Being too hard on yourself can lead to OCD and anxiety

PhotoSuffering with any kind of anxiety disorder can be extremely difficult, and many consumers often struggle with where these thoughts and feelings stem from.

Now, researchers have discovered a common personality trait that could be the driving force behind obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — being too hard on yourself.

“People with OCD [are] tortured by repeatedly occurring negative thinking and they take some strategy to prevent it,” said researcher Yoshinori Sugiura. “…GAD is a very pervasive type of anxiety. [Patients] worry about everything.”

A possible cause

The researchers were interested in seeing if they could determine a cause to these two common anxiety disorders, so they began by sending out a questionnaire to college students.

Prior to the study, the researchers hypothesized that feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility could be the driving force behind OCD or GAD, and so they targeted their questions towards three important aspects of personal responsibility:

  • Responsibility to think about a problem after it’s passed

  • Responsibility to prioritize safety/prevent danger

  • Sense of blame or personal responsibility for poor outcomes

In addition to questions about personal responsibility, participants were asked to report on their behaviors that could be linked to anxiety. In analyzing the survey responses, the researchers determined that feelings of responsibility were closely linked with behaviors known to be related to OCD or GAD.

Participants who reported feeling an overwhelming amount of personal responsibility were not only more likely to place blame on themselves and persistently think about issues, but they also had behaviors that were consistent with OCD and GAD.

The researchers hope that those struggling with anxiety or obsessive thoughts can work to place less blame on themselves and work to lift the burden of responsibility.

“[A] very quick or easy way is to realize that responsibility is working behind your worry,” he said. “I ask [patients], ‘why are you worried so much?’ so they will answer ‘I can’t help but worry,” but they will not spontaneously think ‘because I felt responsibility…’ just realizing it will make some space between responsibility thinking and your behavior.”