Have you ever seen a thumbtack on the floor and figured you better pick it up before someone steps on it? You feel a sense of responsibility that maybe you’re the only one who saw it and if you don’t pick it up and someone does get hurt, then you bear some of the guilt.
That is sort of what hyper-responsibility feels like with OCD. Maybe you’re the only one who saw the danger. This is now your responsibility, your problem, and potentially your fault. You have to take action or you will be the one to blame for any disaster. Except, it usually isn’t something as simple and quick as picking up a thumbtack. With OCD, hyper-responsibility can involve tons of our daily activities requiring special action to prevent disaster.
For example, it can occur when doing something as simple as turning off a light as you leave the room. Most don’t see this as dangerous, but with OCD this can be a very risky task. What if you don’t turn off the light right, or you don’t tap it right, or you cause a spark in some other way and a fire starts? The whole building could burn down and worst of all someone could die.
Yes, this is absolutely ridiculous. That is not how fire works. Yet, the danger feels as real as when you see a thumbtack on the floor and have the urge to pick it up. Perhaps it feels even more real since it also comes with a rush of extreme anxiety. Simply said, the thoughts of danger and urges to ritualize are hard to ignore.
No one wants to feel guilty for hurting other people or contributing to the problems of the world (or if you do want this then another problem is at hand.) People with OCD definitely don’t want this. Compulsions are what we use to try to avoid this intense anxiety and also to avoid potential guilt. The only problem is it doesn’t work. The relief is temporary before the thoughts return stronger. Rituals quickly grow out of control to take up several hours a day and intrude on many aspects of life. We feel like we’re protecting the world from destruction, but instead it’s just lead to destruction in our own lives.
The only way out is to take the risk, to take the anxiety and guilt head-on and fight through the urge. It’s much harder than doing the ritual but in the end it’s for the best. Getting rid of compulsions not only betters your own life but could also allow you to do more to better the world, like we so badly want to do. Think of what you could do with all the free time you have without rituals. You could spend it volunteering for a charity, being with and comforting a friend, maybe even writing a book that someone finds inspiring (as long as these new activities don’t turn into compulsions.) The possibilities are endless. But in order to actually contribute our fullest to bettering the world, we first have to let go of some of the responsibility we feel for saving it.
Great articles for more information on hyper-responsibility: