“As we discussed in Chapter 1, the more you fight an obsession, the more frequent and intense it becomes. This is called a paradoxical effect, something we all experience at times. For instance, if someone commands you, ‘Do not think of a red elephant,’ you will automatically respond by thinking about a red elephant.”
Edna B. Foa, Ph.D., Stop Obsessing!
OCD is an anxiety disorder in which thoughts go around and around in the brain (obsessions) until an individual does something to "make it better" (compulsions). When an individual has OCD, the "warning system" in the individual's brain is not accurate. "Anxiety is your brain's warning system. When you feel anxious it feels like you are in danger. Anxiety is an emotion that tells you to respond, react, protect yourself, DO SOMETHING...Feelings don't lie... Unfortunately, if you have OCD, they do lie. If you have OCD, the warning system in your brain is not working correctly. Your brain is telling you that you are in danger when you are not" (source, p.2).
Because the brain tells the individual that something isn't correct, the individual must then do something to make that anxiety go away. This is why an individual engages in compulsive behaviors. It would be easier if the individual could tell themselves that it's not true, or not to think about the obsession. However, have you ever tried to not think of a red elephant. The more you try to tell yourself not to think of the red elephant, the more you will think about it. Therefore, simply telling the individual to not think about it does not work. This is why the individual needs to learn to handle the anxiety in the situation.