Reading time: 1 min 28 sec
This post comes with a trigger warning.
Abigail walks into the warm kitchen, thinking of ways she can avoid the sharper knives. But the blunter ones won’t do the job.
Mark follows. He stands close behind her, his height above hers. His hot breath against her neck alerts her.
She gasps and steps to one side.
He takes one of the knives and begins peeling a stack of potatoes.
Abigail thrusts her hand sideways for the knife. ‘I’ll do it,’ she says.
He gives her the knife, smiling affectionately, and it makes her cry inside. He turns to the sink and fills the kettle.
‘I’ll make us a brew,’ he says.
Anxiety tugs at the pit of Abigail’s stomach as she stands breathlessly still, the razor-sharp blade pointing at Mark’s neck. Though gripped against fear, desire overwhelms her. Her wide, tear-filled eyes, like water paints, change from blue to ice-blue. She flinches, seeing blood trickle down his naked back before she lunges at him.
How can I love his beautiful neck, but want to stab it? Is it even possible that horror-stricken desire exists?!
She watches him open the cupboard, where he grabs two cups.
The kettle boils, steam rises, as does her anxiety. The urge to do what she doesn’t want to do gets stronger.
Mark turns, he doesn’t look fazed. He moves closer and attempts to give Abigail the cups.
‘You make the tea, and I’ll cook dinner.’
‘No, Mark, I need to complete my exposure.’
What complicates the OCD picture in Abigail’s story is an almost simultaneous rush of intrusive pleasure amid aversion. I say intrusive because it’s not wanted, it just feels like that. In other words, the two opposing elements join to form a sensible idea, but mustn’t be taken literally, otherwise, it could be misinterpreted. For example, Abigail’s harm obsession is scientifically untrue, showing that any desired belief about that obsession is also inaccurate. The conflict is, “I hate my thoughts, but at the same time, I think I like them.”
There is another factor, which is that, even though knives are relevant to danger, an alarm response does not make someone a killer. More specifically, in exposure-response prevention therapy, Abigail is aware that avoiding avoidance (resisting compulsions) is the way to reduce harm-intrusive thoughts. This double drabble captures that moment showing response-prevention can help reduce intrusive thoughts, even when intrusive-desire interferes with the aversion.
More about relevance and paradoxical situations are explained in my book “Desire-Intrusive Thoughts: What to Do When Sexual, Religious, and Harm Obsessions Carry Unwanted Arousal.”