White Knuckling: All Ache, No Achieve

What’s white knuckling?  

White knuckling is the time period used to explain the method of preventing or powering via a state of affairs that you simply discover nervousness scary. Think about your self on a scary curler coaster trip and the way tight you would possibly maintain onto the metallic bar that sits in your lap. It might really feel like holding on tightly is the one factor that may hold you protected. You cope together with your concern by squeezing the bar so tight that your knuckles flip white.   

Notice the person within the again and his literal white knuckles. 

What’s white knuckling via exposures?  

ERP, or Publicity Response Prevention, is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention generally used to deal with OCD. ERP entails step by step “exposing” your self to your fears with out performing rituals. White knuckling via exposures is once you pressure your self to do exposures with a “grin and bear it” mindset. It’s the strategy of “I’ll push via this it doesn’t matter what as a result of I’ve to to ensure that my OCD to get higher.” However will that mindset result in a profitable end result? Take into account that the way you do exposures is equally as necessary as which exposures you do. It’s each the how and the which that results in higher, extra rewarding, and longer-term outcomes.  

Why is white knuckling an “all ache, no acquire” strategy 

White knuckling reinforces the assumption that your fears are threats. Though exposures to your fears could typically really feel like threats, that doesn’t imply they’re really threatening. This course of is called emotional reasoning, which is a standard pondering error amongst nervousness victims whereby you mistake your feelings for actuality. The curler coaster trip could really feel harmful however probably just isn’t. The amusement park has presumably gone via security measures and protocols. Irrespective of how tight you grip the metallic bar, it won’t have an effect on the protection of the trip. Furthermore, by white knuckling you get caught in the concept the menace is really harmful and stay trapped within the cycle that you would be able to’t deal with publicity to conditions that trigger nervousness and concern. 

White knuckling via exposures, much like performing psychological rituals throughout exposures, compromises the “E” in ERP. Though white knuckling could show you how to to really feel in higher management, safer, and extra protected within the second, it’s really a hindrance to the publicity course of. It’s much less about getting via the publicity it doesn’t matter what (although the perfectionist in you would possibly need to do the publicity completely or simply proper) and extra about permitting the disagreeable ideas, emotions, and sensations to be current.  

Case instance 

You could have contamination OCD. Your sister calls you complaining of dangerous abdomen ache and asks you to take her to the hospital. Because of OCD you could have spent years avoiding hospitals however since your sister is in horrible ache, you agree. That is an unplanned publicity however an publicity nonetheless.  

You’re taking your sister to the emergency room and do every part you may to handle your nervousness till you’re lastly in a position to make your escape again to (perceived) security, free from hospital germs and again to your baseline nervousness. You grit your tooth, maintain your breath, grin and bear, and white knuckle via the whole course of. As quickly as you’ll be able to go away the hospital, the decreasing of your nervousness will probably really feel so nice that it reinforces why you averted your concern within the first place! You return to avoiding hospitals and you’re no additional forward in studying how one can tolerate the concern, nervousness and uncertainty over being in a hospital and round germs. The contamination OCD has been strengthened and emboldened.  

Options to white knuckling 

So what are you able to do as an alternative of white knuckling?  

  • Select to cease avoiding the discomfort of hysteria. As a substitute, be prepared to expertise concern and even panic.  
  • Keep in mind that the aim of an publicity is to not really feel unafraid, relaxed or protected however fairly to willingly expertise the nervousness and uncertainty. Doing so will probably result in extra constructive and long run change. 
  • Expose your self to your fears in an actual manner. Going via the motions of an publicity is a type of resistance or avoidance since you’re not authentically within the second whereas going through your fears. The the way you do exposures issues! 
  • Be the place you’re and take note of the right here and now. Be within the second, even when it feels scary. Anticipate that it could really feel uncomfortable to let go of the sensation of management. 
  • Acknowledge that you’ve the company to drop the white knuckling. It received’t occur by itself. It’s a must to select to do it, even when at first you may solely accomplish that for a second or two. 
  • As a substitute of making an attempt to really feel much less via white knuckling, work towards being higher at feeling extra.  
  • Settle for that it is a course of. It takes time, endurance, and repetition. Like music legend Bruce Springsteen mentioned when he received his first guitar on the age of fourteen: “I practiced and practiced and practiced, 10,000 instances? Far more than 10,000 instances!”  
  • Be compassionate and maintain your self gently. That is actually onerous work. 

Why do you have to take into account options to white knuckling? For the explanations that you simply white knuckled within the first place. Since you need to get higher and also you’re prepared to do actually onerous issues in an effort to make that occur. In order that life can get greater once more. With the intention to return to doing the belongings you worth probably the most with the folks which can be most necessary to you. With the intention to transfer additional away from OCD and nearer towards residing the life that you simply need to stay. 

Questions for dialogue 

When was the final time you white knuckled your manner via an publicity? Was that publicity useful? 

How might you do the identical publicity with out the white knuckling? 


Glenda Carman-Grey, MSW, RSW is a Registered Social Employee and Psychotherapist in Toronto, Canada. She is the proprietor of Remedy On Yonge, OCD and Anxiousness Therapy. Her complete follow is dedicated to the remedy of adults (18+) struggling with all subtypes of OCD, Anxiousness, BFRBs, and associated problems. She additionally supplies supervision on OCD associated instances. Glenda graduated from McGill College in Montreal, Canada, with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1994, a Bachelor of Social Work in 1997, and a Grasp’s of Social Work in 1998. Extra data on Glenda could be discovered at www.therapyonyonge.ca  


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