There’s nothing unusual about double-checking a door to make sure it’s locked, or making extra sure you’ve packed everything you need before setting off on a trip. But if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you know that it’s not simply checking a lock twice or going through your baggage just one more time. There’s something much deeper behind an incessant and insatiable compulsion to check. The symptom is indicative of a deeper obsession, and it is one of the most recognizable signs of OCD.
The Risk of Not Checking
Psychology Today explains that the checking compulsion is borne from the obsession that there is a lot at risk for the patient. Perhaps the person who checks the locks on their doors for hours on end is very afraid of their safety and privacy being violated, and perhaps this comes from an actual incident where they were threatened because of a home intrusion. Or the person who goes through their luggage over and over again is obsessively afraid of being embarrassed or humiliated if they forget to bring something with them, because something like that happened the last time they neglected to check their luggage.
The checking can also extend to literally checking in on loved ones to make sure that they are safe. While isolated instances of checking in are not a cause for concern, a few conditions would have to be met for this to be considered OCD:
- The person attempts to check in with friends or family immediately after already having done so (perhaps calling them back literally seconds after successfully checking in).
- There is no reason to believe that tangible harm has befallen their loved ones, but the person fears that something may have happened, and so repeatedly checks in (this may especially be the case if there has been past experience of some misfortune taking place, and the person did not check in at that time).
- The person is unable to go about their daily lives because of the single-minded obsession to call and check in.
- The person is aware that what they are doing is irrational and unnecessary, but they cannot be calm unless they constantly check in.
Compulsive checking is thus borne from a desire to keep the person and people connected to the person safe, and to eliminate the possibility of danger. To that effect, a person displaying the symptoms of checking will assume elevated levels of responsibility, taking it upon themselves to check every door and switch that, if left unsecured, could lead to harm.
Treating Checking and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
In treating obsessive-compulsive disorder, one of the psychotherapeutic methods employed is that of exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP. Here, a doctor will carefully expose an OCD patient to a situation that triggers their need to check but prevents the patient from carrying out their checking compulsion. This might be done by offering incentives for them to refrain from checking (positive reinforcement), or threatening punishment if they check (negative reinforcement). The idea behind ERP is to gradually show the patient that life will go on (with minimal, acceptable consequences) if they do not compulsively check, and that whatever event happened in the past to catalyze the OCD response must be kept in proportion to their current daily life.
Other therapeutic approaches may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, where a doctor helps the patient understand, and then change, the thoughts and actions that set up compulsive checking; or group therapy, where the patient can learn from other people who have learned how to control their compulsions.
A doctor can also prescribe medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac, for example) to help reduce the anxiety levels that can manifest as obsessive thoughts and resultant compulsive behaviors.
Checking can be very misunderstood by people who don’t know what obsessive-compulsive disorder fully entails. That’s why Black Bear Lodge is here, because we do understand, and we want to help you. We can help you find the right treatment program for you. Call now.