Friday, February 1, 2013

OCD and making decisions

“Are you sure you want to do this?”
As soon as he asked the question, I started doubting the decision that I thought I was satisfied with.
That’s all it took: a question, and I became uncertain about something I had been sure about for days.

I was faced with a decision recently that, depending on the route I took, could result in important changes in my life.
I came up with the idea for the change in the first place and pursued it, at first hesitantly, and then with more desire and confidence.
Then the doubt came.
I’ll write specifically about that decision in a post soon, but today, I’m focusing on the decision-making process and how obsessive-compulsive disorder can affect it.

Having OCD means having a lot of uncertainty about things that others don’t even think about. Those of us with OCD wonder about things like whether or not the stove is turned off, whether or not we hit someone with our car, whether or not we read a page in a book thoroughly, whether or not our hands are clean, whether or not we harmed someone.
The uncertainty about these things—the obsessions that trap us into thinking about these things—can lead to the compulsions that we do to try to alleviate the extreme anxiety we feel.
I have found that the same uncertainty that surrounds the obsessions and compulsions also filters into my decision-making process.
It isn’t always easy for me to make a decision, even about something as innocuous as what restaurant to eat in or whether or not to make a phone call.
I obsess over whether or not I’m making the right choice. I’m afraid of making a wrong choice. I’m afraid of hurting someone or otherwise adversely affecting someone with my decision. I’m afraid of ruining my life with one bad decision.
So I quite often practice avoidance. I leave decisions to others, or delay decisions until they’re made for me.
I also compulsively ask for reassurance from others. I want someone to say, “Tina, you are making the right decision. I have no doubt about it.”

What I’m really looking for is for someone else to take responsibility for the decision. And that’s not fair to others. Others deal with uncertainty—why shouldn’t I?

So after the setback by doubt, I did more research, asked more questions, thought more about the decision. And when I felt a great sense of devastation when it seemed things weren’t going to work out, I sensed that I may have been on the right path to begin with.
I had to let go of my fear of making a decision.
None of us can ever be 100 percent sure all the time that we’re making the right decisions. Uncertainty is a fact of life. Those of us with OCD may have more doubt than those who don’t, but we can still be responsible enough to make decisions. We just may have to try harder.

What goes into your decision-making process? What do you do when faced with a tough decision?

24 comments:

  1. Ugh - that's a hard question!! I usually go with my gut instinct, which *tends* to be right, but not always. I try to do my research and then go with it. It's hard though, taking on the responsibility of your choices. I too feel like I am just one little decision from completely ruining my life and ending up in jail with no family, friends, money, house, etc. blah, blah, blah . . . I'm always afraid of that one split-second decision that I will regret forever. It's a scary thought. But if the day comes that I do make a terrible decision, I guess I will just have to live with it. My husband has already told me that he will still love me and not leave me if I end up in jail!! Ha ha ha Sure that's what he says NOW. he he

    Good luck with your decision. I know it is not easy. But you seem like such a thoughtful person I bet you make really good decisions most of the time. Hugs!

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    1. Thank you, Sunny, and hugs back to you! I've made plenty of bad decisions in my lifetime, but somehow life went on even after the bad decisions. I have those fears, too, of ruining my life or someone else's life with a bad decision. I know it's possible, but like you say, if we make a terrible decision, we will just have to live with it. We can't let it stop us from making choices.

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  2. Tina..I am terrible with this! When faced with a difficult decision, I waffle back and forth so many times that it's not even funny! It's something I'm working on though :)

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    1. Keith, I've done plenty of waffling, too, so you're not alone. I think it's something that we all have to work on.

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  3. That's a tough one. Unless it's my husband, I tend to get slightly offended when people ask me if I'm "sure," because I feel like their not giving me credit for working it through on my own. I guess I try to go by what my grandma used to say: "You do your best to make the best decision possible, praying about it and doing a pro and con list. Most of the time you'll get it right, some of the time you'll never be sure and have to accept that, and sometimes it will be wrong, and you have to accept that, too."

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    1. Jean, I love your grandmother's advice. It's so wise. Thank you for sharing it!

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  4. I almost go to the other extreme. I sometimes make decisions too quickly just to be done with it, and that doesn't always serve me well. I work on backing off and making myself think things through. I would suggest that my way, too, is an anxiety response -- that I can't stand the uncertainty of waiting.

    I do believe that we never make a wrong decision, we just have different outcomes -- but that doesn't always help when the brain makes its demands!

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    1. Nadine, I do the same thing sometimes--make a quick decision just to get the pain of the uncertainty over with. I think your view that we don't make wrong decisions--we just get different outcomes--is probably a lot healthier and more compassionate than the stark view I tend to have of my own decisions.

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  5. I like to think that whatever decision I make is the right decision for that time and place (I agree with Nadine!). Even if things don't turn out as well as I'd hoped, do I really know it would have been better if I'd made a different decision? It all goes back to uncertainty......we will never really know. So once a decision is made,I accept it as "right" and then deal with whatever it brings me.

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    1. Janet, I like your attitude about making decisions. You're right--we don't know if the other choices would have been the better ones. All we can do is our best at the time.

