Some obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers are deeply disturbed or repelled by certain objects, ideas, words, feelings… anything really. Often times people with OCD tend to perform avoidance rituals, in which they obsessively and compulsively avoid these things that stir up so much fear and anxiety. In my OCD struggle with avoidance rituals I have mentally deemed these repulsive obsessions my aversions.
In trying to sufficiently explain how my aversions rise and fall from different degrees of anxiety-inducing severity I have constructed a model I like to call my Hierarchy of Aversions.
NOTE: The Hierarchy of Aversions is constructed by an obsessive compulsive designer.
This mountain of obsessions was built on an OCD premise with the least worrisome aversions at the pinnacle and the most flagrant aversions at the foundation. While most hierarchical structures are stacked with the more dominant echelons ranking at the top of the pyramid, the Hierarchy of Aversions is layered with the least bothersome aversions at its peak, where they are closer to drifting out of sight and out of mind. Unorthodox, yes, but OCD is not orthodox, nor is it logical. Remember, the Hierarchy of Aversions consists of empirical levels that draw their order from a disorder in the constructor’s mind. The primary fears are set at the bottom of the pyramid because they bolster up every other fear. The obsessions that elicit compulsions on the bottom indirectly influence every fear on top.
NOTE: The Hierarchy of Aversions is constantly under renovation.
The contents at each level of the pyramid frequently climb up and down or come and go. What gives these OCD aversions mobility in the Hierarchy of Aversions is the mood of the constructor. Stress causes the disturbing images, ideas, or rituals to weigh heavier, subscribe to gravity, and drop closer to the bottom of the aversion pileup. When moods are lighter and stress is at bay it is common for aversions that once seemed so prominent and so debilitating to feel “not so bad after all”. They, too, become lighter and rise towards the top of the hierarchy. With a little push these flagrant obsessions can even float away.
NOTE: The Hierarchy of Aversions can be manipulated!
Sometimes aversions go away on their own, without the voluntary aid of OCD recovery. When an aversion seems to effortlessly evaporate it can feel like some random blessing. In trying to understand these “random blessing” cases I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s some subconscious effort on the obsessive compulsive disorder sufferer’s part, an effort that ironically involves using OCD to defeat OCD.
For me, when fears no longer appear fearful one of the two situations has typically happened…
1. I had an amazing experience relating to that aversion.
2. I had a horrible experience relating to that aversion.
These seem like very contradictory experiences. Illogical, right? That doesn’t matter. OCD does not rely on logic!
Allow me to explain with the following examples.
1. I had an amazing experience related to an aversion.
I used to have an intense anxiety-driven disdain of the number “7”. I would actively avoid touching, looking at, or talking about anything that had “7” written on it or generally pertained to this digit. But eventually one day, on the 7th, I had an amazing experience. I do not remember what the experience was (and it does not matter). The fact is, I now had a positive connotation to attribute to the number “7”. I almost felt like I had no choice but to graduate the aversion all the way up the Hierarchy of Aversions and, without a further thought, that aversion disintegrated into thin air. Relating “7” to something bad constituted this fear as an aversion in the first place, but using that same OCD mindset I related it to whatever “good” thing happened that day and wound up eliminating the aversion.
2. I had a horrible experience relating to an aversion.
Since the Hierarchy of Aversions is a structure of varying anxiety-inducing obsessions, the very order of this model comes from relating the severity of obsessions to one another. This can actually work to the OCD sufferer’s favor, because when a less severe aversion sitting towards the top half of the Hierarchy suffices, it is much easier to quickly overcome that obsession, or at least diminish the anxiety it induces, by comparing that obsession to the more intense obsessions at the hierarchy’s base.
I actively try to avoid germs, so I do not like walking barefoot in my own home. But even more so I avoid walking barefoot in any environment outside of my home. So, in the instance that I am forced to walk across my floor barefoot because I forgot socks or shoes I get anxious, but then I remind myself that it could be worse- I could be walking across the floor of some filthy public setting. And even though the alleviation of that anxiety is temporary, it is still alleviation. And yes, I am still averted to walking on the floor barefoot, but in pair with exposure this comparison of “it could be worse” nudges that aversion up higher on the hierarchy where it is not nearly as bad as it once seemed.
These two methods I have used to graduate aversions from firm obsessions to fleeting memories involve controlling the OCD with OCD. There is no getting rid of this disease for me, just manipulating it to my advantage so that certain obsessions and fears seem less scary and become more prone to evaporating.
– Valerie Parente (6-26-16)