OCD: Painful Feelings of Responsibility and Guilt

“It’s okay honey; you didn’t mean to kill the caterpillar.  It was just an accident.”  I attempted to reassure my son after the little white caterpillar he’d been taking for a ride on his raft died after falling into the water.  But he wouldn’t be comforted.  He kept on talking about the caterpillar for days afterward.  He really seemed to be struggling with intense emotions.  He was in a great deal of emotional pain and was experiencing an inordinate amount of  guilt and anxiety over the death of this little critter.  It was ruining his enjoyment of his vacation because he seemed unable to move past these feelings.

Recently I asked him what kind of feelings he was dealing with at that time.  He said: “Well, I felt sorry for him; like I let him down. I wanted to make his life better, but I ended up taking it instead. It wasn’t about me, it was about him.”

But it really was about him.  It was about him feeling a greatly exaggerated weight of responsibility and guilt over the death of a small caterpillar.

OCD will take something very minor and make a big, huge, hairy deal out of it.

He was probably only about six years old at the time and I hated to see him so distraught over something that he should have been able to shrug off after a few moments of disappointment.   I didn’t recognize this to be symptomatic of OCD, but what I did recognize was his emotional distress.  That was all too familiar to me as I had experienced a lot of this same kind of distress as a child.  What he was experiencing was inflated feelings of responsibility and guilt which are common in those of us with OCD.

The caterpillar incident reminded me of something quite the opposite which was a poem that my little brother wrote when he was in grade school: “Butterfly, butterfly in the sky.  Butterfly, butterfly now you die!”  I’m quite sure having watched my little brother grow up into a responsible and caring human being, that this poem wasn’t born out of any kind of hatred for butterflies or a desire to kill small creatures.  I’m pretty sure that the only reason he wrote the butterfly poem, with such a violent and tragic ending was merely because he needed a word to rhyme with “fly” and “die” suited his purpose.

But, if he’d been afflicted with OCD  he may have spent a great deal of  time wondering why he would write a poem like that in the first place.  Then,  if he’d accidently drowned a caterpillar, he may have attached quite a lot of false significance to his butterfly poem.  He might have connected writing that poem with the death of the caterpillar. He might  have begun to wonder if writing that poem was some kind of indicator that deep down inside he was some kind of monster who liked to kill things.  He might have even thought of the caterpillar as a baby butterfly and then felt an even greater level of guilt and distress over it’s death.

OCD uses an inappropriate emotional response to cause the sufferer to question their character.

Thankfully my brother isn’t afflicted with OCD so these kinds of feelings and thoughts wouldn’t be something that he was likely to experience and even if he did experience them, they’d be momentary and fleeting. He would be able to shrug them off because his brain wouldn’t be overreacting to them in the way the brain of a person with OCD does.

OCD uses an uncontrolled and  inordinate emotional response to cause a person to place an inappropriate amount of significance to an event or a thought that pops into the mind.  

It’s this feeling of exaggerated importance which can lead to intense feelings of condemnation and guilt in the sufferer. When people with OCD have these feelings they are experiencing what is referred to as hyper responsibility and may begin to engage in behaviors or rituals which they feel might prevent something bad from happening.

If the feelings are attached to an unwanted/intrusive thought that popped into their mind, they will become mentally preoccupied with challenging or trying to counter the thought.  This is called rumination.

OCD will cause the sufferer to get stuck on a specific theme or topic which in turn will cause the sufferer to try and find some way to escape from the anxiety which accompanies the theme. The effort to escape the anxiety whether through rituals or mental rumination is the compulsive activity of the disorder. 

Learning to manage OCD means learning to tolerate these exaggerated emotions without engaging in the compulsions. It means being able to tolerate an excruciating alarm signal that’s misfiring in your brain.

This isn’t something that is easily achieved.  It takes a lot of effort and practice to do the exact opposite of what your emotions are pushing you to do.  And just when you’ve pressed through one theme it’s not unusual for OCD to generate this exaggerated emotional response to yet another thought or event.

OCD is a chronic disorder, usually starting in childhood.  It waxes and wanes throughout a persons life.

