OCD: The Power of Pictures

By Brian Robinson.

The power of pictures

If there was no such thing as language, would there be such a thing as OCD? I ask this question, because apart from a few cases where the the intrusive thoughts take the form of images, the vast majority of OCD intrusions come in the form of words or dialogue. So, does language lie at the root of the problem, or, did stone age man suffer from OCD just like we do?

Before language was invented, when people used to communicate via grunts and gestures, most of the processing that went on in the brain was done in the form of pictures. For example, a stone-age man or woman may witness something frightening. The image of that event my return in their thoughts, and their brain would process that. Perhaps that would happen during REM sleep. The brain was very good at making sense of the world in that way. It still is.

Now, language in many respects has taken over the role of understanding the world. We don’t use pictures quite so much. The problem is, language is a relatively new invention, and our brain hasn’t quite caught up with this new method of communication. Sometimes, language fails us. And when that does happen, it might be a good idea to revert to old fashioned pictures.

Pictures can replace or reinforce dialogue.

Dealing with the intrusive thoughts involved with OCD is clearly one part of the recovery pathway. We would want to apply reason to the thoughts to see if we can weaken their power; to help us focus upon them less; to award them less significance etc. There is no suggestion here that we should not be doing that.

However, when the belief in the thought is powerful and entrenched; and when reason offers little scope to dismantle the thoughts, then perhaps we should go back to the use of pictures. So, we identify the fear, and then we look at a picture which contradicts or negates that fear.

It could be as simple as looking at pictures or videos of something good happening as opposed to fretting about something nasty happening. For example, if you fear something horrible is going to happen to your dog, you might look at videos of dogs safely at play. Or if you worry involves someone close to you, you could look at pictures of them when they are laughing and happy. We should never underestimate the power that visual input can have on the mind. After all, they say a picture paints a thousand words.

Words also seem to fail us when it comes to the compulsions involved with OCD. You cannot simply reason your way out of an OCD compulsion. Recovery comes via experience and the use of therapies such as Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy. This is where the OCD sufferer delays doing the compulsion, and as a consequence, the OCD mind relaxes as nothing bad happens. Words do not work: but the right sorts of actions or behaviours do.

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