14 Tips and Strategies for Managing Your HOCD Symptoms – Part 1
Homosexual obsessive-compulsive disorder – commonly referred to by the acronym HOCD – causes significant distress for thousands of people every single day. The primary obsession involves the fear of being gay (or even bisexual). HOCD is also used to refer to any obsession about sexual orientation, but for the sake of this article series, the primary focus will be the fear of being gay.
If you have HOCD, you know how difficult it is to shake the troubling, intrusive thoughts. It’s as if there’s a relentless, vicious bully living inside your head – taunting you constantly. Some of the HOCD bully’s favorite lines include the following: “You’re gay – you know you are”, “You’re turning gay”, “This isn’t HOCD – you’re just in denial”, and “Just come out and get it over with; you’ll feel so much better!”
Thoughts like these make you start second-guessing your memories, your behaviors, your attraction to the opposite sex, and your current and past relationships. Every thought, feeling, and physical sensation you experience that has even the slightest connection (or seeming connection) to sexuality or attraction is scrutinized through your HOCD “filter”. And sadly, that filter never fails to twist and distort everything to make it appear as “evidence” that you’re really gay after all.
You long to be your old self. You desperately want the disturbing thoughts to go away. And most of all, you yearn for relief from the gut-wrenching anxiety, despair, and feelings of hopelessness that accompany HOCD.
For whatever reason, the thought of being gay (or even bisexual) feels like a fate worse than death…at least that’s how it always plays out in your head. In fact, you may have even considered suicide because the thoughts seem so real, and the possibility of being gay is absolutely horrifying to you.
No matter what you do or how hard you try, nothing seems to work. You fight the thoughts, try to ignore them, seek reassurance again and again from friends and family, take every sexual orientation test you can find online, and test yourself in every possible way to determine if you’re gay or straight. But all the reassurance and fighting and testing don’t seem to help. Sure, you may feel a little better for a moment; but then the troubling thoughts come back with a vengeance.
Does this sound like you?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a very complex and challenging psychiatric disorder. Trying to manage it effectively on your own is very difficult. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy and it requires persistent effort and determination. That’s why working with a skilled therapist – a psychologist or other mental health professional who is truly qualified to treat OCD – is the best course of action.
But therapy isn’t an option for everyone. It’s expensive. Qualified OCD therapists aren’t easy to find. And even when it is an option, your first appointment may be several weeks away. Several weeks can seem like an eternity when you’re struggling with HOCD.
So what can you do to help yourself in the meantime?
Fortunately there are several things you can do on your own that will help. Of course, you actually have to do them – persistently – to make any real progress. None of it will be easy. But keep in mind that the mere act of doing something proactive can be beneficial, in part, simply because it empowers you. HOCD does not have to rule your life. By making some changes in your current thoughts and behaviors – hard as that may seem at first – you can start to get a grip on this troubling disorder.
Following is the first part of a 3-part series in which we’ll discuss several tips and strategies to help you manage your HOCD symptoms. Start with the ones that feel the most doable for you right now. Skip any that don’t apply to you. You don’t have tackle everything all at once. HOCD is overwhelming enough, so there’s no need to overwhelm yourself even more. If you need to take “baby steps”, that’s perfectly OKAY. Just remember to be patient with yourself. Don’t expect miracles overnight, okay? Celebrate every victory, which includes even the tiniest bit of progress!
1 – Don’t try to fight the thoughts.
It’s a natural inclination with HOCD to fight the thoughts – those scary and troubling taunts that the HOCD bully keeps throwing at you. One of the reasons for using the analogy of a “bully” is because when you react to a real life bully, what happens? You give the bully exactly what he wants! When you don’t react, though, you take away the bully’s fun. Eventually he goes away and finds a new person to terrorize.
You see, when you try to fight the thoughts you actually end up fueling the very anxiety you don’t want to feel. Putting so much energy into the thoughts keeps them fresh in your mind – and that’s definitely something you don’t want. You’re also giving them meaning that they don’t deserve. Bullies thrive on making you feel upset, scared, and powerless. They want you to take what they say to heart so they aim right for your Achilles heel. They’re ruthless, vicious, and don’t give up easily. OCD works in much the same way.
Fighting the thoughts equates to feeding the bully. Does that make sense?
Not to mention, fighting them is much like shadow-boxing. You can “fight” or box your shadow until the cows come home; there’s no end to it. As long as you keep fighting, so will your shadow. It’s exhausting and futile.
2 – Accept the thoughts as thoughts and nothing more.
The flip side of not fighting the thoughts is to accept the thoughts. Now, this does NOT mean accepting that you are gay. Rather, it means to accept them for what they are – thoughts. Just thoughts. (Yes, this is much easier said than done, which holds true for all of these tips.)
If you were able to monitor every single thought you had for an entire week – which would be somewhere in the ballpark of 400,000+ thoughts – you’d realize that all sorts of weird, unusual, random stuff pops into your head on a regular basis. Now, most of those random thoughts go in one ear and out the other and that’s that. They don’t elicit any particular emotion (if any at all). You don’t get stuck on them.
But, for whatever reason, the thought about being gay did stick. In fact, it got really, really stuck in your brain. And once it took hold, it did so with a vengeance. Then, it invited all its friends – you know, all the other HOCD-related thoughts about never getting married and having a family, never being in love, never being happy ever again in your entire life because, well, how could you possibly be happy if you were gay…and so on…to come join it for this never-ending misery-fest in your brain!
(Now, a psychoanalyst could have a heyday attempting to unearth why the thoughts started in the first place, and why the possibility of being gay troubles you so much. But, most likely, your HOCD would become worse than ever in the process. With all due respect to psychoanalysis, it’s not generally recommended for treating OCD – especially HOCD. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the number one therapy recommended by most experts – for good reason. More on that later.)
The point is that the why isn’t important. You could, literally, spend years (and a small fortune) in therapy trying to figure out why that particular thought got stuck. What is important is remembering that these thoughts are not facts. They are just thoughts. Lots of straight people (in fact, probably most) have had thoughts such as “Am I gay?” or “What if I’m gay?” cross their mind at some point or another. But those who aren’t prone to HOCD typically just dismiss it as a weird, random thought. It wasn’t a big deal to them because they didn’t give the thought any meaning.
Accept the thoughts as just thoughts. They’re not facts. They’re not dangerous. They’re just meaningless occurrences in your brain and nothing more. It’s okay to re-label them as simply manifestations of your HOCD – and then consciously shift your thoughts to something else. These first two tips are a great place to start if you have HOCD. In part 2 we’ll cover four more helpful strategies, including changing the scary story and learning to tolerate uncertainty.