brain will begin to understand that their fear is irrational and unfounded, and the fear will lessen over time, loosening the grip that OCD has over their thoughts and behaviors.

While OCD is a chronic illness, and people suffering with OCD may suffer with it for many years of their life, there are ways to combat it and lessen its significance in one’s life. But in order to recover from an illness, one must always take the first step and decide to get the help that they need. As OCD becomes more widely understood and less stigmatized through the years, more and more people will better understand what they’re going through and seek the help that they deserve. They just need to take that very first step.

References

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/erp/

Living with a chronic illness – reaching out to others: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000602.htm

Singer, J. (2018, October 8). Understanding Recovery Avoidance in OCD. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/understanding-recovery-avoidance-in-ocd/

Stages of Recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.recoveryanswers.org/resource/stages-of-recovery/

Categories
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

A Numbers Game: Counting OCD

Numbers can so often hold a special meaning in all of our lives. Numbers can signify anniversaries, birthdays, or holidays. You can have a number you find lucky or a number you think means bad luck for you. Clearly, numbers are meaningful and important in everyday life. However, for many people with OCD, numbers are important for entirely different reasons. For example, a common symptom of OCD is something known as compulsive counting. This may include counting the number of steps that they take, the number of tiles on the floor, or the number of specific items they have (New England OCD Institute, 2018). But what’s the reasoning behind this, and why is it a big deal for people with OCD?

Oftentimes, those with OCD who experience counting compulsions often do so because of “a strong need for things to be perfect or right” (Anxiety Canada, 2019). This need for exactness is often associated with a more stereotypical image of OCD: the person obsessed with cleanliness and neatness, organizing and reorganizing every inch of their house until it feels right to them.  Oftentimes, with OCD symptoms such as compulsive counting, there may not be a specific fear associated with these behaviors. They may just count until a specific number simply because of this need for a feeling of rightness. But what exactly does that mean? And this begs the question: if there’s no specific fear associated with their compulsions, why do they still feel compelled to perform them? OCD, at its core, is characterized by extreme and intense amounts of anxiety. Certain amounts of anxiety are a healthy part of everyday life. It’s natural to feel anxious about life changes or school presentations or upcoming tests, and these small doses of anxiety can be overcome fairly easily and painlessly. However, for those with OCD and other disorders characterized by anxiety, the anxiety becomes so debilitating and all-encompassing that it feels impossible to ignore or overcome. Therefore, though there may be no specific fear that relates to counting until you reach a specific number, or doing things a certain number of times, the need for rightness and exactness creates a sense of anxiety that’s insurmountable until the person with OCD performs the behaviors that make them feel right.

These symptoms of OCD are so often associated with a stereotypical and negative image of the disorder because many people find it difficult to understand and sympathize with symptoms and  thinking patterns that are not easily explained. Because mental illnesses are invisible, and often only immediately and deeply affect the people suffering from these illnesses, it is easy for many people to dismiss, ignore, or make fun of something that they cannot see or understand. But certain numbers hold a special significance in everyone’s life, even though other people or cultures may not understand the significance of a certain number from the outside.

Overall, it’s important to be willing to become educated about the lives of others in order to better understand other people and what matters to them in life. And it’s just as important for us to no longer remain in ignorance about mental illness and how it impacts those around us. While it may seem easy for people not immediately impacted by OCD to dismiss the disorder as something quirky and silly in regards to a need for neatness, a willingness to become educated will help everyone to better understand what people with OCD really go through on a daily basis.

References

OCDTYPES. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ocdtypes.com/counting-ocd.php

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.anxietycanada.com/disorders/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/

What are Numbers? (2006, March 14). Retrieved from https://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/what-are-numbers