What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is 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. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviours an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress. If you have OCD, you probably recognise that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours are irrational—but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the hob 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw.
It’s normal, on occasion, to go back and double-check that the iron is unplugged or your car is locked. But if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours become so consuming they interfere with your daily life. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to shake them. This part is extremely important to keep in mind as it, in part, determines whether someone has OCD — a psychological disorder — rather than an obsessive personality trait.
Understanding OCD obsessions and compulsions
Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in your mind. You don’t want to have these ideas, but you can’t stop them. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are often disturbing and distracting.
Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that you feel driven to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away.
For example, if you’re afraid of contamination, you might develop elaborate cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessive thoughts usually come back stronger. And the compulsive rituals and behaviours often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming. This is the vicious cycle of OCD.
Most people with OCD fall into one of the following categories:
Washers are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.
Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked, etc.) that they associate with harm or danger.
Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen, or they will be punished.
Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colours, or arrangements.
Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.
The link between hoarding and OCD
The compulsive behaviour of hoarding—collecting and keeping things with little or no use or value—is a common symptom of people with OCD. However, people with hoarding symptoms are more likely to also be suffering from other disorders, such as depression, PTSD, compulsive buying, kleptomania, ADHD, skin picking, or tic disorders.
Signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Just because you have obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviours does NOT mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. With OCD, these thoughts and behaviours cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships.
Unfortunately, “obsessing” or “being obsessed” are commonly used terms in every day language. These more casual uses of the word means that someone is preoccupied with a topic or an idea or even a person. “Obsessed” in this everyday sense doesn’t involve problems in day-to-day living and even has a pleasurable component to it. You can be “obsessed” with a new song you hear on the radio, but you can still meet your friend for dinner, get ready for bed in a timely way, get to work on time in the morning, etc., despite this obsession. In fact, individuals with OCD have a hard time hearing this usage of “obsession” as it feels as though it diminishes their struggle with OCD symptoms.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.
Common obsessive thoughts in OCD can include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others
- Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images
- Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
- Fear of losing or not having things you might need
- Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right”
- Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky
Common compulsive behaviours in OCD can include:
- Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe
- Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety
- Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning
- Ordering or arranging things “just so”
- Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear
- Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers
How is OCD diagnosed?
Only trained therapists can diagnose OCD. Therapists will look for three things:
- The person has obsessions.
- He or she does compulsive behaviours.
- The obsessions and compulsions take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values, such as working, going to school, or spending time with friends.
And fortunately, help is available. With the help of a professional therapist, treatment and self-help strategies, you can break free of the unwanted thoughts and irrational urges and take back control of your life.
If you are concerned about your own behaviour, you can book a FREE consultation with Medcare’s Psychologist and begin the journey to a more enjoyable life.
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