The ubiquitous fear of losing control and its role in anxiety issues

on 14 December 2017
When life is too touchy feely

Often when we think of someone with OCD, washing hands, checking doors, switches, gas cookers etc. may come to mind. But have you ever wondered where the roots of this condition come from?  

When life is too touchy feely: Often when we think of someone with OCD, washing hands, checking doors, switches, gas cookers etc. may come to mind. But have you ever wondered where the roots of this condition come from?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) often has its roots in the absence of control, which can lead to the need to control, which can in turn lead to controlling behavioural tendencies and a perfectionistic personality. In childhood it could be the absence of a normally well structured home, or, the presence of an overly controlled one. One thing that seems for sure, is that OCD, like most other forms of anxiety disorders, are learned behaviours. Of course, certain genetic factors can predispose someone to be at higher risk of developing such a disorder, but training (as in experience and observation), play a major role.

Whether it be the absence of good parental controls in childhood, or the omnipresence of a controlling parent, or other dominant adult, people have a basic need to feel they are in control. When we feel we are not, we may decide, consciously or otherwise, to take matters into our own hands. We ourselves become controllers (freaks). Perfectionism is an attribute of this developmental dysfunctionality and one that blights the lives of many people, be they the controlled or the controller.

The research below shows good prospects for helping those affected by this condition but hypnosis has been helping people with all types of anxiety disorders for many many years! Medication aims to stabilise normal brain function, in the hope of achieving a return to normal life. Hypnotherapy, on the other hand, aims to find the initial cause(s) of the condition, its roots, so to speak. The logical rationale being, if you solve the problem (initial sensitizing event), you don't get the symptoms. And that is exactly what most anxiety disorders are, the symptoms (feeling/awareness) of erroneous/dysfunctional brain processing.

In its most simplest form, the defensive brain/mind system has as its primary role, the survival of the owner. It cares little or nothing about the quality of your life. merely the continuity of it. However, your conscious awareness of the quality, or lack of it, is of primary concern to you. But when you think of it, for thousands of years, the quality of life for the ordinary (non-elite) person, has been pretty poor. Mostly the major historical activity of the poor and often uneducated surf/peasant, was to make the quality of life for the elite better, e.g. to cook, farm, fight, even dress them. The punishment for not doing your duty was often very harsh; no wonder survival instincts are so ingrained into our psychology and passed on from generation to generation! Think of the squirrel that instinctively knows how to store nuts during its first winter, a primordial survival strategy?

So, the link between this study and hypnosis is in the word belief. This study showed a correlation between those who were told that they were at high risk, and then exhibiting symptoms of a loss of control. In a similar way that ordinary people who dream they are falling, exhibit the feelings and thoughts of a falling person! Why is this? It's because the brain cannot tell the difference between that which is real and that which is believed to be real. Hypnosis allows us to have a real feeling experience of a false reality and, in the process, this anomaly can be treated. In essence the brain/mind can be tricked into believing an alternative reality. It retrains the brain to express itself according to a new belief; which is actually more factual than the disordered belief that created the unwanted and unnecessary anxiety to start with!

So, for those who aren't too keen on the medical model, maybe hypnosis will be just what you need? If it ain't broke; don't fix it but if life feels broken, why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

The Research:
Did you lock the front door? Did you double-check? Are you sure?

If this sounds familiar, perhaps you can relate to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Help may be on the way. New Concordia research sheds light on how the fear of losing control over thoughts and actions impacts OCD-related behaviour, including checking.

Although more traditional types of fear -- think snakes, spiders, dogs, etc. -- have been well investigated, this is one of the few studies to focus primarily on the fear of losing control. "We've shown that people who believe they're going to lose control are significantly more likely to exhibit checking behaviour with greater frequency," says Adam Radomsky, a psychology researcher in the Faculty of Arts and Science. "So, when we treat OCD in the clinic, we can try to reduce their beliefs about losing control and that should reduce their symptoms."

The study
Radomsky's findings were published this October in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, co-authored with PhD student Jean-Philippe Gagné. It's the first in a series of related projects Radomsky is undertaking, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

"The 133 undergraduate students who participated were given bogus EEGs. They were randomly assigned false feedback that they were either at low or high risk of losing control over their thoughts and actions," explains Radomsky, Concordia University Research Chair in Anxiety and Related Disorders.

Next, participants were given a computerised task -- trying to control the flow of images on a screen by using a sequence of key commands. At any time, they could push the space bar to check or confirm the key sequence. Those who were led to believe that their risk of losing control was higher engaged in far more checking than those who were led to believe that the risk was low.

'Something we can treat'

Surprisingly, the students who participated in the study did not self-identify as having OCD.

"If you can show that by leading people to believe they might be at risk of losing control, symptoms start to show themselves, then it can tell us something about what might be behind those symptoms in people who do struggle with the problem," Radomsky says. "This gives us something we can try to treat."

The findings were consistent with what he and Gagné expected. "We hypothesise that people's fears and beliefs about losing control may put them at risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and others," Radomsky adds.

"This work has the potential to vastly improve our ability to understand and treat the full range of anxiety-related problems."

Story Source:
Materials provided by Concordia University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Jean-Philippe Gagné, Adam S. Radomsky. Manipulating beliefs about losing control causes checking behaviour. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 2017; 15: 34 DOI: 10.1016/j.jocrd.2017.08.013