One obvious answer to this question is there is something else going on in an individual's life, such as depression or life circumstances, that continues to cause pain. The other not-so-obvious answer is the focus of this article.
As most obsessive-compulsive suffers know, their symptoms can really take up a lot of their time. So much so that other parts of life get neglected. Take the person with contamination concerns for example; he is spending so much of his time avoiding things that are deemed contaminated and cleaning things that are or might be contaminated, that there is little time for much else. Or the person with illness anxiety spending so much time attending health care visits and searching the internet for information about illness. Or the person with harm-OCD or sexual-orientation OCD, constantly feeling like his identity is under threat. People with OCD will go to great lengths to prevent or get rid of anxiety, guilt, or disgust. It is not uncommon for someone with hit-and-run OCD (the fear of hitting someone while driving) to turn around and drive back to a destination (often times a long distance away) to check for possible harm caused, only to experience similar discomfort again because new harm may have been caused while on the way to check the first location under question. Or take the constant ruminator who is always in their head; spending little time thinking about much else aside from whatever it is they are concerned with. Or, to step outside of the OCD-box for a moment, take the person who has become so identified with their "condition" (physical, mental, or circumstantial) that it becomes his entire identity - everything revolving around being: sick, unemployed, single, depressed, broken, insecure, et cetera.
The point of the prior paragraph is that ruminating, avoiding, and doing compulsions can become extremely time consuming. For some it might be losing out on minutes of life each day and for others it could be hours, days, weeks, months, or years! This often comes at the cost of putting off what were once important areas of our lives such as: travel, hobbies, family, friends, romance, fitness, spirituality, religion, and so on. As we learn to accept and embrace uncertainty by confronting our fears, getting willingly uncomfortable, being mindful, and stopping compulsions, our obsessive-compulsive symptoms may seem to diminish. We may become less concerned with certain things and realize we're not spending so much time in our heads or doing compulsions. This essentially equates to having more time to invest in other areas of our lives.
Having symptoms of OCD and anxiety decrease does not necessarily mean we're going to be happy and fulfilled. Remember, we may have neglected other areas of our lives for so long that we've lost sight of what we want or what's important to us. We may now find ourselves in a position of having unfilled free time or a sense of purposelessness or meaninglessness that was once occupied by anxiety and OCD. That may not feel very good! It reminds me of when I took a sick day (when I really wasn't sick) and stayed home from work or school only to realize a couple hours in that I was bored out of my mind and should have just went to work or school! Or when I first got sober - The drugs and alcohol were removed, my physical health returned, but I realized I didn't have much of a life because my whole life had been consumed by drugs and alcohol. With this awareness of a lack or interest, purpose, and meaning came pain, but along with it also came opportunity...Opportunity to find interests, purpose, and meaning!
For many, just decreasing OC symptoms may only be half the battle. The second half is taking actions to live a full and rich life. This can be done by identifying our values, or what's important to us in life, and finding a way to act on those values. Setting goals that are driven by our values is another great way of finding fulfilment. We don't need to always be in pursuit of a value or goal in order to be fulfilled either, there is often lingering positive effects that last even when we're just lounging around doing nothing. If you're unsure what's important to you, one of your goals is finding out.
The beauty in all of this is that we don't need to wait for anxiety or any other negative feeling to decrease before we can take action on our values and goals; we can take action despite how we're feeling. This doesn't mean that we will instantly feel better, or even that we'll enjoy what we're doing, but what it does mean is that we are learning how to break free of the strings from the puppet-master, that is emotion and thought.
Have you neglected any important areas of your life because of fear, anxiety, guilt, sadness or any other affliction? If so, what are they? Can you identity why these areas of life are important to you? Can you take one small action toward enriching this area of your life right after reading this sentence? What will that action be?