Got Anxiety? Compulsive checking and core beliefs (part 2 of 2)
Mary B. Barmann, MFT
This is the second in a 2-part series about compulsive checking. Click here to read Part 1.
As discussed in our previous article regarding compulsive checking, we outlined the primary fears (self-harm, harming others, and fear of embarrassment) that serve to trigger this habitual response pattern.
These obsessional fears are also performed for the purpose of helping to ensure that a mistake has not been made, which could result in catastrophic consequences.
Compulsive checking involves various forms such as checking to see if appliances are turned off, ensuring that doors are locked before going to bed, reading the same written material over and over again just to be certain that its content is completely understood, etc.
Compulsive checking appears to have its origin in the “core beliefs” an individual acquires early in life.
How we view our world is like the window we look through each morning — it’s our frame of reference, the manner in which we view ourselves; it’s the very CORE of us.
The beliefs we strongly endorse help us decide if we are worthy or worthless, competent or inept, flexible or judgmental, fairly treated or victimized.
Core beliefs can also serve a positive function in our lives, resulting in feelings of security and happiness.
However, in the case of those who engage in compulsive checking, one primary core belief is directly responsible for the maintenance of this behaviors — an intolerance for UNCERTAINTY.
INTOLERANCE OF UNCERTAINTY
Those who perform compulsive checking rituals have a strong intolerance of uncertainty.
Think of uncertainty as an allergen; you either have a mild or strong reaction when in its presence. Compulsive checkers HATE NOT KNOWING! For these individuals, feeling uncertain signals threat.
Recall the three obsessional fears discussed earlier that trigger compulsive checking. Let’s focus on the fear of harming others.
Tom is someone who fears he unintentionally hurt someone. His self-doubt regarding this possibility raises uncertainty that he may have a hidden side to his personality who wants to cause pain to others.
He is afraid of losing control, which triggers the need to engage in compulsive checking. Due to this way of thinking, Tom engages on the following scenario.
On his way to work, Tom drives over a speed bump. He immediately assumes he has run over a pedestrian, killing the person in cold blood.
Due to his belief, Tom steers his car to the side of the road, gets out of his car and checks to see if there might be a dead person lodged beneath the vehicle.
He does not find anyone, gets back in his car, and resumes driving. However, bothered by the possibility that he may have made a mistake in not checking the car thoroughly, he pulls over, parks the car, and checks once again. This pattern of compulsive checking continues for the next 2 hours!
Once Tom arrives home, he continues to feel a sense of self-doubt — “Did I kill an innocent pedestrian?”
As he watches the news on TV that night, he learns about a story involving the death of a young girl who was the victim of a “hit and run,” occurring at, or around, the same time and day in which Tom was driving home from work.
This information only serves to increase Tom’s uncertainty concerning the possibility that he may have in fact killed this girl.
As his degree of uncertainty increases, Tom gets back into his car and retraces his route home from work, checking to see if there might be a dead pedestrian lying beside the road.
The next morning, he reads the newspaper, watches several news stations, and asks friends if they have heard of a girl who may have been hit by a car which resembles the car Tom owns (all forms of reassurance-checking performed for the purpose of lowering his feelings of anxiety).
WHEN CORE BELIEFS SURFACE
Your core beliefs are here to stay. The goal is not to change this way of thinking. Instead, become better at understanding which life events consistently result in the emergence of specific beliefs, and the patterns of thinking associated with them.
It is one’s INTERPRETATION of life events that is the problem, not the core belief itself. Everyone needs to acquire a more effective strategy concerning how we REACT to our core beliefs.
This “second reaction” must consist of challenging and testing our patterns of thinking and behaving in various situations. Experiment with your core beliefs regarding uncertainty by taking risks involving putting your assumptions to the test.
When we consistently test deeply held beliefs, followed by accurately recording what really happened across different situations, we learn to lower the meaningfulness of these beliefs, and begin to filter life experiences in a more realistic direction — a direction that does not involve the need for compulsive checking.
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit anxietytreatmentinclinevillage.com to learn more.