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  6. I worry a lot about making the right decision too. But I try to remind myself of other times I was worried but a decision turned out to be good. Like when we up and moved from Houston to here, I was terrified of all the bad things that could happen. But it turned out to be a good fit for us.

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    1. Lisa, that's a good idea, to remember the times in the past when we made decisions and things turned out OK. I'm glad Virginia has been a good fit! :-)

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  7. I have a hard time making decisions sometimes--especially big decisions. But you're right--we won't always make the best decision. Sometimes we just have to make a decision.

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    1. Kristina, Sometimes that's what I end up doing, just making a decision without being sure of it. It's hard for me, too.

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  8. It's very strange how OCD affects my decision making Tina. With the bigger things, like whether I was going to go back from Africa to Holland I had no problem. Or with things that involved my children. I just always looked at the best way and took that.
    But when it comes to little things like at what time I must go and do my shopping, or if I must do the ironing first or start with the dishes it's an entirely different matter. There I can be stuck all day at times going back and forth and getting nothing done in the meantime, only sitting with a lot of fear and anxiety for someone to see me like that and entering my "dirty" house.
    OCD truly doesn't make sense if you ask me!

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    1. Klaaske, I totally agree--OCD does not make sense! At times I have trouble with the "little" decisions, too, even over what clothes to wear. It's like I'm waiting for the "perfect" decision to come to mind, and that's never going to happen.

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  9. Hi Tina, This is one of the best, if not THE best description of OCD that I've ever read!

    "Having OCD means having a lot of uncertainty about things that others don’t even think about. Those of us with OCD wonder about things..."

    This is so true. While people without OCD move on to the next thing, those with OCD linger and wonder and contemplate and assess. We twirl it around in our minds and bend it and twist and look at it from all angles. We massage it and squeeze and zoom ahead and freak out over the inevitable negative outcome because of our neglect. The outcome is almost always based on our own failure of something. And that failure can keep us cemented in self-doubt and ambivalence.

    I'm not sure how to answer your question because I haven't been faced with a tough decision in awhile. Usually I just let it lie and ask my hubby when I get a chance. He's usually pretty level-headed. I have a daughter who second-guesses herself a lot and needs my assurance. Usually she's made the right decision and her worry is unfounded and she'll accept my opinion and move on.

    I say this because I've been on both sides of the OCD mind and interestingly my daughter's ambivalence has helped me to be more self-assured, if that makes sense.

    Before I go I wanted to thank you for retweeting my Tweet. I am still so new to Twitter and I don't understand the etiquette but I want you to know I appreciate your kindness. I'll try to return the favor. Your blog is awesome and anyway I can help promote it, I want to. (And I hope you're writing a memoir!)

    Have a great weekend.

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    1. Grace, thank you for your kind words! I appreciate them!

      You are so right about the way that people with OCD hold on to things and expect the worst. It's so wonderful when we can break free from that pattern, even for a while.

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  10. Tina, I relate to this post so much. Decision making for me is one of the hardest things to do, I have loss an immense amount of sleep over them the anxiety runs full force during decision making and the obsessive thinking goes completely out of control. Honestly, I want nothing to do with it, but as we know that is impossible, decision making is part of life as is uncertainty. Sometimes what works for me is turning it over to my higher power and trusting that God will lead me in the right direction. Like I said I had a lot of identification with what you wrote, thank you for sharing another great post!

    Madison:-)

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    1. Thank you, Madison, and I'm glad this resonated with you. Your method of turning over the anixety to God is a wonderful one. Sometimes I forget to do that, but I find that when I do let go, I feel so much more free.

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  11. I am excited to find out what this is all about, don't keep us in suspense too long Tina!
    I have very strong "gut" reactions to major decisions and usually go with the direction my gut tells me to go in. I am not opposed to risk; not as far as moving on to a new job,moving cross country or stuff that most people consider weighty. I have a really hard time with inane things like shopping for furniture, bedding or clothes. It takes me forever to feel good picking out a sofa..like I almost got sick to my stomach the last time I had to do that. In the end I know it is not crucial but it is still hard for me.
    I have been telling myself lately that it is okay not to be perfect (good thing, cause I knew all along I wasn't) and that it is okay to fail. Most of the decisions I have made, whether they turned out good or bad, were not life and death. Sometimes you can change your mind, sometimes you can't go back, but there is usually always a way to move forward. One thing you can't do is achieve a goal without action or trying.

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    1. Krystal Lynn, I will write about it very soon!

      I love what you say about there usually being a way forward. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect, for all our striving to be. It's good to be reminded that life can go on even after a decision that didn't turn out for the best.

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  12. HI Tina,
    I go with my instinct on things and I try not to second guess myself. When I follow my instincts, I've never regretted it. Sometimes I'm called to make changes and know my instincts in the right place, but also know that the timing is not quite right yet. Sometimes I've made the wrong decision in life, but I always take it as a learning experience! I think there really are no right or wrong decisions actually, just different roads and we can learn from every decision we make. All the best to you! Katherine

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    1. Katherine, thank you. I love the idea of seeing decisions as learning experiences. That makes all of life a learning experience and a journey to understanding.

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