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Obsessive, Compulsive, Impulsive, and Passive Aggressive Behavior

by James Kent

Chapter 27: Psychedelic Information Theory

There are volumes that can be written on compulsive personality disorders; in fact I have compulsively rewritten this chapter so many times you might say I have become obsessive about trying to cover it all. Alternately, there have been periods of times where I passive-aggressively avoided even thinking about this chapter because the topic is so complex as to be overwhelming. There is so much to say about the emotional spectrum that encompasses obsessive-compulsive, impulsive, and passive-aggressive behaviors: There's the clinical definitions; the psychopharmacology; the ego structures that create inner conflict between primal compulsion and learned repression; not to mention the extreme range of strange behaviors elicited while under the influence of psychedelics, which could easily fill an encyclopedia of strange behavior. But I lump all of these conditions together because they all have a similar theme: they represent people acting out of character, with limited rationality, typically driven by subconscious forces they don't fully understand. All human behavior is a balancing act between primal compulsions and civilized repression, and walking this behavioral tight-rope is commonly referred to as "behaving like a normal person," something we are all trained to do as young children. But when we lose the ability to perform this balancing act between compulsion and repression we develop what are called "problem" behaviors, behaviors which often get lumped into the obsessive, compulsive, impulsive, and passive-aggressive categories.

As I discussed in earlier, there is strong evidence that an individual's feelings of contentment, confidence, safety, and well-being are all modulated by the balance of serotonin in the brain, and it is safe to assume that anything that disrupts the action of seratonin uptake in the brain (such as psychedelics) will most-likely upset that general sense of well-being. And naturally, when a person's sense of well-being is disrupted, and that disruption is then distorted through an amplifying lens, that person may react in strange and compulsive ways in an attempt to right that dramatic imbalance. These actions may take the form of overtly uncharacteristic behaviors; impulsive behaviors; circular or obsessively repetitious behaviors; avoidance behaviors; passively withdrawn behaviors; or the complete inability to deal with anything. I could try to put clinical labels on all these behaviors, call them compulsive or passive aggressive or passive avoidance or whatever you want, but the truth is that it is difficult to lump all of these erratic behaviors together into one single label or category. What I can is say that these strange behaviors are common, that they happen on almost every trip, and they manifest in direct response to anxiety generated within the psychedelic state. These erratic behaviors may range from mild to extreme, but every psychedelic explorer should be warned of these side effects and understand that there is a very real possibility that any one or any number of these behaviors could spontaneously erupt on your typical psychedelic trip.

Obsessive Compulsive Behavior

Throughout the course of this text I have talked about the cyclical "traps" of psychedelic use; recursive loops, anxiety spirals, infinite analytical regressions, and so on. All of these traps are based on the notion of repetition and feedback, of being stuck in an infinite loop of perception and ideation, replaying the same thought or behavior over and over through endless permutations, ad infinitum. There are many good visual and audio metaphors for runaway feedback in the psychedelic state fractals, echoes, video feedback, audio feedback, audio delay, visual trails, etc. but the best behavioral metaphor for this cyclical processing trap is obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD: The pathological need to repeat the same thought or task over and over again.

While the common perception of OCD tends towards people who compulsively eat, shop, gamble, masturbate, or wash their hands (or whatever), the truth is that OCD manifests in almost every person in some way or another in some point in their lives. Some might argue that because we get hungry or sleepy every few hours that eating and sleeping are de facto compulsions we are obsessive about, but technically OCD is not diagnosed as a disorder unless the compulsive activity has reached a point where it becomes unhealthy or disrupts the activities of a normal life. OCD activities are almost always tied to biologically driven reward behaviors like eating, mating, hoarding, and hygiene. Alcoholism and drug addiction are also closely related to OCD, even though they are not strictly based on compulsions of organism survival. However, addictive drugs tend to effortlessly satisfy and suppress the base biological compulsions that lead to OCD, so self-medicating and addiction/reward behavior are also intimately linked to this disorder. From a clinical standpoint, OCD is suspected to involve both the serotonin uptake system and the dopamine reward system, meaning that people with OCD feel compelled to perform a specific task to feel "better" (correct a seratonin imbalance), but get no lasting feeling of completion or satisfaction when they do (insufficient dopamine reward). This imbalance creates a loop of repetitive behaviors that keep the subject mindlessly occupied in seeking the rewarding behavior (food, money, sex, cleanliness, etc.) without ever feeling that the task has been sufficiently completed.

