By: Jennifer Sy, Ph.D.
Meeting new people, whether for friendship or dating, is often very intimidating. It can be especially intimidating when you have symptoms of OCD, and is often one of the areas people “get” to work on once OCD symptoms have improved.
Here are some reasons that people with OCD often also experience anxiety about making new friends and/or dating:
- My OCD directly interferes when I try to have social interactions.
Some people have fears that they will say something offensive or untrue, or that others will notice that they have anxiety or “bad” thoughts. Contamination fear can also make socializing complicated (e.g., having to touch items in public, hand shaking/hugs/sharing food).
- I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to talk about other than my OCD.
Many people with social anxiety worry that they will freeze up or not be able to contribute to a conversation in an interesting way. Living with OCD can exacerbate these concerns, as sometimes obsessions/compulsions are so time and energy consuming that there is little time left to engage in other activities. Sometimes people feel that OCD has been all-consuming for such a long time that even when OCD symptoms are better, they are out of practice with social situations. Other people have mentioned that OCD is an “elephant in the room” and it can be confusing and anxiety-provoking to decide if/when to talk to a new friend or potential partner about their OCD symptoms.
- Talking to new people is difficult in general.
Social interactions involve tolerating a good deal of uncertainty and ambiguity. You don’t know for sure what the other person is thinking. There is no one set of guidelines that will guarantee success when talking to someone new. The verbal and nonverbal signals from different people may mean different things. Scary, right?
The good news:
OCD and social anxiety have many characteristics in common, so often completing exposure and response prevention for OCD can lead to some side benefits for working on social anxiety:
- better ability to tolerate uncertainty- that is, being able to try something new despite not knowing how things will turn out (e.g., going on a date).
- can apply knowledge about exposures to target social anxiety as well.
- often, clients tell us that making progress with OCD exposures has increased their confidence in general, which can lead to changes in other life areas.
Talking to people who have gone through similar situations can be very affirming and informative whether through in-person or online support groups. This article describes a panel discussion on dating at an International OCD Foundation conference:
There are a number of other excellent resources online including articles, blogs, and videos sharing different strategies and personal stories about navigating social situations:
Connecting with new people can feel very risky and difficult at first, but like exposures, it gets easier with practice and the benefits are worth the work.