“Normal” people don’t know what they are doing

OCD sufferers often wish they could use the standards that the ‘normal” population uses for living.  There are a few problems with this. One major problem is that “normal” people don’t have consistent standards.  For example, I was giving a lecture to college students and began the lecture by pouring a can of Pringles potato chips on the floor and eating them.  I asked if anyone wanted to join me.   The looked at me as if I were crazy.  Later in the lecture, I asked if any of them went to parties.  As you might expect, the college students eagerly raised their hands.  I then asked if they sat on the floor at parties.   Again the hands went up.  This was followed by, “do you wash your hands before you eat at a party?”  Their mouths dropped open, because they knew they didn’t.  After this, some of them did eat the Pringles from the floor.  However, even those who wouldn’t will continue their party behavior and if you know anything about dorm parties, you can be sure the classroom floor was cleaner.  Another behavior many of them admitted to during the lecture waschewing on their pens, despite the fact that they know their pens have dropped on the floor .

The moral of the story: Consistency is the measure of severity, the more consistent you are, the worse your OCD is.  “Normals” may say they won’t eat after touching the floor, but they don’t really know what they are doing.  An OCD sufferer with contamination issues will be consistent about avoiding the floor and their mouths.  Ultimately, inconsistency  is one of the goals of your OCD treatment.   So next time you want to have “normal” standards, remember that you can’t trust what those “normals” say, but you can be sure they don’t ritualize and avoid the way you do.


  • Hi,
    I have suffered from OCD my entire life. I have especially suffered with obsession over my penmanship. I can not complete schoolwork and homework without constant anxiety. Please help!

  • I find this post interesting, especially the phrase “consistency is the measure of severity.” Your article demonstrates that those without OCD do not have the awareness levels as those with OCD, in terms of germs, or whatever….they are not obsessed. How torturous for an OCD sufferer to be that aware of every movement, thought, action, etc. Constant Anxiety!

  • I found this insight really valuable. My question is, then how do you decide what’s reasonable to do as an exposure? For example, in your book you suggest deliberately leaving your car unlocked. But you also say you wouldn’t recommend deliberately leaving the stove on. How do you decide that one of these is a reasonable risk and the other goes too far? I am getting really hung up on this issue, and I know it’s my OCD. But I do have to design exposures for myself which means making some kind of judgment call on what risks to take. Any insight you can provide into how to get past this would be helpful!

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