For the sake of clarifying definitions when it comes to behavioral types, it is safe to say that people who are serious about psychedelics tend to become obsessive about their drug use; they study psychedelic lore and spend long periods of time planning and analyzing their psychedelic trips. However, it is the uncommon few who are actually compulsive about their psychedelic use, meaning that they must take psychedelics all the time because they just can't help themselves. This is almost never the case, and psychedelics are not traditionally addictive drugs in that they do not effortlessly fulfill base biological compulsions for quick pleasure and reward; the opposite is true. If anything, psychedelics tend to exacerbate existing compulsions and make people obsess more, but this is certainly not always the case. If used in the right clinical or shamanic setting, psychedelics can actually interrupt pre-existing cycles of obsession and compulsion and act as short-term "cures" for OCD and addiction. But when taken in less structured environments there is a good chance psychedelics will produce OCD-like behaviors or exacerbate preexisting OCD conditions, particularly in the earlier parts of the trip.

For instance, I was home alone one weekend, and since it had been a while since my last trip I decided that I would take a small dose of LSD and simply enjoy the afternoon. My plan was to turn off the phone and relax, maybe spend some time in the garden, maybe have dinner and watch a movie later, nothing big. I had straightened up all the clutter before I took the LSD, but now that I was coming on my senses were sharper and I could see all the grime built up on the floors and walls. Sticky spots on the floor sprang out at me; dark smudges and fingerprints trailed across the walls (how long had they been there?); layers of dust crept across all the surfaces; and there was a strong urine stench coming from the bathroom (ugh, the bathroom was unbearable!). Anyway, the fact that there hadn't been a good housecleaning in few months screamed at me and compelled me to spend the entire day cleaning the house, up and down, top to bottom, scrubbing, mopping, sweeping, dusting, the works. I became a total house-wife on crack. I couldn't stop. As I sat hunched on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor with a sponge I realized I was being silly, and I kept thinking that I should stop cleaning and go out to the garden and dig in the dirt for a while, but I couldn't stop. The thought of digging in the garden outside while mildew forests continued to slime over my shower walls was unacceptable. I had to "fix it" before I could relax, and I did not relax for the entire trip. I cleaned right through the LSD peak, stopping later in the day to eat dinner, drink many beers, clean more, and finally collapse into a stupor in front of the TV late in the evening. I never stepped foot out the door that day, nor got to any of the other things I had planned for the weekend, but my house was now spotless and spring fresh. It had been an obsessive-compulsive housecleaning trip, and it came out of nowhere. The irony was that when I finally got my consciousness elevated I realized that I was living in filth. What else could I do?

Obsessive-compulsive disorders can appear in many forms throughout the course of a psychedelic session, most commonly in the obsessive repetition of thoughts, speech, and behaviors, sometimes referred to as "thought loops" or "ticks" that get stuck in your brain and just keep spinning round and round. While obsessive side effects from psychedelics may be more fleeting and scattered that those of classic OCD disorders, there are definitely obsessive trips that exactly mirror classic OCD with the constant need to repeat particular thoughts, phrases, or behaviors. These behaviors can be as mild as rocking back and forth while turning the same melody over and over and over in your head, or they can be as extreme as scratching one spot until it bleeds, shaving off all of your body hair, or something similarly gruesome. The spectrum of compulsive behaviors ranges from harmless to violent, and hand-washing, rocking, or tune-humming is a long way from self-mutilation or violent acting out. Understanding the difference between fleeting compulsions, obsessive compulsions, and self-destructive compulsions is really the key here. Fleeting compulsions are typically harmless and to be expected; obsessive compulsions stick with you and get stronger, compelling you to act on them until you break the obsessive cycle; and self-destructive compulsions force you to act irrationally against your own best interests. It goes without saying that once someone begins acting violent and irrational that the party is over. Although it is rare, it does happen. High doses of psychedelics can be extremely dangerous, and anyone who experiments with psychedelics or who "baby sits" for someone on psychedelic drugs should fully understand this spectrum of compulsive behavior and be prepared to deal with violent freak-outs before going into high-dose territory with novice users.

Although obsessive ideation can also apply to pleasing thoughts and sensations, it is typically the "bummers" that are remembered in terms of being "trapped" or "stuck in a loop." Being stuck in a loop of house-cleaning or ecstatic bliss may not be as traumatic as, say, being stuck in a loop of murderous paranoia, but the psychedelic mind can lock onto any obsession without warning, and the catalyst or object of the obsessive psychedelic spiral can be anything that grabs the subject's attention. This is an extremely important thing to remember when trying to help someone who is "stuck" in an unpleasant loop. Attempting to interrupt obsessive ideation in the middle of a psychedelic trip is essentially trying to fight upstream against pharmacology. Obsessive bummers must either "run their course" or be derailed and moved sideways into another obsessive trip centered on a new, less-traumatic topic. The task of "talking down" a person who is having a bummer on psychedelics is not about trying to convince them they are wrong to be obsessive about something, it is more a challenge of keeping them preoccupied with new tangents and thoughts that move them progressively away from the locus of the negative obsession and towards something more positive. The meat of this task can be summed up in a phrase I heard one tripping friend jokingly say to another who was having a hard time: "Don't think about the dead puppy. Here, smell this flower." This was a joke, of course, there was no dead puppy, but the levity of the comment lightened everyone's mood instantly. When confronting situations like these, absurdity and humor often work better than logic.

