When OCD Takes Over Your Life

OCD is an anxiety disorder which affects the thinking, feeling and behaviours of those who suffer with it. It takes many forms but can be summarised as:

Obsessions – thinking repeatedly of a thought.
Compulsions – the rituals/habits that the suffer does to relieve the obsession.

OCD affects up to 3% of children and young people, which means that in a large secondary school with 1,000 pupils up to 30 of them will be struggling with OCD.

OCD is often treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) during which the sufferer works with a CBT specialist to create a plan of activities to distract them from the compulsions which are used in response to the obsession. This is taken slowly over time with the sufferer gradually reducing the compulsive activities in response to an obsession. For example, if someone with OCD must wash their hands five times every time they visit the bathroom because of worries about germs, then CBT will help them reduce this checking until they can manage without the repetition of behaviour.


How can NLP help with OCD?

NLP provides many tools and strategies for individuals to learn about their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and to replace unwanted behaviours with something which is more useful to them.

People struggling with OCD often have low confidence and self-esteem through having to deal with their symptoms on a day to day basis. There are many NLP techniques that are easy to learn which can help with building confidence and so the ability to tackle the OCD.

One of the pre-suppositions of NLP is that we all have the resources we need to enable us to handle every situation. It may help an OCD suffer to consider this when faced with the challenge of reducing their compulsive behaviours. Here are some techniques from NLP which can help with creating some useful resources that can be used alongside CBT:

1. Belief Change.
2. The SWISH pattern.
3. Circle of Excellence.
4. Creating a positive mindset.


Belief Change

Beliefs are ideas, thoughts or concepts which we think of as being true. Every individual holds their own beliefs about the world around them, these have been created through experiences, teaching and thinking. Many of the beliefs we hold are helpful and guide us in leading positive and engaging lives. However, many of us also hold beliefs that hold us back and prevent us from doing everything we would like to do, these are known as limiting beliefs. An example of a limiting belief is:

‘I do not have enough will power to overcome my unwanted habits.’

Once a limiting belief is set up in our minds then the brain will be tuned to focus on this and will collect evidence of it during day to day life. Overcoming this is done by thinking about something positive you want instead that can replace this limiting belief. Having decided what you want instead, then create a plan of actions for getting there and start taking small steps towards this positive belief. It often helps to visualise what you want, use positive affirmations every day and celebrate each successful step of the journey. It won’t be easy at first but over time the brain will re-tune itself and start filtering for evidence for the new positive belief.


Swish Pattern

This can work well with belief change and as a distraction technique when someone with OCD is working on removing the compulsive behaviour. It works by creating an image of what you want to remove, plus an image of what you want to replace it by and then swishing one over the other.
It works by:

• Creating a very compelling image of what you would like to be doing instead of the compulsive behaviour.

• Spend some time working out the trigger for the compulsive habit. This means working out what happens just before the OCD habit is triggered and can be done by taking a note of what is happening for you just before the habit is started. When you know what this is, create an image for this.

• The swish works by replacing the unwanted image of when the habit is triggered with the new one of what you would like to have instead.

• It’s fun practicing the swish, it is done by bringing to mind the image of the unwanted trigger and pretending it is on a screen up in front of you. Then, get the desired image in your mind and put it in the corner of the screen. The fun bit is to make the desired image big, bright and colourful and swish it over the top of the unwanted image as if you are painting over the old image. Do this several times and get quicker each time at swishing the new image over the old one. When the swish is done make a big movement with your arm to swish the good image over the unwanted one.

• Gradually, the unwanted image, will fade and become fuzzy as it is replaced with the new one.


Circle of Excellence

This is a fabulous tool that can be used in all sorts of situations to take the mind away from worry, anxiety and stress to a place of calm and confidence. Once learnt the circle of excellence is excellent for using to build a positive and confident mindset when working on changing an OCD behaviour. Another circle of excellence can also be created to use as a place to step into and relax when the work to overcome OCD behaviours is has been done for the day and a break is needed.

