I’m in my private hospital room today thinking about how could I help someone stop excessive handwashing. Here are my suggestions which are far cheaper and easier than traditional therapy.
This is my theory:
OCD is an imagination problem and not a behavioral problem. We can stop our OCD from playing tricks on us by overpowering its contamination images with much stronger visualizations as we wash our hands.
Creating the Clean Getaway
This part of this course is purely experimental. It shouldn’t cause you any harm but help you to better cope with your contamination OCD. It’s far easier than traditional ERP therapy.
We’ll follow the same Look, Lock, Label & Leave System principles but alter it to specifically target this form of the illness as well.
Here’s how I would approach Contamination OCD and repetitive handwashing.
Firstly, remember we only need the 4L’s (Look, Lock, Label, and Leave) system to help us through the first 15 minutes. After that, the worst phase of our anxiety will be over. This means that after 15 minutes of not washing your hands, your contamination OCD-associated anxiety will be reduced to a manageable level.
This does not mean we have to wash our hands for a minimum of 15 minutes. Rather we need the Look, Lock, Label, and Leave System to subdue our OCD anxiety for that long.
After that initial period, our anxiety will decrease and keep decreasing the longer we stay away from the bathroom sink.
We Need Clean Hands
As with our OCD Checking, we do not want to stop checking altogether. We still need to check to be on the safe side. If we stopped checking altogether then that would be a type of OCD in reverse, if that makes sense.
So we need to wash our hands when we cook food, go to the toilet, etc…
We want them clean but not so much we rub our skin raw.
We want them clean enough to be hygienic. So hopefully with a little practice, you’ll be able to return your hand washing to a normal baseline.
And the next time you need to wash your hands you’ll just repeat this process below.
The 4L’s Basic Approach to OCD Hand Washing
Here are the steps that I would take to overcome my OCD handwashing if I had it. What’s important is that you alter this system’s code images if mine don’t work for you.
You are your own person. With your own imagination. With your own solutions.
Here how I would do it:
- We begin washing our hands with soap and water. Continue looking at your hands for the rest of the process.
- Next, I would give my contamination a code image and my cleaning soapy hands a different code image. For example, the contamination could be given a code image of brown globules. Our soap water would neutralize the contamination. Their code image could be white globules.
- We don’t just want to see this in our imagination. We need to involve our other senses. So maybe add a sizzling sound as the brown globules are being gobbled up by the white ones. We may also feel slight localized areas of heat as each contamination globule is being erased.
- When we dry our hands we could finish off by seeing our hands as sparkly clean. We visualize them as shiny bright diamonds.
The purpose of this exercise is to reduce the time we take to wash our hands towards a normal baseline. A couple of minutes rather than an hour of repetitive hand washing.
You’ll still wash your hands regularly but not so much that it overpowers you.
Remember to use your imagination. Use coded images that suit you and involve as many of your senses as possible.
What to Do After you’ve Finished Washing
We’ve only finished half the job now. What do we do after we’ve washed our hands and they begin to feel contaminated again?
We’ll use the Look, Lock, Label & Leave System again.
Here’s what to do:
- Imagine two front-loading trucks appearing from your elbows. One on each arm collecting the contamination into piles on top of your hands, and toppling most of the sides. (Use any code image for the contamination.)
- Then imagine a Pac-man from each hand chewing up the left-over imaginary contamination. See them running over your arms, hear the arcade sound as each pile of contamination is being gobbled. Hear the background music.
- Then imagine a laser running over both hands making rendering them completely sterile. Feel the heat as it runs over. Hear small sparking sounds as the leftover contamination is completely annihilated.
This is just one of literally thousands of different images you could use. Use this one if you like or alter it to suit your own needs.
Your imagination knows no limits.
IMPORTANT: This doesn’t mean we only wash our hands once a day. With practice, it just means not washing our hands an hour (or more.) It means we’ll just wash our hands when we need to and not feeling as if we have to.
Using Your Own Images
You’re free to use this system as I have exactly laid out or alter it to satisfy your own needs.
For example, you may imagine your contamination as evil trolls and the soapy water as armies of knights spearing the dirt. As they are speared they instantly disappear into a cloud of smoke.
The point is that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous your code images are.
All that matters is that it gets the job done.
The images are unusual, vivid, and involve movement. The code images also need to make sense regardless of how ridiculous they are.
These images should make you feel clean quickly and reduce your hand washing to a few minutes.
The next time you feel the need to wash just repeat the dump truck/Pac-man steps. Or you can further evolve the system over time so it works better for you.
If you’re having trouble concentrating, hold your breath in for a few seconds as your visualizing your code images.
Not breathing forces you to pay attention to your hands.
This laser-like focus will shorten the system and the time it takes to wash our hands.
Here is another version of the 4L’s system that I could take to overcome my OCD handwashing if I had it.
What’s important is that you alter this system if it doesn’t work for you.
You are your own person. With your own imagination. With your own solutions.
Here it is:
- You’ve already washed your hands and now you’re getting contamination thoughts and an urge to wash. So first open both palms of your hands and hold them out like your holding a tray.
- Next, imagine a long fluorescent lighting tube suspended in air above your arms and hands at about head height. This fluorescent light tube has a special beam that can sterilize any germs.
- So now imagine the light covers both arms then moves away from your head to the tips of your fingers. Along the way, it burns off any germs. You can hear a slight sizzle and localized heat as it sterilizes your arms and hands.
- Then imagine it returning to your elbows again. Then turn over your arms and let the laser scan to and fro again erasing any contamination.
You can keep your hands by your sides if you want. This can be done very covertly. Even if you kept your hands in your pockets it would still be possible.
Just imagine the fluorescent laser going up and down rather than horizontally.
If you’re in a position where you don’t need wash, use this short version of the Look, Lock, Label and Leave System and…
…maybe to finish off imagine a magic disinfectant cleaning cloth rubbing away any other germs that may have been left behind all by itself.
It’s your imagination, go with what works for you.
Although this seems like a complicated process remember that with practice these steps will only take seconds.
The truth is that any code images will work for you but it may take a while for you to find the right ones.
If you remember the arcade game Pacman then you’ll remember this character used to gobble up dots for points.
This could work just as well if you were a fan of the game. Again, we use highly unusual images in this system because we need them to override our OCD thoughts and images.
Strange, vivid code images that are somewhat logical overpowers our feelings of contamination.
Each time you think you’ve contaminated your hands just see Pacman gobble up your germs and visualize the sparkly, shiny digits.
Again this is how I would approach OCD hand washing. Try it for a couple of days at least just to test it out.
If it works great and if not try something else.
Finally, if you’re still having trouble remembering to suck in a breath and hold it in your tummy as this will create a laser-like focus.
I’ll be doing future posts on how alternate uses of the Look, Lock, Label & Leave System may help with other forms of OCD.
If you want to know how to overcome Safety OCD Checking then you may find this article useful.
The Look, Lock, Label & Leave System was specifically designed to overcome compulsive checking.
It is the easiest, fastest, and most comprehensive technique on the planet.
Or if you don’t have compulsive checking behavior but know someone who does. Then please forward them to this link…
…and I’ll see you there.