May 15, 2024

The Journey to Feeling Wrong: The Irony of “Just Right” OCD

Just Right OCD is described as an overwhelming sense of urgency to reach a more correct state of feeling, which can be physical, emotional, or both. This is marked by an intrusive concern that the person feels “off” or incorrect somehow, and this often brings significant distress due to fears associated with what could occur if the incorrect feeling does not go away.

Other forms of OCD are often characterized by intrusive worries about catastrophic possibilities such as being contaminated, losing control and harming someone, or fears that there is something innately wrong with them. Just Right is usually described differently, as the concern is focused on the feeling of being “incomplete” rather than the need to avoid catastrophe. However most of those suffering from Just Right concerns will note catastrophic concerns are still very much present.

Incomplete feelings are common to Just Right OCD.

For some, it is simply the fear that the off-feeling or the discomfort could just continue forever, which could result in an inability to be successful, an inability to connect with others, or that they will be in so much emotional turmoil that they will lose control or suffer immensely for an indeterminant amount of time. For others, it is related specifically to their work or their relationships, which can often unify this subtype with other typical OCD concerns.

Some examples include feeling overwhelmed with the position of objects in their space, often repositioning belongings to bring on a “right” feeling, or they can become very upset, angry, or fearful if another member of the household moves objects from their designated placement. Other examples include the musician who always questions their ability, not because of negative feedback or messing up a piece of a song, but because “it just felt wrong the whole time.” Or the student who tries to submit their paper for class, but just cannot seem to make it feel “the way it should” before submitting. Or the athlete that notices some physical tension or discomfort, and while it does not disrupt their ability to play their sport, their focus on it leaves them unable to attend to their actual goals.

These concerns and others like them will often push the person to engage in fruitless venture towards figuring out the problem, which, at its worst, can slowly begin to take over the person’s life. Less severe cases will cause emotional distress and often push sufferers to delay their goals due to a feeling of being unready, or an inability tofocus on the tasks and relationships that matter in their lives, usually in an effort to get to and keep the feeling they so desire. Compulsions include feelings-checking, ruminating, repeated repositioning, avoidance of anything that would disrupt the desired feeling or possibly bring on the incomplete or undesired feelings, and this avoidance often includes things that the person really values.

Focusing on your values can be helpful.

As the understanding of Just Right OCD becomes clearer, most people can begin to see the irony: the journey to feel just right usually has us feeling wrong and can take us away from our goals and even our day to day lives. Therefore, the way to treat Just Right is to move back towards our lives through a two-pronged effort: 1) practice resisting the compulsions to feel right, and in fact gain tolerance to the wrong feeling via exposure work, and 2) to engage with our life, our goals, and our values more fully, while allowing for the wrong feeling to be there. It turns out that for most sufferers of this subtype, with practice, when there is not as much focus on the feeling and less reinforcement of the concern, distress often reduced, and the person is able to tolerate the discomfort very well - often to their surprise.

Working with a therapist that is trained in and utilizes Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) will allow the person with Just Right to practice feeling “so wrong” in sessions by triggering the feeling and concern and sitting with it. Additionally, utilizing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and other cognitive behavioral modalities with a focus on mindfulness and reducing active avoidance will allow the person to reengage in their lives, their goals, and their relationships while resisting giving the wrong feeling their attention. Let the feeling be wrong, reduce your focus on it, and do what you actually want to do. In the end, the desire to feel right can push us to a place where almost everything begins to be wrong.