ARC Blog

Emotional Freedom Technique for OCD

They say, “Just don’t do the compulsion any more! Just stop!” They say, “You don’t really want to get over it bad enough.” They say, “You’re just weak.”  And maybe you’re starting to believe them. But let’s look at what’s really going on. They have no idea that trying to NOT do a compulsion is true torture and here’s why:

Our Brain’s Survival System

Our brain’s survival system has learned that it is somehow dangerous for us not to fulfill the compulsion and also that it is only safe when we finally do it. Since the survival system’s job is to get us and keep us “safe”, whenever we are unable to fulfill the compulsion our brain thinks we need to do, it starts to press all of the alarm buttons and sends messages throughout that say, “Danger! Danger! Danger!”  

If we didn’t respond to the first round alarms by doing the compulsion, the survival center kicks the survival strategies up a notch so that you can’t ignore them and the sirens get louder and the message, “Danger! Danger! Danger!” is sent through us emotionally, mentally, chemically, and physically in an escalating fashion until we do the damn compulsion already. 

Once our brains have determined that we need to fulfill one of our compulsions, not many of us can withstand that process driven by our survival center for very long. 

Engaging Your Survival Center

The survival center can override any and every system in your body in order to make you take whatever action to ensure that you survive. Now, this would be great if your survival center was being faced with a lion in the jungle. Engaging your survival center when you encounter a lion in the wild is exactly what you want to happen because you are about to engage in the fight or flight of your life.

However, when your survival system thinks that fulfilling a compulsion is imperative to your survival, this is really annoying at best, and enslaving at worst. Although, if you have OCD, you may already know this. Here is what the survival system can do when it thinks it needs to save your life:

  • Shut down your thinking center by 80%. This makes it difficult to think or think clearly, right?
  • Send all of your energy and chemicals into your arms and legs so you are ready to run or fight. This leaves you feeling restless and jittery.
  • Make changes to your breathing. This can make you feel like you can’t catch your breath, can’t get a deep breath, or like you’re suffocating.
  • Racing heartbeat or heart palpitations.
  • Numbness or tingling anywhere in your body.
  • Tightness in your chest.
  • Nausea, pit in your stomach, belly aches.
  • And so much more.

All of this is designed to get you to take the action your survival system thinks will keep you safe.

Survival Center and Fulfilling Compulsions

And if you have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), your survival center thinks that there is something dangerous about not completing compulsions. It’s job, as it sees it, is to get you to do the compulsion in order to keep you safe.

To top that off, the survival system is not a reasoning center, nor a thinking center, nor a problem-solving center and it’s not a word center. This means that it can’t be reasoned with or dealt with logically, AND it doesn’t care what you say, or what you think, or what you learn from a podcast or what anyone tells you. It takes its job of keeping you alive very seriously and it thinks that you fulfilling the compulsion is a must.

And what’s worse, when our brain learns doing the compulsion brings instant relief and an instant shut-off of the survival mode, then it begins to figure out how to lessen the time between the set-off of the alarm and the compulsion. It will even get so good it will have you fulfilling the compulsion with the slightest hint that the alarms went off so that you don’t even have to deal with any of those powerful alarms. Your whole brain does, after all, want you to save energy, and survival mode is very expensive energy-wise.

Here we are doing compulsions and our brains have gotten so good we might even be completing the compulsions without knowing that all of this happened behind the scenes – in the blink of an eye.

This is why we feel so stuck and powerless over our compulsions. Maybe we are, until we find a way to help the survival center decide it is safe to not do the compulsion.

Emotional Freedom Technique

How we can communicate with a part of the brain that can’t be reasoned with or logic-ed with?

There are many answers to this question since we have many ways to work with and communicate with the survival system. When we can influence the survival center, the brain is finally able to break the cycle and do the healing work that it is very capable of doing, to completely resolve the problem.

I will share with you what has worked for me and my clients because it is simple and “speaks” to the survival system in a way that the survival center can fully understand. 

Though I am trained in a variety of interventions that directly support the brain’s natural healing process, I like to share this one for three reasons:

  1. There are no known side-effects associated with this intervention, it is as safe of an intervention as they come, and I can reasonably trust that my clients can use this powerful tool without causing themselves harm.
  2. It’s one of the easiest of the interventions to learn.
  3. With very little training, I can hand my clients a powerful tool that empowers them to help themselves. This was an important component for my own healing, so I offer it to others.

This intervention is called Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). You may have heard of it. It is gaining popularity and it is moving outside of the inner circle of those people, like me, who like to go off the beaten path and try the “weird” or new things, and it’s moving into the mainstream with more and more momentum. The research is proving it is more effective in resolving symptoms of anxiety (including OCD) than traditional talk therapy for issues such as anxiety, depression, and traumatic stress.

The great thing about EFT is that you can use it by yourself, for yourself and when you need it.

This Is What I Did

It took me about 3 years to move my OCD and other anxiety symptoms into remission because honestly, I had no idea what I was doing and I hadn’t yet developed a systematic and step-by-step process. Plus, these interventions work pretty instantly, and to be honest, I was too busy celebrating the “small” victories of not having to collect jars anymore or being free to use colored hangers in my closet instead of only white hangers or eliminating insomnia I had developed. I celebrated those victories for months, and the freedoms these breakthroughs allowed me, instead of continuing to address other symptoms.

So, be encouraged that you can also choose to work with a professional so that you have the guidance, strategies, and support to get deep, lasting and life-changing results in a fraction of the time compared with the traditional talk therapy route.

I have made a handout available to you on my website that outlines EFT for you. It also provides two other interventions that work specifically with the survival center and also have no known side effects. You can find that handout at

May you find the peace that you are searching for and that is your birthright.

Rachelle McCloud, LCSW

Rachelle McCloud, LCSW is a mental health therapist and emotional wellness coach. She specializes in helping women eliminate symptoms of anxiety, depression and traumatic stress in 2 to 6 months instead of 2 to 6 years.

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