FearCast Question- “How Can I Tell If It’s HOCD or Suppressed Attraction?”
This question was originally answered on the FearCast Podcast episode release on January 31, 2022 (https://fearcastpodcast.com/2022/01/31/hocd-suppressed/)
I am a heterosexual identifying female who is experiencing HOCD.
I have two questions: When I am around both sexes, mostly occurring with females, I have an uninvited and intense need to kiss them in order to check how it will make me feel. This can also happen with family members and is causing me great distress as the images are quite intrusive and confusing. I have never acted on it as I do not really want to, and am scared that I would like it if I do it. It seems as though my brain won’t let it go until I’ve tried it and can tell for sure. How can you know the difference between suppressed desire and an HOCD compulsion when it comes to acts such as kissing, and how do you dampen such compulsions when your day consists of face to face interaction with people? In conjunction of this, how do you deal with friendly interaction with close friends when individuals of the same sex automatically sets off HOCD triggers?
I hear questions like this on the podcast and in my sessions all the time. They essentially are asking “How do I live my life in a reasonable and normal way when I get triggered,” and “How can I definitely know whether I am truly, deep down gay or if this is just HOCD?”
First, with all these obsessions, it can be important to acknowledge to oneself that you have a history of OCD related obsessions and that this one might fall into that pattern too. With this healthy acknowledgement, the sufferer can begin to think about their obsessions from a distance and with measured consideration rather than from an urgent “life or death” perspective. Remember as well that OCD is the “doubting disease” and will make someone question everything, even things they are typically certain about! Why would this thought be any different?
One of the main ways OCD presents itself is by asking a question that feels like it needs to be answered immediately and that life cannot go on until it is answered with inarguable finality. While compulsions are often used as a way to get momentary certainty, that sense of confidence is short-lived and will eventually be replaced by a renewed sense of anxiety or another question that the original compulsion did not address. Unfortunately, compulsions will not provide the type of certainty OCD wants.
So, I’ll start to address the questions more directly. To the first question about how to tell whether the obsession is truly HOCD or whether it is suppressed homosexuality; who said we both need to answer the question or could ever get the answer to the question? “Suppressed homosexuality” is a favorite obsession within HOCD. For starters, it is not obvious or personally-consistent to the sufferer because they are, theoretically, stuffed down in one’s subconscious, so it cannot be answered without the suppressed interest coming to the surface in an obvious way.
In a sense, it is like the Schrodinger’s Cat experiment. In this hypothetical experiment, a cat has been placed in a black box with a poisonous substance, but the experimenters cannot see, hear, or otherwise monitor the wellbeing of the entombed cat. So, in an existential way, the cat exists in a constant state of both alive and dead until the box is opened to know for sure. But, in this case, it is “Schrodinger’s sexuality.” The comparison falls apart quickly because they also acknowledge that they have no interest in same-sex relationships. In this case, it’s as if they have a heart monitor on the cat showing it is alive, but because they can’t visually see the cat they continue to ask questions. She’ll have to trust the monitor is accurate and proceed as if it can be trusted rather than entertaining the doubt.
Next, who said she had to answer the question in the first place? OCD desperately wants to get certainty about the future, and the question about sexuality often is rooted in wanting to know the answer for now and for all time, i.e. predicting the future. However, we cannot predict the future and any efforts to do so with certainty is futile. So, the sufferer will need to accept the existential possibility of change in the future just like we do with our health, employment status, moods, and financial security. It might go as we want and intend, and it may not. However, we cannot predict it, so why keep trying to do the impossible? Instead, acknowledge the pattern of doubt, accept the inability to forecast the future, and act as if this momentary wave of anxiety will pass (because it always has).
If we could have answered the question, we would have after a few considerations, but the repeated rumination and re-litigating the same points is a good indication that this is OCD.
Additionally, she needs to remember that she is in control of her compulsions. She asks about how she can “dampen” her compulsions, which she has the control to do and she must decide that she’s sick of them and is ready to see what happens when she pulls down her compulsive efforts to shield her from the OCD monster. However, I think she’s asking about how to dampen the obsession and intrusive thought. In short, she can’t! The presence of unwanted intrusive thoughts is out of our control, but they ultimately do not need any response. We get them all day long on a myriad of topics, but this one seems to get a lot of her attention. When she begins to give them less attention, she’ll begin to experience them less too.
The questioner’s next question is about how she can live her life while still experiencing these obsessions. One of the best things she can do is to practice “leaning into it.” Practicing this approach has the sufferer acknowledging the fear and expanding on it while disengaging from any effort to nullify, minimize, or neutralize the emotional experience. Remember, OCD is a feeling problem not a thought or reality problem! Your enemy is that feeling, but that feeling won’t ever harm you! So, when the thought comes up agree with it and make it worse (or sillier)! For example:
- What I’d like kissing that person?
- Oh, I probably would like kissing them, and I’d probably love gently caressing their hair and whispering things in their ear like “Your lips taste like black licorice and deli turkey,” or “Let’s go fly a kite after we do this. And no, that’s not a euphemism!”
It might sound weird, but that’s the point. This thought doesn’t deserve genuine consideration. Instead, it deserves to be laughed at, used as momentary entertainment, and then forgotten about like all other intrusive thoughts.
This can be tough, but over time the sufferer learns the two most important things about OCD:
- That the feared outcome is highly unlikely to happen, and compulsive behaviors do not prevent bad things nor make us safe, and…
- That we do not need to do compulsions in order to get over or deal with the anxiety and discomfort from uncertainty.