Saturday, April 23, 2011

Anger and OCD

My angry tiki mug 118/365

OCD Reflections had a recent post about White Hot Anger that struck a chord with me, about how she usually keeps her frustration to herself, and if she is angry, it must be fully justifiable, and also gets angry at herself for getting angry. I was the girl who quickly learned that anger was a really bad idea in my family. When my father left he told me I had no reason to be angry, but he was the same person, just in a different context. My parents never fought. I can only remember one disagreement articulated, about whether or not a minor cut needs a bandage, or to fresh air.

This aversion to anger got entangled with my OCD, and when I felt anger, I immediately started analyzing it, trying to figure out if I was justified to feel angry, retracing the conversation, attempting to reconstruct every word. By the time I did this gauntlet of compulsing, the anger was even stronger. One of my feared consequences was that I wouldn't survive feeling angry, that it was dangerous. Another fear was that the anger would never dissipate, and I would be stuck with it forever, haunted by it. Ironically, my compulsions made this come true, by intensifying the feeling.

My ERP therapist told me anger wouldn't kill me, which of course sounded crazy and made me angry. My perfectionism latched onto being angry as "wrong" and I would berate myself for having angry feelings. My therapist told me that feelings just are, that they are just there, and not "justifiable" or "unjustifiable." We can control our actions in response to our anger, or how we view our anger, but if the feeling arises, the more we flee from it, the more it lingers, much like any of my other obsessions. Anger can be a sign that something needs to change, that we feel exploited, or taken advantage of, or hurt, and can give us the energy and motivation to make changes.

The more willing I am to just let the anger be there, as uncomfortable as it is, the less intense it gets. I also need to be willing to guess if I'm angry instead of knowing "for certain" that I am angry--I used to spend a lot of time and energy trying to establish if I was truly angry or not. Anger has set off my OCD in the past, as have just about any strong feelings, negative or positive. But anger was also one of the motivators for my seeking treatment for my OCD, anger at how OCD was eroding my left and affecting my relationships. I met someone who had severe OCD as a child, and if someone tried to interfere with her rituals, she was get extremely angry and lash out. She wasn't able to articulate her fears, or what was going on in her head, and was sent away to a residential school, and it was many years until she was diagnosed with OCD and got treatment, and an understanding that she could survive without her rituals.

How does anger interact with your OCD?


  1. Interesting post. If that was my obsession, I think I'd end up in tears, more often than not.
    For me, I'm like the girl you mentioned at the end. If something makes me afraid, or if someone or something gets in the way of my compulsions, I feel incredibly angry. Thankfully, meds have dulled it a bit, but it's still there - mostly stemming from fear. It's easier for me to be angry than afraid. But often, I'm both.

  2. Oh my gosh - I just wrote a post about something very similar. This really struck a chord with me - I do the same type of compulsing with any type of negative emotion - sadness, anxiety and anger. Thank you for this post - it really helped. :o)

  3. P.S. I love how you wrote - "this aversion to anger got entangled with my OCD". The way you put this helps me to separate the two and realize how OCD just makes it worse.

  4. Shana--yes, I have noticed that with myself as well, but that it's easier for me to be angry than to feel grief at times, as hard as anger is, the grief can feel even more scary.

    Pure O--so much in life is hard to deal with, but OCD can take it over the top, and I have to remind myself that even if my wish is that I could make all pain go away, clinging to that will also make things worse.

  5. This is an old post, so I apologize if it's too late to comment, but this post was very meaningful for me. I had read at least one article on OCD that implied that intrusive thoughts that occur when someone isn't angry is fine, but intrusive thoughts that occur when someone is angry raises a red flag that the person is actually violent. And this terrified me--I thought, so if you are angry while you have an intrusive thought, does that make you more likely to act on it or just as bad, prove that you have already acted on it? That you and the other commenters have intrusive thoughts that are triggered by the suppression of anger and letting anger just be there lessened both it and the OCD was very comforting. Thank you for writing, expwoman.

  6. Hi Anon--welcome, it's fine if you comment at any time! I hope that you have the opportunity to find an experienced exposure therapist for OCD--it's very painful dealing with intrusive thoughts, and it helps to work with someone who knows their mode of operation.
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