Compulsive & Impulsive Ideation

I can't positively say that everyone who takes psychedelics has obsessive or impulsive ideas on every trip, but I can honestly say that most people who experiment with psychedelics have at least a few mildly bizarre compulsions come to them at some time or another. At the extreme end these compulsions can be grandiose, superhuman, and absurd (feeling you are indestructible; running around naked claiming you are Jesus; etc.), but the more disturbing psychedelic themes include graphic sexual ideation; violent ideation; excessive morbidity; and grotesque ideation. For instance, one friend told me about an LSD trip where he could not shake the idea of cutting his friend's fingers off. His friend had done nothing to offend him, and he had no idea why he felt that way, he just really felt the urge to cut her fingers off and couldn't stop thinking about it. The fact that he initially had the idea to cut off his friend's fingers really disturbed him, and once the thought entered his mind he could not shake it: it haunted him. Instead of laughing it off or forgetting it, he obsessed over the fact that he might be a psychopath, or that deep down he really wanted to hurt his friend, and that he couldn't trust his own thoughts or actions. This is a prime example of how psychedelics can turn a fleeting notion into an obsessive spiral that imprints strongly on memory, affecting you long after the trip itself is over.

I must say that I have never been driven to shave my head or mutilate myself or anything of that kind while under the influence of psychedelics, but I can say honestly that I have certainly thought about some crazy things. I realized very early on in my psychedelic experimentation that I should just expect random crazy thoughts and compulsions to pop into my head at any time, and that this is pretty much par for the course when working with these substances. This did not keep me from feeling compulsions while on psychedelics, but it did help me learn to question my actions before doing anything too stupid. For instance, while on psychedelics I have occasionally found myself doing strange things that I would not normally do, like hiking off of a marked trail and down into a steep ravine just because I wanted to get to the river down below, or climbing a sheer rock face freehand with no tools just to see if I could do it. But when I found myself halfway up the rock face staring down at the jagged rocks below, I realized there was no way I would ever attempt to climb the rock face sober because it was crazy. I wasn't even wearing the right shoes, I could have easily slipped and fallen. I knew that if I got to the top it would be one of the greatest experiences of my life, but I also realized that I was being stupid and was risking my life for no good reason, so I climbed down. It sounds silly in retrospect, but events like this one helped make it a rule for me early-on that I would never attempt death-defying feats while high on psychedelics, it just seemed like a good rule of thumb.

Avoiding potential death situations on psychedelics should be a no-brainer, but let's go back to the example of walking off a marked trail and heading down into a steep ravine just to get to the river. Is that technically death-defying, or is that just exploring the boundaries of known reality? There is a fine line here that is difficult to describe, but there is that point in any psychedelic trip where you know you are about to do something you wouldn't normally do, but you decide to do it anyway because you just feel like doing it. There is something magical in that moment, it feels good to try something different and new and unknown. The compulsion can be to jump up and down, sing out, scream, roll on the floor, kiss a friend, have sex, go out for a walk, blaze a new trail, climb a rock, jump off a bridge... While jumping off a bridge is a compulsion that should obviously be avoided, acting on "lesser" or "harmless" compulsions is a trickier topic. On one hand, the very reason people take psychedelics is to push boundaries, have new experiences, and explore the unknown, so when you find yourself on psychedelics exploring the unknown and having new experiences, then good for you, it worked! But if you go so far off the map that your behavior becomes irresponsible and dangerous, then what? You become the victim of psychedelic irrationality, are at the mercy of your compulsions, and could possibly even wind up a statistic. So where do you draw the line here?