OCD isn’t about being nit picky or having things “just so”.  It’s not funny. It’s not quirky.  It’s not trendy or cool as in: “I’m SO OCD!” It’ terrifying.  It’s excruciating.  It’s exhausting and often it’s debilitating. It pretty much stinks.  People with OCD are continually fighting just to feel normal.  

It hurts when people trivialize or mock our disorder even though we know that it’s usually done in ignorance.   On the other hand, It comforts us when people validate our disorder.  It comforts us when people offer to pray for us or make an effort to understand what we are experiencing.  It feels good to be able to talk about our OCD without fear of being mocked.

So this is why I write these blogs.  Educating people about what OCD is and what it isn’t makes it  easier for the person who is afflicted to have the courage to ask for help without the fear of being stigmatized or mocked.

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15 thoughts on “OCD: Painful Feelings of Responsibility and Guilt

  1. Carol Raub June 25, 2015 / 2:13 pm

    Great article.
    Thank you.

    Like

  2. Kristine Thomassen June 26, 2015 / 4:48 am

    It’s so true ! You explain it so well. Thank you

    Like

  3. susan johnson June 26, 2015 / 7:38 am

    True..a lot of it…no one can see me. I just usually..stay away. My girl died at 34. My mom died at 34. .and other..stuff. hard to believe…its not my fault. And issues trusting. From childhood..yes Im feeling tired..and frightened..

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  4. Gellyn Canapi June 26, 2015 / 2:45 pm

    This is exactly what everyday is like for me. It’s painful and it’s horrible. What ordinary people can just shrug off to the side I obsessively think about. I don’t even know if my guilt is necessary or it’s just the OCD anymore. I always question my morality over the little things…:(

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  5. ocdmitzi77 July 6, 2015 / 11:36 am

    Hey Kathleen, Just saw this. First off, thank you for taking the time to even read my blogs. I’m just horrid at keeping up with that sort of thing. Thanks for the nomination too! Haven’t ever counted my blogs in my word count yet, but the way things are panning out time wise as of late, I may have to resort to that soon.

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  6. Kay Zeaman consumer Grand Rapids MI August 12, 2015 / 11:41 pm

    Dear Mitzi
    Yes I experienced a great deal of guilt, responsibility, and shame when my OCD was rampant with fears of spreading harmful germs to others. Consequently my fears caused me isolation and much suffering. Gratefully I found healing through EMDR therapy, hypnotherapy, brainwave therapy, prayer and meditation. It is all explained in my book coming out later this year called “Out of the darkness and into the light: New hope for the healing of depression, OCD, and PTSD.”
    Kay Zeaman

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  7. Zed November 20, 2015 / 1:41 pm

    I think the moment we label any behaviour out of the norm (whatever that is in this f##### up world), we fail to understand the reasons behind this behaviour. I for one was diagnosed with OCD and instinctively it never sat well with me because it didn’t make sense why I was the way I was, no one bothered to understand, and I was given training exercises that simply didn’t help a great deal. I tend to feel unwell when I see a hazard that could potentially harm someone, I must have OCD for worrying about other people’s lives (I’m talking about serious hazards that most people look at and actually think this is dangerous to the public, but ultimately say to themselves ‘not my problem’) – so if I have OCD for caring about people’s lives, what do others have for neglecting the most basic responsibility to do what is right? I feel I took a crazy pill and somehow have to justify why I am the way I am…… do not regurgitate labels created by some poor researcher came up with to justify his or her thesis/paper. You are different, embrace it, and if you are finding yourself obsessing about something, it is most likely connected to something far deeper than the fate of a caterpillar – it may have something to do with poor choices you made in your life, or something traumatic episode in your childhood that has affected your personal growth that you need to understand and reverse. I just hate labels, I wish we just stopped trying to fit things into categories.

