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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

It's Not Me, It's the OCD

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 18th 2009

Approximately 5 million people in the United States suffer from OCD and suffer from lives where they feel compelled to think about similar things over and over or repeat specific tasks. One phrase that I have borrowed from Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz which seems to be very helpful for people in alleviating their sense of blame is "It's not me, it's the OCD."

Why might this phrase be so helpful? Like all other aspects of life we get caught up in a state of auto-pilot where we have great difficulty seeing the space in between the moment we get triggered and our reaction to obsess about it and the urges that follow. There is absolutely that space and in order to widen it, we have to notice we're on auto-pilot and take a step out of the habitual cycle we are in. The phrase "it's not me, it's the OCD" is easy to remember because it rhymes. It also takes the self blame and judgment out of the picture which only work to hinder our ability to effectively work with it.

As soon as we say "it's not me, it's the OCD", we have stepped out of this cycle and have widened the space in between the stimulus and response and  are sitting in that space of choice to do something different. One thing to understand is that thoughts are just thoughts, mental events in the mind that come and go and may carry emotional charges with them. So rather than entertaining the thoughts, we recognized them for what they are and turn our attention to what is real in this moment which may be the emotional charge. One way to recognize this is in the body in the way of tightening chest, warm body, tense shoulders, crampy stomach, etc... When we shift our attention to our bodies, we are doing something different and that breaks the cycle.

One obstacle to this is again the mind which will come up saying "why are you doing this, this won't work" or "this is stupid, we have a real catastrophe on our hands, there is no time to lose." It is up to us to notice this and again say, "It's not me, it's the OCD" and with mindfulness, nonjudgmentally come back to the reality of the present moment which is the feeling that's there. This process can be done over and over again.

If the feeling becomes too intense, then choose to engage in some other activity rather than entertaining the OCD. The point here is that in stepping out of the cycle and understanding that "it's not me, it's the OCD," we create a space for choice either to break the cycle with noticing the impermanence of this feeling or with engaging in a different behavior that distracts from the OCD. This is a difficult process, but the more you practice, the more likely you are to untangle this distressing habit of the mind and body.

As always, please share your thought, stories, and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit form.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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