Question: It’s hard to describe this, but I feel like every few days I need to mentally “start over” by doing a variety of mental and behavioral rituals. I don’t want to live like this, but I’m afraid that if I undergo treatment and stop my OCD rituals, I won’t be the same person with the same drives.
Starting Over, Resetting, & Undoing Compulsions in OCD
First, please rest assured that you’re not alone in experiencing these symptoms. Many people with OCD (“Pure-O” or otherwise) refer to them as “starting over” compulsions, “resetting” compulsions, or “undoing” compulsions, which serve the function of returning to a clean mental slate. Sometimes these compulsions consist of particular movements, self-statements, mental activities, or complex rituals with both behavioral and mental components. They are not as common as other types of rituals (e.g., washing, re-arranging), but they’re more common than you might think, particularly in Pure-O OCD. Many people resist talking about them, because they fear that other people might not understand. Other rituals associated with Pure-O OCD are described here.
There are two other terms that might describe some of what you are experiencing: emotional contamination (also referred to as mental contamination) and scrupulosity.
Emotional Contamination (“Mental Contamination”) in OCD
Emotional contamination refers to the fear of being changed by direct or indirect contact with certain types of people, ideas, or situations. Emotional contamination might be the case if you feel more triggered when exposed to others who are less achievement-oriented than yourself. If you google emotional contamination, many of the stories you’ll find probably won’t perfectly describe your exact symptoms. However, the reason I mention it is because it sounds like your drive to be productive and live up to your potential sometimes gets thwarted by your own humanity (e.g., fatigue, inattention). Your rituals are then the process you use to reduce the resultant anxiety you feel when you can’t live up to your own high expectations. In a way, it might be a form of purging/neutralizing emotional contamination.
Scrupulosity in OCD
Scrupulosity also incorporates many of the moral elements of what you’re describing. In particular, I think the moral imperative you feel to live up to your potential, to maximize the usefulness of things, to avoid waste, to be a responsible person, and to avoid mistakes has a scrupulous quality. Please note that scrupulosity can be either religion- or morally-based. Many people with scrupulosity are religious (e.g., Catholic or Jewish individuals), but others consider themselves atheists or agnostics.
Treatment Ambivalence in OCD
As far as treatment is concerned, it sounds like you’re in a bit of a bind. I would encourage you to face this issue with the help of an ERP-trained psychologist, if you can, because I know many individuals who regret not doing so earlier in their lives. I would also ask you to think about both sides of the equation: both your fear of a possibility (that may never come to pass) as well as the very real and present distress you’re experiencing on a daily basis. From an outside perspective, it sounds like much of your happiness and mental energy is currently being lost to OCD.
However, ultimately, whether or not you pursue treatment for your OCD is a decision that only you can make.
Questions? Comments? Experiences with restarting, resetting, or undoing? Sound off below.