“Do you do hypnotherapy for checking things too much? I need to check things for work, but I think it’s got a bit silly lately”. That’s how Jason* introduced himself – and, as he’d say later “with a bit of an understatement”.
“If anything, I always used to be a bit too much the other way,” Jason told me when he came to see me, “a bit too relaxed about things. At school I was never really bothered about much, and it was the same when I left and started work. It wasn’t until I started as an apprentice that my attitude changed really.”
Jason had started an apprenticeship as an electrician, and he’d picked up the habit of checking from his boss, and from his instructor at the college. “I remember the instructor shouting at us for not checking things, or not checking them properly, because there could be terrible consequences from getting our work wrong.”
“And my boss always checked my work at least twice, and even when it wasn’t wrong he’d show me how it could be better. I know he was trying to make be a better electrician, but now I wonder if that’s where it all started.”
Although Jason had always been thorough as a result – “I’d check as I went along, and then all over again at the end” – it hadn’t affected him as badly until just over a year ago. “I’d got really busy” he told me “and I decided to take a lad on as an apprentice. He was alright – nice lad, keen to learn. Perhaps it was checking his work that put my mind back to that time.”
Jason and his apprentice had also had a conversation about how standards had got stricter and tighter since Jason had first qualified. With Jason already stressed from the increased work, and from checking someone else’s work too, he started to worry about the work he’d done in the past.
“Even if I hadn’t missed anything when I was checking it”, he explained, “it probably wouldn’t meet current standards. I know logically that it was safe then, and it’s safe now, but I can’t get past the worry that something’s wrong.”
“I’ve started driving round to check that the houses haven’t had fires, and I’m really close to knocking on some of the doors and offering to redo the work to current standards – just so I know it’s okay”. That would have been a real problem for Jason as well – he’d let his apprentice go because he couldn’t cope with being responsible for someone else’s work.
There’s a school of thought that says obsessive checking is essentially an attempt to avoid anxiety. If we can be 100% sure then we won’t be anxious. The problem is that we can’t ever be 100% sure about things, and that’s why trying to avoid anxiety never works. Instead, like Jason, we start to check our checking or to worry about things like previous work, where we can’t check to make ourselves feel temporarily better.
With Jason it’s been a combination of helping him see his anxieties differently; learning not to respond to them in the same way; and learning to tolerate them again. “I can imagine having someone else working for me in the future again.” he told me. “I never thought I’d be able to trust my own work but now I can imagine trusting someone else’s too.”
*Jason is happy to share his story, and his identity has been protected
If you found this case study about hypnotherapy for checking interesting why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the quirky side of psychology and relationships