Tapping the Hidden Potential Inside OCD

4 min read
Source: Adam Grant / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Adam Grant / Wikimedia Commons

What if obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) isn’t just a misfiring of the brain and an overabundance of anxiety? What if there’s more to the story?

My research and clinical work have convinced me there’s a lack of understanding of what drives OCD from the inside out, and unfortunately, it harms the very people who are looking for answers to find their hidden potential.

Where Does Adam Grant Fit in With OCD?

I don’t usually look to organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s work for inspiration in treating OCD. His brilliant insights apply to business and innovation, but it’s less typical that they shed light on anxiety disorders.

At least not directly. Grant’s latest book (Hidden Potential) has too many illuminating parallels for me to look away.

We Lose Sight Of Hidden Potential By Taking the Dominant View

Grant shows that it is all too common to presume that potential is based squarely on your nature, what you start with, not where you’re going. Little emphasis and attention are placed on how to nurture talents, skills, and possibilities. You either have it or you don’t.

Grant’s review of the research shows that developing key traits, like proactivity, persistence, and prosocial behavior, brings more to the table than previously believed. There’s so much more that’s flexible and waiting to be actualized if we approach it from an alternative perspective.

There’s a similar trend in the OCD world. The dominant view is that a cognitive-behavioral perspective helps the most with the hidden potential inside OCD. It’s unsurprising given its research support; however, there’s a blind spot here.

This view doesn’t entertain new perspectives, ones that could provide the kind of nurture needed to bring out even more potential in those with OCD.

My alternative take is that OCD is the result of an overly developed empathic and existential sensitivity that, when not nurtured or supported, degenerates into a nightmare of never-ending worst-case scenarios. This capacity and power can be tamed and tapped into, but it must first be seen from a valued and positive place.

This sensitivity can be a real asset and power when identified early and incorporated creatively. Look to none other than innovators Charles Darwin and Nikola Tesla from the past and Greta Thundberg and Jack Antonoff from the present for some helpful inspiration.

A Character and Values-Driven Approach Is More Effective

As an introvert himself, I’m not surprised that Grant brings the culture’s focus back to character rather than personality. While personality is how we use our unique skills to “work” in social situations, character is the inner set of values and principles that guide us to do what matters.

Grant shows us this could be in meeting a deadline for someone who profoundly matters, finding the courage as an introvert to speak out against injustice, or regulating one’s fierceness in service of a team effort. His research shows that this character-driven approach is more effective and productive and might be more fulfilling in the long run.

In the OCD world, there’s a common saying. If you do the conventional treatments, you can live your values. You will not let your OCD get in the way of doing the things you cherish and need in your life.

While I wholeheartedly agree that being able to live one’s values is the height of psychological health, I have one critique. What about the values that exist within before your OCD is healed?

Profound empathy, thoughtfulness, and imagination exist before OCD hits the scene. Instead of living your values after you have worked on your OCD, what if you were helped to look within your OCD to understand better, moderate, and apply those particular values?

Like Malcolm Gladwell, Grant often finds a counterintuitive insight that shows business leaders how to move past the default creatively. When people look at OCD, they understandably go first to the problem. This must be corrected so you return to the default or “normal” way of working.

Like Grant suggests in his latest work, what if we’ve been looking at the default all wrong and have even more power to make it all right again? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could start applying these innovative insights and bring more relief, peace, and success to the many suffering out there from OCD?

I sure think so and hope therapists and clients will be more curious and innovative in their approach to OCD moving forward. With all the talent, power, and empathy in the OCD population, from Darwin to Antonoff, these insights might change the world.

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