Overcoming shame in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Distressed woman sitting with her dog

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health issue and therapy is proven to reduce symptoms and help people regain control of their lives. Unfortunately, some people struggle to seek treatment because of feelings of shame. In this article, we will explore why people may experience shame and what to do about it.

Shame about needing help

OCD often arrives in people's lives as a false friend, claiming that it will keep us safe and demanding very little. However, over time it can demand more and more until we are making changes to our lives to accommodate the OCD.

As these changes may seem reasonable, it can sometimes be difficult to ask for help because the problems feel trivial or something we should easily be able to deal with ourselves. We may feel weak for asking for help or that it is not a "real" problem.

Shame about symptoms

OCD produces a range of symptoms and some can seem embarrassing or socially unacceptable.

For example, someone may have a series of rituals they go through before leaving the house such as checking appliances are switched off and that doors and windows are locked. These rituals can become more and more time consuming and lead to us being late or cancelling appointments last minute.

Other symptoms may make us feel that we are a bad person or may act on the uncomfortable thoughts we are having. These could include:

  • Thoughts about harming other people
  • Thoughts of a sexual nature
  • Blasphemous thoughts if you are religious
  • Thoughts of harming your child if you are a parent

These thoughts are common: many people experience them and the majority of people pay them no attention. However, people struggling with OCD often assume the thought applies they may act on it or that it reveals a true desire, rather than just being a random thought, and so want to keep their symptoms hidden.

Shame about mental health

Over the last decade, society has made great strides in talking openly about mental health. However, many people still feel that it is a taboo subject. This may be a result of the views of family, friends or colleagues who may not share a forward-facing outlook.

What to do about it

First, understand that OCD and the distressing symptoms that can accompany it are common. You are not alone in feeling this way and the condition is treatable.

We often assume that the struggles, intrusive thoughts and symptoms that accompany OCD say something about who we are. However, many people experience such thoughts and pay them no attention.

If you decide to seek professional help from a therapist, they will explain their confidentiality policy so that you can reassure yourself that anything you tell them will be kept private. If your therapist is a specialist in anxiety disorders such as OCD, they will be familiar with any symptoms you are experiencing.

It is common for feelings of shame to accompany OCD but this need not be a barrier to seeking help.