The National Institute of Mental Health (2016) defines Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as,
“A common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”
Based on this definition we can break down OCD into two parts:
Society has a common misconception with obsessive compulsive disorder mainly due to its definition being misunderstood. A common myth is, “We are all a little bit OCD at times” and often it is stated, “I am SO OCD about ________.” The term and diagnosis OCD has lost it’s meaning in our society and it is important to remember that this is a serious struggle for those who have been properly diagnosed with the disorder. In the United States alone about 3.3 million people, or 2.3% of the population between the agers of 18-54 suffers from OCD (Some OCD Facts & Figures, 2003). If we throw around the term and minimize its meaning, we lose touch of how severe the symptoms can really be.
There is a difference between having OCD and just wanting things done a certain way. For example, if you like your bathroom tidy and orderly for the sake of keeping it clean and organized, that is just a character trait you possess. However, a person with OCD will want to keep their bathroom tidy and organized because they may have obsessive thoughts about germs, and if they do not kill the germs they will get sick, and if they get sick they may end up in the hospital and die. With this obsessive, distorted thinking, this person will have the mindset that to not die, they need to clean every spot in the bathroom, and everything must stay in it’s proper place. If these things are not done it will cause such severe anxiety that the person can have panic attacks, paranoia, or a mental breakdown. The obsessions lead to the compulsion, and if that compulsion is not completed it is an extremely uncomfortable feeling for those suffering from OCD.
When people are completing their compulsive behaviors it is not a feeling of pleasure, but rather a feeling of relief from the anxiety that their thoughts provoked. The International OCD Foundation (2016) lists common obsessions and compulsions which include:
(This small list just includes the more commonly reported obsessions and compulsions reported from people who struggle with OCD and is not a complete list)
A person that just wants to have things a certain way (see cleaning example above) have control over their behaviors. They may see something out of place and it will bother them, so they will go fix it. An individual with OCD will see the same problem, but severe anxiety will manifest as a result of that item being out of place and they will have obsessive, intrusive thoughts until the cleaning action is completed. It also does not stop there. The action will be completed but that person may still have obsessive thoughts about that event so their anxiety may remain.
To properly diagnose obsessive compulsive disorder an individual can go to a psychotherapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist and get assessed and evaluated. If you meet the criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder recommendations may include individual psychotherapy, group therapy, and/or medication. Medications that are prescribed are commonly antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications that are found to reduce the symptoms of OCD.
By attending psychotherapy an individual can learn what their obsessions are that lead to the compulsions, or behaviors, and learn to identify the triggers to these thoughts. They will work with their therapist as a team to help them understand the disorder and how to tackle their symptoms. This may be done with talk therapy, exposure therapy (being exposed to what triggers them), and with specific types of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy and mindfulness.
Be mindful in the future of using the term “OCD” to describe your personality traits if you do not suffer from this frustrating disorder. If you have any questions about obsessive compulsive disorder or feel that you need to be evaluated, please contact our office and we will be glad to set up a consultation.
About OCD. (2016). Retrieved July 20, 2016, from https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (2016, January). Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml
Some OCD Facts & Figures. (2003). Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://understanding_ocd.tripod.com/ocd_facts_statistics.html