I am not a novice at Exposure Therapy, and expect that I *should* be able to know when something is OCD, and that I must be defective if I don't get it right. The metaphor that helps me sense what's going on more clearly is one of nesting baskets or dolls--the initial obsession is nested inside wanting to figure out if it really is an obsession, nested inside criticizing myself for being stupid, nested inside criticizing myself for criticizing myself, nested inside labeling myself a bad person because I am so critical and slow and imperfect. I practice identifying the nesting pattern to get some distance from it, and to recognize that every doll is part of the "big doll" of OCD.
I am working on accepting that sometimes I won't know if something is an obsession until after I ritualize--that I'm not perfect, that I am not omniscient, and that if I practice tolerating the anxiety I feel when I don't attempt to "undo" this lack of perfection with relentless questioning of my actions and retracing my thoughts, I will get better. The more I try to figure out why I am stuck in a loop and still doing rituals the worse my OCD gets.
I remember my therapist telling me that learning is by "trial and error" and I looked at him in disbelief. I assumed I had to do everything perfectly the first time. I know this sounds irrational, but as much as I might intellectually understand that humans have a learning curve, I feel panic during the process of learning. It's been 3 years since I started ERP, and my ability to tolerate making mistakes and doing things imperfectly has increased dramatically. I had a strong belief since I was little that if I was perfect then my parents would love me and approve of me--the concrete thinking of a child. This belief intertwined with my OCD, and so if I did something I viewed as imperfect, then I would compulsively try to analyze it, undo it,research it or avoid doing anything at all so I wouldn't make a mistake to begin with.
ERP went really slowly until my therapist and I figured out I was trying to do my exposures perfectly, and that my belief was that if I failed that meant I was a worthless human being. I would do the first thing on my hierarchy of exposures, and immediately have the thought that it was inconsequential, inadequate, nested inside the thought of "I should've done this years ago," nested inside of "I'm a failure for moving so slow," nested inside "And this is yet more proof I am a defective human being." Then I would avoid doing any more exposures. It's hard to get motivated to do exposures if I feel both anxious, and in danger of proving I am a bad person. . .I'm learning to take the risk of doing things "wrong" on purpose--that it doesn't determine my worth, and that the ocd is promising something it can't deliver--perfection.