Addiction and OCD: What You Should Know


People in the active phase of addictions are usually obsessed with the craving to get high and feel compelled to use alcohol or drugs repeatedly despite the consequences. Not only does addiction have obsessive and compulsive features, but people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) frequently resort to alcohol and drugs in an attempt to self-medicate their condition. The tools we have developed to deal with addictions, therefore, may also be useful for coping with OCD.

With addictions we attempt to escape the oppression of the Tyrant by retreating into a chemical fantasy, and with obsessions and compulsions we try to placate and appease the Tyrant by fulfilling all its demands, down to the smallest detail.

What Is the Inner Tyrant?

In normal development, we internalize the advice of various authority figures in our lives into a component of our psyche that is designed to protect us. This component may take the form of an inner Guide or a Healthy Self that conveys a constructive course for us to follow. Sometimes this component gets deformed and turns into a tyrannical figure that demands we behave a certain way. This deformation may happen when we are exposed to rigid authority figures who impose absolute rules upon us, rather than caring figures who encourage and inspire us. And it may also be due to a predilection on our part to interpret what we are advised to do as absolute commands. So, the inner Tyrant is a deformed version of our Healthy Self, and we need to undergo a major adjustment in order to reform this Tyrant into the Healthy Self it is supposed to be.

The Tyrant intensifies our feelings of anxiety by putting vivid images of disaster into our imagination. We begin to picture everything going wrong. We get scared stiff as we are sure the worst is going to happen. The vividness of these images diminishes our ability to evaluate the likelihood of these events. In this frightened state, we will do all sorts of foolish things just to show the Tyrant how obedient we are.

Let us now expose the faulty logic used by the Tyrant to deceive and control us.

The Tyrant distorts our perception by exaggerating our responsibility for what might happen. It also frightens us by dismissing the possibility of any positive outcome. “If anyone gets hurt, it will be all your fault.”

Unfair Comparison
The Tyrant highlights our flaws by comparing us to seemingly perfect people. “You’re nothing but a selfish and lazy bum.”

Over generalizing
The Tyrant exploits our mistakes and imperfections to draw its conclusions about us. “Can’t you ever do anything right? You’re such a bumbling idiot.”

Emotional Reasoning
The Tyrant argues that our insecurity is due to our disobedience. “If only you listened to me and did what I told you to do, you wouldn’t be so worried.”

The Tyrant wears us down by repeating its pronouncements over and over. “Do it again until you get it right!”

Jumping to Conclusions
It uses flimsy evidence to substantiate its judgments of us. “You goofed, so you’re never going to amount to anything!”

“Should” Thinking
The Tyrant speaks with words of obligation and duty. “You should, you must, you ought to, you have to....” It imposes impossible demands on us.

The Tyrant instills a lot of doubt in us by questioning everything we do. “Are you sure you locked the door?”

The Tyrant has a long list of names it uses to make us feel defective, weak, inept, inferior, inadequate, depressed, defeated, hopeless, alienated, estranged, isolated, rejected, unloved and alone. “You stupid jerk! You’re a worthless piece of junk. Who in their right mind would ever care for you?”

The ultimate effect of the Tyrant is that it diverts all our energy away from creativity into futile efforts to regain its favor. We try even harder to appease the Tyrant, but of course it will never approve of us no matter how hard we try. And this struggle also undermines or interferes with all our intimate relationships.

Helpful Tools For Longterm Healing

Just like addiction, OCD is a chronic illness. No single method works for everyone, and relapses are not uncommon. We have exposed the subpersonalities involved and now we want to demonstrate how to activate the healing forces inside us all to subdue this painful condition.

Keep a journal
In order to make any headway in coping with obsessions and compulsions, it is vital to gather the evidence. Writing it down prevents it from slipping away, and it provides a record for analysis. It is important that journal keeping itself doesn’t become an obsession, so there is no law that says you have to write every day or write so many words.

Go to Obsessive Compulsive Anonymous meetings
Join a fellowship of people who are applying the Twelve Steps to their common problem. You are not alone.

See a therapist
Get some guidance and encouragement from a professional psychologist or a clinical social worker. They may use some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you challenge the irrational beliefs underlying your obsessions and compulsions.

Consult a clergy person or a spiritual counselor
They may assist you in drawing strength and guidance from an inner resource. You can learn to rely upon your healthy inspirations.

Talk with a sponsor or a good friend
They can lead you through the Twelve Step approach to recovery as well as provide you with their understanding and shared experience.

Read books and go to web sites to learn about your condition
You can benefit from the experience of others in this way, as well as learn how to listen to your Healthy Self as it speaks to you through what you read and hear.

Cultivating contact with our Healthy Self is crucial for our long-term well-being. If at first we cannot locate it within us, then we can listen as it speaks through other people who are aware of its presence in them.

Our progress may be gradual, but with persistent effort we can learn to diminish the power of our obsessive and compulsive tendencies. By naming the subpersonalities of ours that lurk beneath these inclinations, we can objectify and study them. And in doing so, we automatically draw upon the wisdom and compassion of the healing forces within us.

Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.

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