So I've heard anxiety and discomfort described in a number of different ways: panic, stress, nervousness, disgust, shame, etc. Tack on the word "attack" after any of the above descriptors and you have a name for those episodes where said feelings overwhelm the person experiencing them. While I have most certainly experienced all of these emotions as part of my OCD, they don't quite capture the essence of what I feel when when my anger and frustration is not directed at a certain event or situation, but rather at myself. Those times are more like "self-hatred attacks." That's really the best way to describe those times of pure self-loathing and reproach. Not pleasant. Not at all.
I'm sure everyone experiences self-hatred from time to time, or even frequently. But sometimes I feel like I have molded it into a highly refined art in and of itself. Don't get me wrong. I certainly don't presume to have the market corned on self-reproach. I can be pretty bad sometimes, but I'm sure there are those out there who suffer far more and who have it far worse. And I am much, much better than I used to be. I just know that I can sometimes work myself into a literal "attack" of self-reproach where anything I do seems to trigger even more self-hatred. I am aware that I am being irrational when these attacks occur, but at the same time, I can't seem to turn it off as much as I would like to.
To be honest, I used to punish myself physically when I was experiencing one of these "attacks." I make an effort not to do that anymore and have addressed this issue in treatment. I try to find other ways to get through it other than beating myself up and acting rashly, which just triggers more self-loathing and a desire to punish myself further in a vicious positive feedback loop. But with that maladaptive coping mechanism eliminated from the mix, I have a hard time knowing what to do to make it through those times.
In the treatment of OCD, we often talk about exposing ourselves to things and situations that trigger discomfort and then sitting with that discomfort until it diminishes on its own. When discussing my latest self-hatred attack today in therapy, I was given the answer to my question about what to do during those times: nothing, if possible. Just as with other forms of anxiety, the answer is not to act compulsively but to sit with the uncomfortable feeling and continue about my day to the best of my ability. So simple, really, and yet I think this is the first time I really took it to heart for these sort of situations. For some reason, I thought this was different. But the answer is the same. The fact is we all feel discomfort in life. We can either fight it and resist it and go to great lengths to rid ourselves of it, or we can accept that we will probably feel crappy from time to time and do our best to continue on anyway. Self-hatred attacks, I suppose, are no different. I just have to learn to wait them out.
This is not to say that there are not tools to employ in the meantime. There is work that can be done on the cognitive side - thought restructuring and other things of that nature - to point out the distortions and identify healthier and more realistic ways to look at things. But in the end, I guess it's the same: the best way to thwart the anxiety is to do nothing. The best way to overcome the self-hatred is not to self-punish or act compulsively, but to keep moving forward despite that feeling. Acting in a self-punishing or compulsive manner only fuels the fire. It tells the brain that the feeling of self-hatred is important and needs to be dealt with in a punitive manner. Instead, doing nothing returns the feeling of self-reproach back to its place as just that - a feeling. Like other thoughts and feelings that trigger the desire to act compulsively, it can probably be strengthened or weakened depending on the behaviors we choose.
Certainly not an exact science! But I am learning! How do you deal with "self-hatred attacks?"