Research on obsessive-compulsive (OCD) tendencies has suggested that anxiety is prevalent in most cases. Anxiety-related stress is at the root of the majority of compulsions, and individuals with OCD engage in ritualistic behaviors in an effort to alleviate feelings of anxiety derived from obsessive thoughts, visions, or emotions. Additionally, anger, shame, and magical ideations propel anxious emotions and drive compulsive behaviors in OCD. Although magical ideas are markers for schizotypal issues and not OCD, they may still play a significant role in the manifestation of symptoms.
Calvin Kai-Ching Yu of the Department of Counseling and Psychology at Hong Kong Shue Yan University recently led a study that explored how these factors influenced OCD in a sample of 594 individuals. He also looked at dream experiences and how emotional valence during dream states affected waking behaviors and symptoms of OCD. “The overall ﬁndings substantiate the notion that individuals with high obsessive-compulsive distress tend to dream certain themes more frequently,” Yu said. In fact, he found that the individuals who experienced dreams that had strong emotional messages, those that were charged with feelings of guilt, shame, and anger, had increased waking compulsive behavior. Additionally, magical thinking, believing that one had super powers or could control other people or things, also elevated OCD symptoms. Yu believes that dreams that are filled with malevolent content can prompt people to try to purify themselves during waking hours. Individuals who feel especially guilty, angry, or shameful about imaginary things may become obsessed with finding ways to remove their negative feelings while they are awake. The conscious level of anxiety they feel during the day, caused by obsessive magical thoughts and negatively toned dreams, can lead to increased compulsions.
Yu theorizes that most of these obsessions are first developed in childhood, when imagination knows no limits. As individuals with OCD mature, they are unable to distinguish between magical thinking and reality when it comes to emotions and behaviors. Feelings of paranoia and other heightened states of anxiety resulting from magical thoughts and unrealistic dreams consume these individuals during their waking hours, making the sole mission of their lives to achieve a state of harmony, absent of anxiety, guilt, anger, or fear. Yu hopes that these most recent findings draw more attention to the way dreams, especially those of anger, affect anxious feelings in individuals with OCD.
Kai-Ching Yu, C. (2012). Obsessive-compulsive distress and its dynamic associations with schizotypy, borderline personality, and dreaming. Dreaming. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030791
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