The circle of excellence enables the use of a trigger of stepping into an imaginary circle to boost a positive state of mind. It works by:

• Creating an imaginary circle on the floor

• Identify the positive feeling you want, for example confident,happy or motivated

• Remember a time when you had that positive feeling

• Step into the circle and recall the experience as vividly as you can by seeing, hearing and feeling what it was like as if you were back there now

• When the memory is strong, imagine being surrounded by a colour in the circle, or perhaps having a word or phrase you can say to yourself which will help trigger the feeling in the future.

• Step out of the circle and then repeat the whole process for another positive feeling you would like. This can be done 2-3 times so the circle has lots of great feelings in it.

• When you want to feel good, imagine putting the circle out in front of you then stepping into it with the colour and/or word you created for it. This will trigger the body to respond and bring back the positive feelings.


Creating a positive mindset

NLP gives us lots of ways to control what is going on inside our head and not to get overwhelmed by lots of bad thoughts. There is a presupposition in NLP that everyone responds to situations according to their own personal map of the world. If we have a map that keeps us thinking about bad things and life being terrible then it becomes difficult to respond to things in any other way. We all have an internal dialogue known as self-talk which starts as soon as we begin talking and communicating with those around us. The self-talk is our internal chatter which often goes through the events that have happened in a day and how we have handled them. If we get into a habit of negative self-talk and thinking that the world causes all our problems then we are thinking at effect and it is difficult to change how we get on in the world.

The more you can change your thinking into positive ideas that you can own and have a choice about, the more likely you are to be able to handle challenges such as doing the CBT work to overcome compulsive habits. Over the next few days, notice what your self-talk is like and make a conscious effort to change it into something more positive

These are just a few ideas from NLP that can be helpful in overcoming OCD. To find out more about NLP, have a look at the NLP4Kids website or talk to one of the NLP4Kids practitioners about your own situation and they will be able to help you come up with some ways to assist you with overcoming your OCD.

For more information about OCD, have a look at www.ocduk.org.


By Corrine Thomas
NLP4Kids Practitoner

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4 comments on “When OCD Takes Over Your Life

  1. Ruth Johnson on said:

    Your article is very well formed. The language positions this as a professionally written piece without being overly complex.

    The measure of a school community to demonstrate the scale of how many young people are affected by OCD, is very effective. In relating the problem to children even further you could highlight some of the implications OCD could have for a young person. Many parents might have identified some “odd” behaviour in their child but have not yet recognised it as OCD. As a further ‘build’ on what you have written, you could include some of the obvious and less obvious signs that someone has OCD. For example, that they tend to have unreasonably high expectations of standards and tend to focus on the details instead of the bigger picture.

    I do feel it could be worthwhile placing some emphasis on what you could do for a client prior to instigating a formal technique. For example, reframing the severity of their problem to reduce it, or using humour to reframe their problem could be very helpful in minimising the severity of the OCD before you even begin your change work.

    Whilst all of the techniques you have suggested are valid, I am particularly interested in the solutions that do not require a formal process. For this reason, in the area of “Creating a positive mindset” your suggestion to pay attention to self talk provides instant value for the reader as they can begin to use this suggestion without need of a visit to an NLP practitioner.

    I like your descriptions throughout and the overall piece is readable and professionally crafted.

  2. Love this article Corinne. I personally feel the Circle of Excellence technique provides a key foundation for creating a positive mindset for anyone, not just children. And it is a lot fun to coach someone through it, and give them the accountability to practice it at home.

  3. Maria Valverde on said:

    I loved the Circle of excellence and the positive mindset, a very fresh technique to help children and Adults to deal with everyday to day life.
    Well done Corrine Thomas😊

  4. I’m fairly new to NLP and found this article very interesting. It is written in a concise style and is easy to understand whilst explaining some new (to me) ideas. I feel after some further reading on the subject it would be fairly easy to start putting some of the ideas into practice.