Compulsive acts of verification
In this article I am going to go over the problem of compulsive acts of verification. Even though it is a very broad concept, most verifications are usually related to doors, windows, and the switches of white-line products, electronics, domestic gas or kitchen-tops, as well as placement of objects only in a determined manner, and rituals of different kinds of verifications, especially before going to bed.
In my personal case, I used to have compulsive acts of verification of doors and car lights, of windows and blinds in my home being closed, as well as the domestic gas switch, doors of fridge & freezer, and the disposition of certain objects within my room. Shoes had necessarily to be placed in a pre-determined tile and with a certain orientation, each thing on my studio table in a concrete and precise placement. In my case, with the passage of time, new verifications appeared, especially before going to bed. Progressively, I adopted procedures for doing them, and I had to think certain things at the moment of verification. If at the instant of verification I had a negative thought, I had to repeat that same verification several times, until I found a positive thought to do it with, and only then could I continue on to the next one.
If you do not suffer from an OCD, you may be thinking that this is insane, that it does not have any kind of sense, but sadly, compulsive acts of verification affect millions of people all over the World. If on the other hand such is your case, it is very likely that you have noticed that the verifications manifest themselves usually at night before going to bed, and that they get magnified during periods of stress, tension, work loads and weighs, economic and financial problems, family issues, etc.
What happens when someone resists the impulse to verify things and does not go through each verification? That they will be uneasy and restless, they may, time and time again, over and over, go over the fact that they should have done the verification. They may even come to think something wrong can happen to them, some sort of bad luck superstition, which may lead them to enter into states of strong anguish and despair, with fierce related anxiety. Here is the “thousand-dollars question”:
Why do we have such urges, and why does our mind push us towards necessarily having to hopelessly verify each and every one of those things, even when we have the knowledge that the door (or the switch or the window-blind, etc) is well-closed? The most exact answer would be, because it has become a habit in our lives, things we have incorporated into our realities, into our every-day way of doing things, and also into our psyche. Oftentimes they are projections of control needs and impulses. People that suffer from OCD have great needs to assess and regulate all the aspects of their lives; sadly though, that is impossible to achieve. Living means also accepting the possibility of things not happening the way we want them to, that some times our capacities and capabilities of handling situations and solving problems may be overcome and subdued by absolutely unexpected events, with negative, irrevocable consequences.
So, as we unconsciously know that we cannot control it all, we tend to develop a sort of psychological addiction to controlling the few things that we know we are actually able to control, such as doors being well-closed, or things in our rooms being located in an exact way. This is a process known as projection, and to totally understand it it would be necessary to go deeper into Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. Nonetheless, such studies would allow us greater understanding of the psychological mechanisms behind these compulsive acts of verification, but it would not necessarily imply a reduction or a cure of said acts.
Please, be completely honest about this question: Have you noticed that your need to go over compulsive acts of verification diminishes when you travel on vacations? If the answer is yes, then this is clear indicative that these compulsive acts of verification can be cured, and can be made to vanish and go away. Some individuals experience a diminishment of these urges and needs of verification when a holiday approaches and they do not have to go to work the next day, or if they are falling in love with someone; also when they go on student exchanges abroad, or when they are going through periods of absolute absence of responsibilities (as for instance when unemployed but without economic rushes or urgencies towards work.) When going through rougher periods, such as parcial or final exams, work overload, laboral or financial pressures, etc., the compulsive acts of verification surge distinctively. Why does this happen? Because in these situations of stress and tension, the urges and needs to control each and every one of those situations is greater, which is translated through projection into these kinds of compulsive acts of verification.
The act of making a verification has a symbolic meaning to the unconscious mind, which is to verify that everything is under control.
Anxiety, stress and internal tension, as well as emocional repressiveness, constitute negative psychic energies, which are transmitted throughout the sufferer’s body all the way up to the amygdale (a very minuscule part of the brain), which thereafter transfers all of this energy onto the Autonomic Nervous System, which is in charge of regulating, among many other elements, the physiological signals of stress and anxiety; it is also responsible for the uprising of obsessive thoughts and the need to carry out compulsive acts.
But enough of theories, let us go straight onto the therapeutic aspects, which are probably the ones that interest you the most right now if you suffer from verifications OCD. If it is evident that stress factors and psychological pressure augment the need to carry out these obsessive acts of verification, and they diminish or even disappear when periods of little psychological tension and great joy arrive, then it is obvious that we have identified a fundamental therapeutical tool, forcefully in the form of changing our perception of situations in our lives, and to stop pressuring ourselves all the time. Also a part of therapy is learning to abandon such extreme needs of being “that” version of ourselves: perfectionist, self-demanding, extremely responsible, needfully an excessively good person (that puts the needs of others before their own), sacrificial, approval-seeking, and repressive of anger and rage.
Now that we arrive to this particular point, I must say that stress is partially a self-imposed issue. Maybe you are not in accordance with this statement, and you may think other things are to blame for your stress, including exams, family issues, and laboral or economic ones, but the truth is, it is you who is responsible for the meaning you attribute to all these things! I mean, in front of a given situation (exams or stress at work, for instance), two different people can react in completely opposite ways. It may be that one of them lives through it with profound anguish and anxiety, and the other faces it with absolute indifference (because for instance he or she understands that whomsoever does all that is within his or her power is not bound to do more, and because they do not impose any pressure upon themselves.) Of the two, whom do you think is more prone to generate the need for compulsive acts of verification? Yes, you got it right!
For sure you know someone who goes through life with amazing parsimony, relax and tranquility, the typical kind of person who is not stressed out or preoccupied by anything, that cares not for what others say or think about them, in such extreme ways that their attitude may make you quite nervous. I need to tell you that you have a lot to learn from that person; if you were able to adopt that precise attitude about all the aspects of your life, then compulsive acts of verification would progressively descend, and more likely disappear entirely.
This is why the “happiness factor” may achieve for obsessive thoughts and compulsive acts of verification to go temporarily go away in many people. The happiness factor is the fact of experiencing a diminishment of the symptoms of OCD (or the complete cease of their occurrence), as a consequence of severe and abrupt positive changes in life, that carry over enormous improvements to their psychological perception of reality. Some examples of said “happiness factor” are the cases in which Obsessive Compulsive Disorder wanes and dwindles or completely vanishes as a consequence of entering into situations of great joy, total novelty and stimulation, such as student exchanges, going to live abroad, or to be deeply in-love.
I am sorry to tell you that the cure is not something you can be given, gifted with or granted (as for example with pills, massages, acupuncture or surgery); cure from that OCD that bothers you so much can only be attained by yourself with lots of work, discipline and effort. Only you can save yourself. The full array of therapies os only the map that will guide you on your trip to healing, but only you can take that road and walk the walk, step by step.