Thanks for your response to my question about buffering in regard to handwashing, germs, etc.
These behaviors feel like buffering in that I am doing them to relieve stress and to, in my mind, prevent germ contamination for myself and others. I do it because certain situations make me feel dirty – like the bathroom for instance. I think about all the people, I question any unexplained stain or spot on the sink or wall, I worry about spreading a disease, etc. So I don’t derive pleasure from the action – like overeating might do for others. It’s not pleasurable – it feels necessary so that I don’t feel dirty.
When the behavior turns toward doublechecking things, like making sure the lights are off or nothing is sitting too close to the hot radiator, I do it because I don’t want to be to blame if something goes wrong and I don’t want the building to burn down.
In both cases, I feel like I’m beating myself up so that if anyone questions my thoroughness in doing something, I can point to my efforts and say,
“Oh, I always check that 5 times before heading home from work, so I KNOW it was turned off. There’s no doubt. I remember it distinctly.”
I don’t want anyone to say I was careless or not being careful. I don’t want to rely on my subconscious to routinely do those kinds of tasks and not be able to remember every detail of having done it.
So, in essence, in my childhood, I received all sorts of messages about me and my behavior, such as “Who do you think you are? Someone special? What makes you think you deserve this or that” or “If you’d been more careful, that never would have happened. That’s what happens!” or “Bad thoughts will send you straight to hell” (thank you church). Then there were the messages I gave myself like “I live in a messy dirty house therefore I’ll never be as good as they are,” ” things come harder for me than for other people,” “We don’t have much money, therefore I’m inferior.” and so on and so on. All of these messages and thoughts turned into painful OCD behaviors as a child (like checking out the window 10 times every night to make sure my grandparents’ house wasn’t on fire, etc…).
So the behaviors feel like urges and feel extremely important to perform in order to feel safe. Logically, on an intellectual level, I know they are overreactive they feel way more important than they should be in comparison to the situation.
So here’s a model:
Circumstance: I have to use the bathroom.
Thought: Oh no, I hope I don’t see anything dirty in there, but I probably will.
Action: Use the bathroom. Worry that I may accidentally touch the trash can, sanitary napkin dispenser, toilet handle, etc. and get contaminated. Worry about any suspicious looking stains or spots I see. Wash my hands repeatedly, including washing the faucet handles, the soap dispenser, etc…Pull off the paper towels and worry that maybe they touched the trash can (usually the paper towels are above a trash can). Accidentally bump into the bathroom stall door – I should wash my hands again, because that door is contaminated from people touching it, maybe my sleeve is contaminated now, I’ll have to be careful not to touch my sleeve against anything and change my shirt as soon as I get home, being careful to take it off inside out so I don’t touch my arm with it, etc….
Result: Using bathrooms is stressful. I try to avoid it – particularly in public.
HELP! I really want to change these thoughts/behaviors and I’m working on it. It just feels harder to shift on some subjects than others.