Existential OCD- FearCast Podcast

On this episode of the FearCast Podcast, I discuss this OCD subtype and offer some strategies on how to rethinking the nature of the obsession, while also offering some techniques on how to overcome it.

To learn more about this type of OCD, please see this article on Existential OCD for more details, including common symptoms of Existential OCD, and treatment for Existential obsessions.  

What is Existential OCD?

Existential OCD is one of those subtypes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that causes a second look by those who do not have, or are unfamiliar with, the process and presentation of OCD. On the one hand, many can understand how someone may become obsessed with cleanliness, order, safety, their relationships, or their future. Aren’t we all worried about those things? Furthermore, aren’t we all interested in the bigger things in life? The unseen? The mysteries of life, the afterlife, and what makes it all tick? So, if it is something that we all think about from time to time, what’s all the fuss about?

Existential OCD Is Just OCD

At its core, Existential OCD is just another manifestation of OCD. The “existential” part of the name simply gives others a clue about the general theme of the obsessions. In this case, existential questions about the meaning of life, the universe, God (or the absence of), and free choice vs determinism, just to name a few.

OCD is a chronic mental health disorder that presents as a series of unwanted, intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, sensations, or urges that cause significant and merciless discomfort, anxiety, emotional pain, or psychological turmoil. In an attempt to rid oneself of this pain, an OCD sufferer will try to get rid of the thought, neutralize it, gain full understanding, or try to make sure that whatever they are worried about happening won’t happen. These are all called compulsions.

The problem with uncertainty

Central to all OCD subtypes is the difficulty accepting uncertainty. In other words, people with OCD struggle with the reality that they currently do not have the answers to all the questions in the universe. Where did we all come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? Who am I? Who are you? Does anything matter? These are questions that many have been asking, and struggling to answer, since the beginning of time! Universities give out degrees trying to answer these questions. Many people find enjoyment bandying these questions about. Despite all the thought, no one has come up with a conclusive, universally agreed upon answer to many, if any, of these questions.

Many people may say, “Eh, who knows why things are the way they are. I’ve got work to do,” and be satisfied. However, someone with OCD has trouble letting go of the question or allowing for the unsettled, unanswered feeling that comes with not knowing for sure. It goes beyond an “interesting question” and becomes a question that must be answered in order to feel whole, right, and ok again.

Treatment for Existential OCD

Picture of a key and a crystal ball on a table. We dont have the answers to life, and that's ok. Therapy for Existential OCD helps people learn to accept the uncertainty.

 Long story short: I don’t have the answer these questions either. No one does. And no amount of thinking, asking, googling, or reading will give us a long lasting sense of certainty that we can feel OK and get back to our lives.

And that’s ok.

The purpose of treatment for Existential OCD is to learn to tolerate the not knowing. Continually striving to get the certainty that the feared thought and obsession is false and that they’re going to be ok again ultimately leaves the OCD sufferer feeling more lost, empty, confused, and anxious.

The combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure and Response Prevention, and mindfulness helps the OCD sufferer to understand they don’t need the answer to their question to have a full and meaningful life. Instead, moving toward the things they actually value despite the anxiety will bring them more freedom than the answer to their obsession.

The California OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center specializes in treatment for Existential OCD. If you’re ready to overcome your existential anxieties and get back to a life of meaning, please contact CalOCD here to learn more about treatment options, including online therapy for Existential OCD.

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