I could put in a little mini sermon about the risks and rewards of psychedelics; the chance and consequence of compulsive behavior; the synchronicity and jazz of acting in the moment; but the bottom line is that you need to expect compulsive thoughts and be prepared to deal with them when you take psychedelics. It is very hard to keep a "level head" when high on psychedelics, but knowing your boundaries before you start your trip is a big part of being able to draw the line between playful exploration and stepping into the danger zone while you are high. And everyone's boundaries are different, so be honest with what you expect from your exploration. For instance, some people are sexually promiscuous on psychedelics, others refrain from casual sexual contact on psychedelics because they feel the risk is too great. Some people are comfortable going out in public or going to a show under the influence of psychedelics, others always stay isolated or among a small group of people because being high in a crowd of strangers is just completely out of the question. Everyone has a comfort level about being to act like a "normal person" while under the influence of psychedelics, and knowing your optimum dose range is a big part of establishing your personal comfort zone. Although I don't know of any dose-response studies which specifically cover impulsive ideation and compulsive behavior, I suspect that impulsive ideation starts at fairly low doses, but compulsive behavior starts at the higher ranges when the rational cortex is almost fully offline. Thus, the more you go over your known dose level and comfort zone, the more likely you are to do something impulsive that you may regret later.

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive aggressive behavior on psychedelics is very common, and can be viewed in a number of ways, both personal and intrapersonal. On the personal level, the act of warping reality and drugging yourself into dreamlike stupor is an inherently passive-aggressive act against the self, against society, and against the entire fabric of the universe itself. It would be wrong to classify all psychedelic use this way, but the escapist, passive-aggressive avoidance of real-life issues in favor of fantastical mind-blowing entheogenic quests is one of the more common traps of novice psychedelic use. The argument between psychedelics as tool of personal enlightenment vs. psychedelics as tool of social subversion can be made back and forth all day, but my point here is that psychedelics can be used to explore the self in positive ways as well as to escape reality in negative ways, and from my estimation psychedelic use in modern times is as often "negative" as it is "positive."

Butting getting beyond the question of whether drug use is passive-aggressive behavior in and of itself, the question of passive-aggressive behavior exhibited while under the influence of psychedelics should be explored in some detail. Passive-aggression can be defined in a number of ways: avoidance of certain people or situations; fear of confrontation or failure; a grudging unwillingness to do what you are "supposed" to do; using lies or misdirection to avoid doing certain things or talking about certain subjects; having constant unspoken feelings of marginalization and victimization; etc. Most passive-aggressive behavior is based on natural fears of conflict, imposed authority, and rejection. When the moody teenager refuses to take out the trash after his mother has asked him to do so multiple times, the teen is not only being lazy, the teen is passive-aggressively confronting the imposed authority structure of the nuclear family. When the overworked manager begins letting his job performance slip in order to make his boss look bad, it is not because of a lack of care or ability to do the job, it is because the overworked manager is angry at the imposed authority structure, is passive-aggressively avoiding the conflict of confronting his boss outright, and is passive-aggressively avoiding the potential rejection of being denied a raise or being reprimanded for poor performance. In other words, it is natural for passive-aggressive behavior to be exhibited in any kind of relationship where there is a tacit imposed power structure, which includes just about every human relationship that ever existed.

Passive-aggressive behavior is very common in group psychedelic trips, even in small groups among close friends, and this is for a variety of reasons. Even in underground psychedelic groups there is a tacit power structure which defines who the leaders are, who sets the agenda, who the newbies are, who distributes the drugs, etc. This is all very common and natural. However, when all these different energies come together in a group psychedelic session, everything becomes exaggerated and emotionally charged at the exact same time that people are beginning to feel socially awkward and are unable to verbally express what they feel. If you take the general sense of anxiety and paranoia caused by psychedelics and add a layer of group power dynamics and communication breakdown on top of that, it is no wonder that some people on psychedelics become extremely withdrawn and frustrated around other people. And when a person on psychedelics withdraws and is unable to adequately verbalize what they are feeling, they may begin to feel awkward and angry, and may begin to blame a person or persons within the group for their personal sense of unease. This is paranoid passive-aggressive ideation in a nutshell. Even in clinical settings or in cases where there is a "guide" or "baby sitter" present, passive-aggressive ideation can still be focused at the power structure implied by that dynamic.

The results of spontaneous feelings of passive-aggression on a psychedelic trip can vary wildly, but they usually end up in bummers, emotional outbursts, or messy interpersonal confrontations of some kind. As an example I will relate the story of a friend who started a huge fight with his girlfriend because she was dancing at a party. Why was he mad at her for dancing? Because he wasn't dancing. Conversely, while he was mad at her for dancing, she was mad at him for sulking in the corner. The fact that they were both coming up on LSD at the time did not help this misunderstanding, it exacerbated it. Each one thought the other was acting stupid, yet neither wanted to confront the other because they were trying to act cool. The silent feud lasted until the boyfriend stomped across the floor and began to drag his girlfriend away while they were both starting to peak. As you might imagine there was much yelling and arguing over the next half-hour or so, but once things calmed down they were back to normal, making up, and realizing how stupid they had been. They were literally never more than twenty feet apart the whole night, but somewhere along the line they had each decided that the other had abandoned them. How did that happen? They were both passive-aggressively angry at the other for trying to impose relationship authority over each other; one wanted to dance, the other did not want to dance. The avoidance of this conflict and fear of rejection made the situation even worse, and the LSD simply put it over the top.

