It didn’t feel right.
The event was traumatizing.
It was a problem.
And your mind — possibly your infant mind or adolescent mind — said, “That was awful. I’m never going to let that happen again.”
Then it tried an array of potential solutions to ensure that that traumatic event never occurs again.
Now it is 10 or 20 or 30 years later and that problem and the trauma are long gone.
But your younger mind’s solution still exists.
And that “solution” — those compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts — has been pathologized and given a name: it is now called an Obsessional Compulsive Disorder.
It is a dis-order. Orderly minded people do not suffer from it. If your mind were ordered correctly or correctly ordered it would not operate like this.
There is dis-order.
We agree that there is no gene that causes people to check their stoves or the locks on their doors hundreds of times before leaving the house — correct?
OCD is not something that anyone is born with.
It is a reaction. It is your younger mind’s best shot at solving a traumatic problem.
For me the narrative is as follows: I was 18 years-old. A hole had been drilled through the top of my tibia to pull my knee down from my hip and straighten out my mangled leg using a 40-pound pulley. (For those who managed to escape anatomy class, the tibia is the large bone below the knee inside of the leg; it is located under the skin and cartilage so you can imagine the amount of spurting blood caused by a power drill going in one side of a leg, through the bone, and out the other side.)
Besides being in agonizing pain from multiple fractures, I had to suffer the humiliation of not being able to get out of traction and the hospital bed to go to a bathroom. I was not in control. My cleanliness and safety depended 100% on a series of people dress in white coats at the end of red button to bring me bedpans.
I believe that my mind said, “This is awful. I am not in control. I cannot even perform basic bodily functions without calling for help. This is humiliating. There’s no privacy. I am never going to let this happen again.”
Later I began to notice symptoms diagnosable as OCD: repeatedly checking door locks, adamantly believing I left the stove on, overzealously cleaning, highly intense organization and labeling of files, paying all bills as soon as they were received and well in advance (830/850 credit score — yippee!) etc. in general, being a control freak (in your humble opinion) and having an obsession with fierce independence yet not even trusting my own ability to maintain order. Somewhat and regularly discombobulating. Frantic. Frenetic.
From all of my academic studies over the past 35 years, I feel confident in stating that the past does not exist, no longer exists. There may be photos, memories, videos, audio recordings, sketches, but that week 35 years ago when I was physically incapacitated has not existed for a long time. In fact, today I attended a boxing class*, then walked to the sauna, then went for a swim, then rode my Vespa home: not possible for someone immobile in a hospital bed.
And yet, the defense mechanisms that my mind created to try to stave off another incapacitating situation incapacitated me in sundry ways for many years. Or at least pissed off many friends who had to wait in the street while I checked my stove and front door lock again and again. (On the other hand, my landlord in Paris didn’t seem terribly dismayed when I paid my rent two years in advance.)
When patients come into my office complaining about similar compulsive behaviors or obsessive thoughts, I ask them to assume a meditative posture and then we gently walk their minds backwards until they find when these “solutions” first appeared.
Then we discuss what was going in the patient’s life at that time and find anything that a young mind might find traumatic — parents’ divorce, a betrayal, an abandonment, a fall, the death of a loved one, a supposed failure, a humiliation, a car accident, a loss — and discuss all of the feelings around the event.
Then we temporarily secure a narrative (all narratives are dynamic, constantly in flux — you and your mind recount stories about the same incident differently over time) about the origin of the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Then I ask a series of absurd, rhetorical questions unequivocally proving that the event and subsequent trauma are long gone and the younger mind’s “solutions” are now trying to solve a problem that no longer exists.
Finally, we create a phrase or mantra that the patient employs whenever the thoughts or behaviors rear their loving heads.
Because at some point in time, these thoughts and behaviors were your young mind’s solution to a problem.
*Oh yeah, a few weeks ago, after 52 years of consistently never punching anything or anybody, I decided to try something completely new. Lo and behold — you guessed it — I’m genuinely terrible at boxing! Useless! …and it’s so awesome! Total beginner’s mind! I advise you to try something that you never tried before if you want to gain a greater appreciation of all of the things that you have mastered and to watch how your mind learns new concepts.
Originally Published on Medium