Defining Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Most people have fears and concerns at some point in their lives that can translate into obsessive thoughts or compulsive behavior. However, individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can’t get their worries out of their heads no matter how hard they try. And, they will try very hard while exhibiting unusual and repetitive behaviors. Naturally this consumes a lot of their time and energy while interfering with everyday activities.

The International OCD Foundation describes OCD as a mental health disorder that “affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions.” In the vicious cycle of OCD, the obsessive thought or image generates anxiety, which in turn produces the compulsive behavior that provides temporary relief.

Obsessions are defined as “thoughts, images or impulses that occur over and over again and feel outside of the person’s control.” Of course, these uncontrollable thoughts or images can be very scary while creating feelings of disgust or uncertainty.

Compulsions are rituals or behaviors that are performed in an attempt to make the negative thoughts or images go away, and hopefully lower their level of anxiety.

Some of the obsessions an individual may have are:

  • Afraid of contamination or germs
  • Worried about getting hurt or sick
  • Fear of harming themselves or someone else
  • Anxious about losing things or forgetting something important
  • Need for symmetry and order
  • Superstitious about colors or numbers
  • Engrossed with bodily wastes or fluids
  • Perverse sexual thoughts or impulses
  • Obsessed with religion or morality
  • Concerned about discarding things

Certain compulsions that may be exhibited are:

  • Grooming rituals such as washing hands or brushing teeth a certain way
  • Cleaning rituals such as excessively showering or washing dishes
  • Repeating routine activities such as doing a certain task three times
  • Checking rituals such as making sure a door is locked over and over again
  • Collecting or hoarding items of little or no value
  • Arranging and rearranging things in order

There are a number of things that someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder can do that include making lifestyle changes, practicing relaxation techniques, and learning how to recognize and resist compulsive rituals. We will discuss these in more detail in “Managing Obsessive Compulsive Disorders.”

It’s also important to work with a mental health professional who uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Sometimes, medication is also needed to reduce anxiety and handle depression. Just remember that changes will occur gradually by taking one step at a time, one day at a time.