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    • ocdmitzi77 November 20, 2015 / 2:40 pm

      Hey Zed. I want to demonstrate a level of openness and respect so I’m allowing your negative comments about the things I expressed in this blog to be posted.
      You are certainly entitled to your opinion and have every right to express your experiences and understanding as it applies to YOU.
      As for ME – the label/diagnosis of OCD was an answer to prayer which provided insight, direction and eventually led to my being able to manage my obsessions in such a way that my life was/is greatly improved.
      The other valuable thing about living with an affliction like OCD involves positive personal growth to the extent that I can actually view the experience of OCD as being a blessing. This disorder continually humbles me and keeps my pride in check, it causes me to have a level of empathy and compassion that I wouldn’t otherwise have, it demands patience and perseverance, it’s taught me about submission and that faith isn’t a feeling – faith is faithfulness. I could go on and on about these lessons, but hey, this is MY experience and maybe just maybe yours is different???
      I just want to suggest to you that although your experiences are different than mine; that doesn’t nullify or invalidate mine.
      Also, one of the biggest lessons OCD has taught me which is applicable to this discussion, are about these two matters: assumption and presumption.
      I feel so bad for my parents because people just assume that my “problem” has to do with my upbringing or some childhood trauma. (I was just talking to my Mom about this the other day and told her that I felt so bad for her that people assume such nonsense.) Anyhow – none of that is true. Good grief every kid I hung out with while I was growing up used to wish they could move in with me because I had/have the most amazing, loving and supportive parents. They are a continual blessing to me even to this very day and they are in their 80’s.
      People also assume that because I have, in the past, struggled with Religious Obsessions that I don’t have strong faith, don’t read or understand the Bible, don’t pray, am angry at God, am probably demon possessed, am committing the sin of worry…blah….blah…blah. They assume all of this based upon their experience and the things they hear people say. None of this is true, but I have to endure these kinds of assumptions on a regular basis.
      Anyhow, my son was about 5 years old when he was painfully obsessing about the death of that little white caterpillar. My questions for you are as follows: What kind of poor choices or failures or trauma are you suggesting were behind this five year old boy’s feelings? Is is not assumption/speculation that you are engaging in by suggesting such things? Were you there to see/witness his childhood and what kind of parents we were? How have you arrived at this opinion? What facts have you gathered to draw this conclusion?
      My OCD is not at all like the normal concern over a real/valid possible danger which every human being experiences because our brains are meant to notice such things and warn us. That is NOT how my OCD operates. Again, you are assuming what my experience is like based upon your own experience and then drawing speculative conclusions as to what my “problem” is.
      If this blog isn’t helpful to you or doesn’t describe your experience that’s completely fine. You should just be able to just pass it by because it isn’t helpful to you and, therefore, obviously not written to benefit you. But that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to someone else whose experiences may be very much like my own.
      Furthermore, my OCD is not a defect in my character or a childhood trauma that I need to “reverse” or the result of poor choices. It is nothing more than a disorder which creates an inordinate amount of fight or flight chemistry in my brain which waxes and wanes through my life. OCD challenges me to take better care of myself and do those things which benefit me in regard to management. It pretty much demands that I live a more disciplined/responsible life and when I’m doing those things, I feel so much better. The disorder requires a multifaceted approach and a willingness to work hard on therapy even though to do so will in the beginning make you feel so much worse. This is not a whole lot different than the pain of physical therapy which hurts at first but gets better as you buck up and see it through.
      I’m doing great and have been for a very long time. I hope and pray that you are too.
      Respectfully, Mitzi

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  8. Kevin January 15, 2016 / 1:18 pm

    Mitzi, do know your blog is INCREDIBLY helpful and life giving and very personally relatable. Your writing it is most appreciated and it is very insightful. Keep going!

    Like

  9. Sarah July 24, 2016 / 11:34 am

    This is the type of OCD that I have and I am struggling a lot with it at the moment. Sometimes its hard to realise what stuff I should really be feeling guilty about and what is actually my OCD brain misfiring signals and making things out to be much worse than they are.
    Sarah

    Like

    • ocdmitzi77 July 24, 2016 / 9:37 pm

      One thing that helps me is asking this question: Is there a great deal of anxiety that comes with the thought/doubt? If there is, then I choose to run the risk of treating it like OCD by ignoring it. The reason I say, “run the risk” is because your brain will want you to be upset about it and push you to attend to it, so letting go of it will feel wrong and risky, but that’s the only way to manage the thoughts correctly when OCD is trying to run the show.

      Liked by 1 person

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