This kind of misunderstanding between dating partners is surely not proprietary to psychedelics; the same misunderstanding could have happened without the LSD, maybe substituting alcohol consumption for LSD with a similar outcome. However, the danger with psychedelics is that they exacerbate the passive-aggressive cycle by internalizing the anxiety and warping it to cartoonish extremes. To hear my friend describe the evening, his girlfriend was literally humping every guy on the dance floor, but nothing of the kind happened. He let his anger turn his girlfriend's dancing into an explicit sexual betrayal in his own mind, complete with instantaneous Technicolor porn reels spinning through his brain as he wallowed in self pity. He saw photo-realistic animated cartoons of his girlfriend having sweaty, dance-throbbing sex with all the other men (and women) on the dance floor in an orgy of writhing human bodies, but this was all happening in his own mind, of course. This is what I mean when I say psychedelics can exaggerate even little things to cartoonish extremes: You literally get the extreme cartoon version of your thoughts delivered into your brain as you think it. This vivid expression of your worst-fears-come-true coupled with the inability to formulate an appropriate rational response to the situation will almost always lead to an obsessive spiral that makes the anxiety grow until the cycle is broken.

The key to overcoming runaway passive-aggressive ideation in the psychedelic state is first understanding that this is another inwardly-spiraling cyclical trap, and that the inability to rationally express your unease or confront your fear only makes it worse. In group situations, it often helps to get right past the language barrier and start communicating solely by sound and touch, using singing, rhythms, tonal gibberish, hugging, holding hands, massage, supportive touching, and other methods to make everyone within the group feel trusting and secure with each other. This is why psychedelic groups (or tribes) that trip together often get very "touchy-feely" with each other; when forming tight tribal bonds it is necessary to get beyond words to make sure everyone understands how everyone else "feels" so that no one "feels" left out. Some of you may read the term "touchy feely" as a euphemism for "sexually promiscuous," and I cannot deny that intimate touching often leads to sex, especially on psychedelics, but this is why you set boundaries before you trip with a group of people instead of trying to figure it out on the fly. The intensity of emotional sharing that takes place in group psychedelic sessions can quickly lead to a level of intimacy never achieved with other humans. This can be a good or a bad thing depending on the outcome of the particular trip and how you feel on the other side. Emotional outbursts or passive withdrawals are not always bad things either. If you are truly feeling victimized then an emotional outburst can be very cleansing and cathartic, but much like unexpected physical intimacy, emotional outbursts often change the parameters of existing relationships, so be careful of extremes in whichever direction you go. If you are unable to deal with the intensity of the experience, then passive-aggressively withdrawing from group intimacy or avoiding psychedelics altogether is a natural resistance to changing the status quo of your existing relationships.

As mentioned earlier, much of the passive aggressive and obsessive side-effects of psychedelics can be mitigated by dosing in concert with MDMA, also known as candyflipping. A simple hit of ecstasy will turn a group of tripping, passive-aggressive, inwardly-obsessive mopers into a gaggle of touchy-feely, giggling gropers in under an hour, so there is a definite case to be made here for the role of seratonin supply in mediating internalized obsessions and passive-aggressive avoidance behaviors. However, the MDMA will do little or nothing to stop compulsive ideation and impulsive behaviors, in fact the hedonic nature of MDMA could very well exacerbate compulsions directly linked to pleasure and reward, so be warned. Someone who is obsessive about their psychedelic use will know in advance the precise dose range of any given chemical or cocktail needed to achieve their desired state, and the idea of setting a "comfort zone" between proper dosage and appropriate behavior should be second-nature to anyone who experiments with psychedelics. Getting familiar with your feelings and knowing your comfort zone is essential to minimizing negative outcomes on psychedelics. This advice may seem obvious, but it really comes down to being smart enough to not take more substance than you are ready to handle. Disregarding this rule and taking heroic doses of unfamiliar substances can be seen as an act of aggression towards the self. If you disregard your own safety and do not care what happens to you, you are most likely going to do something foolish.

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Tags : PIT psychedelics passive agressive obsessive compulsive
Posted on: 2006-11-01 16:36:47