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OC Phenomenon and the Multidimensional Self

Guy Doron

Current research suggests that the self concept is a multidimensional construct, where some domains are valued more than others, and where perceived competence in these valued domains is strongly related to feelings of self worth (e.g., Harter, 1982; Messer & Harter, 1986; Neemann & Harter, 1986; also for a review, see Harter, 1998). Evidence also indicates that self evaluation may be context sensitive (e.g., Harter & Whitesell, 2003) that some individuals show greater sensitivity of self concept to external and/or internal triggers (e.g., Greenier et al., 1999) and tend to become preoccupied with events that have a baring on their evaluation in highly valued self domains (e.g., Wolfe & Crocker, 2003).

Drawing on this research, this thesis argued (see chapter 2 of this thesis) that the likelihood of individuals negatively reacting to certain intrusions is increased if the individual has a particular structure of self, comprising of "sensitive domains". Domains are sensitive if they are highly valued by the individual, but at the same time the individual feels they are not competent within these domains. Intrusive thoughts that threaten perceived competence in these self-domains are then more likely to elicit preoccupation and anxiety. Such self sensitivity coupled with particular assumptions about the world (e.g., the world is a just place) may increase the tendency for the development of OC related dysfunctional appraisals and OC symptoms in reaction to such intrusions (Doron & Kyrios, 2005).

Indeed, specific aspects of the self have been implicated in OCD literature. For example, a number of authors have linked OCD to concerns about morality, such that individuals with OCD were noted to be of 'tender conscience' (Rachman & Hodgson, 1980). In an empirical study, Ferrier & Brewin (2005) reported that, compared to anxiety and normal controls, individuals with OCD were more likely to draw negative moral inferences about themselves from their intrusive thoughts. Individuals suffering from OCD reported a 'feared self' characterized as dangerous to self or others by virtue of being bad, immoral or insane. It has been previously found (see chapter 4 of this thesis) in an analogue sample that individuals who considered themselves of low moral worth and considered outcomes in the world to depend on moral deservingness (i.e., people get what they morally deserve in the world), showed higher OC severity scores over and above depressive symptoms and other OC relevant cognitions (e.g., responsibility and threat). In sum, there is evidence suggesting that valuing morality may be related to OC phenomena.

Several authors have also argued for the importance of social acceptance within OCD. Rachman (1997) suggested that the content of the obsessions for some individuals lead to fears such as "if other people knew about my obsessions and/or their content, they would completely reject me"(p.794). Newth and Rachman (2001) argued that this leads individuals to conceal their OCD symptoms, decreasing the likelihood of normalization, and leading to greater distress and compulsive acts. Consistent with this, Doron and Kyrios (see chapter 4 of this thesis) found that perceptions of the world (i.e., others and the physical world) as threatening predicted obsessive symptoms in a non-clinical sample over and above affective symptoms and OC relevant cognitions. Bhar and Kyrios (1999) found that socially prescribed perfectionism (i.e., perceiving others as having perfectionistic expectations of oneself) predicted unique variance in OC symptoms when controlling for depression in a non-clinical community sample. Thus, OC phenomena may be associated with a fear of social rejection coupled with a wish for social acceptance, making it a potentially sensitive self-domain.

In the domains of job/scholastic competence, Salkovskis and colleagues (1999) argued that the development of an inflated sense of personal responsibility in OCD may be associated with "a high degree of conscientiousness, marked by dedication to work and an acute sense of social obligation" (Salkovskis et al., 1999, p. 1060, italics added). There is extensive evidence that over-inflated responsibility leads to OC symptoms (for a review, see Salkovskis & Forrester, 2002). Thus, individuals prone to the development of OC symptoms may place a higher value on their performance at work or at school while doubting their competence in these areas.

In sum, the structure of individuals' self-concept may be linked with experiencing OCD cognitions and symptoms. Individuals who highly value particular domains, but feel compromised or incompetent within these domains, are likely to be sensitive to intrusive thoughts that endanger these sensitive aspects of the self. This may then increase the likelihood of a dysfunctional response to such intrusions (i.e., maladaptive appraisals, anxiety and OC symptoms, see figure 4 for illustration).

Sensitive Domain
Increased Vigilance
Dysfunctional Appraisal
(OC related belief)
Morality   An image of a loved one being killed "If I had the thought, I must have wished it to happen" (importance of thoughts) anxiety
suppressing or avoiding thought.
seeking reassurance
Job Competence   "I may have made a mistake" "I am responsible for making sure that no one gets fired because of my mistakes" (inflated sense of responsibility) anxiety
Social Acceptance   "I may have said something inappropriate" "There is a chance that I may get rejected and I can not stand not knowing" ( Intolerance of Uncertainty) checking
seeking reassurance

Figure 4: Hypothesized relationship between "sensitive" self domains and OC phenomena.

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