I am certain that I will be uncertain today. 

Online CBT Therapy UK

Doubt and uncertainty are typically the central theme in most kinds of OCD.

We describe how the search for certainty can make OCD symptoms worse. We look at some tried and tested successful approaches and how Online CBT Treatment can help in a person’s journey to beating OCD. 

If you struggle with OCD, you may be very familiar with the effort and energy it takes to be able let go of safety seeking behaviours in the treatment of OCD. As you will know, OCD is often characterised by doubt and a desire to crush ones doubts with certainty. 

You may well have spent a great deal of physical and metal effort in the battle to feel ‘just right’ or to be sure that nothing bad has or could happen in the future. 

It is very understandable why someone suffering with OCD might therefore engage in this relentless battle. When ones threat system is activated by feelings of doubt and uncertainty, then one has grown to instinctively try to seek certainty in a situation that is perceived as potentially threatening. 

Online CBT Therapy UK

However, the major flaw in all the attempts, is that there is no such thing in life as perfect certainty. 

The world in which we live and every human in is far from perfect. It is a world which has very little that we can completely control and we can’t predict the future. When accepting the nature of being an imperfect human in an unpredictable and imperfect world, if can often feel overwhelming and frustrating to someone struggling with OCD. 

So what should someone battling OCD and a desire for certainty to do?

We know what doesn’t work. We often describe these strategies as safety seeking behaviours. Safety behaviours are designed to help, and they can feel like they help in the short term, but in the long term, actually act to keep the problem going. 

The things that are designed to make you feel better, in fact, paradoxically are the things that make you feel worse. When a person with OCD gets caught up in a mission to eliminate uncertainty,  engaging in safety seeking behaviours such as checking, analysing or reviewing a situation in great detail, it can be an automatic response, almost habitual. The insights and understanding one has when out of a ‘trigger situation’, ‘threatening’ or ‘hot’ moment, become very difficult to access. The strategies that don’t work include; checking, counting, avoidance, repeating, reassurance seeking, washing, questioning, analysing or trying to figure out or neutralising. 

The anxiety isn’t the real problem. What we do in response to the anxiety (the compulsions) is the problem. 

Put another way, attempts to use compulsions or safety seeking behaviours (no matter what kind, either covert or overt) start out as solutions to the problem of obsessions, but they gradually become the problem itself.

The irony of a quest for certainty and control inevitably leads to the opposite — loss of control over one’s life.

Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), specifically exposure response prevention (ERP) therapy helps a person with OCD both face their fears, and provides them with the tools needed to learn to live with uncertainty. 

The aim is to accept the uncertainty.

Rather than seeking reassurance, using logic to prove they won’t act on the thoughts, analyse or trying to figure out how to achieve a state of certainty that this could never happen, the treatment involves doing the opposite. 

Online CBT Therapy UK

Within online CBT treatment, an expert therapist supports and teaches a person to allow the thoughts to be there, to act as if the thoughts don’t mean anything, to turn their attention away from the disregard them as meaningless throughs. Without reassurance, without analysing the thoughts or indeed trying to figure the thoughts out. A therapist supports a person to go towards all of their fear rather than to escape or avoid it.

It can help to look at and identify your values and interests, these will provide important refocus and a grounding anchor for your energy and attention.

Once you have decided to disregard the urge to go on a certainty seeking quest, choosing to re-focus on activities that are in line with your values which will support you to follow-through with your acceptance of uncertainty, and not turn back and un-do all your hard work through a little check or a little bit of reassurance seeking.

Though this online CBT therapy can initially be anxiety-provoking, the longer term payoff is huge. Being able to live with uncertainty allows a person with OCD to let go of the “what ifs” of the past and future and live mindfully in the present. And with that comes a newfound freedom for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

If you have thoughts and urges driving you towards seeking certainty about events, and you frequently as others for reassurance, then you may benefit from these helpful ways of thinking;

  • OCD is tricking me; I can’t be certain about everything. It is not possible.

  • OCD compulsions do not guarantee that bad things will not happen, hey just guarantee that I will stay feeling stuck and miserable.

  • I need to practice feeling OK about not always knowing what will happen.

  • Life is uncertain, and I can cope with anything it throws at me without my OCD.

If OCD and its many symptoms are effecting you or someone you know, do get in touch. We will listen to your specific problems and recommend the best online therapists for your needs. You will be able to speak to an expert online CBT Therapist about how to navigate you way towards overcoming OCD. We have many anxiety disorders specialists who have no waiting lists.


Written by Lisa Jonnston,

Online CBT Therapist
Director of My Therapist Online

Books referenced in the writing of this article; Break free from OCD - Jo Derisley et al. 



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