When most people think about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they think of someone as a “clean freak.” However, this is not what OCD is. OCD is a serious mental health disorder that causes real distress and harm to those that struggle with it.
People must understand that there is more to OCD than what is portrayed in the media. To help ourselves and others, we must first learn what OCD is.
A Brief Explanation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
OCD is a common and treatable mental health disorder that causes obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior.
Obsessive thoughts are thoughts that constantly repeat themselves. These thoughts can cause anxiety and distress in the person thinking of them. A person may also experience intrusive urges or mental images that are hard to remove or move on from.
Compulsive behaviors are the direct response to obsessive thoughts. These behaviors are repetitive and can bring temporary relief to the anxiety caused by obsessive thinking.
A person with OCD can have obsessive thoughts, compulsive behavior, or both. Symptoms of OCD can significantly impact a person’s life and prevent them from participating in work, school, or personal relationships. People with OCD cannot control their thoughts or behavior, even if they know they are not healthy or rational.
How Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Is Categorized
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is made up of several different types of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. A person may have just one type or more. In general, OCD can be broken down into these distinct categories.
People with contamination OCD struggle with intrusive thoughts that tell them that all diseases can be spread through contact. This may include diseases such as cancer, which cannot be spread through touch. They may also feel their environment, thoughts, and ordinary objects can somehow “contaminate” themselves or others.
They commonly struggle with feeling dirty and unclean and may develop phobias or avoidance of things they view as dirty. This can include things such as blood, dirt, and rotten food. Compulsions often take the form of excessive cleaning that can cause harm to themselves. An example is washing hands to the point of causing them to bleed. Misusing cleaning chemicals, such as bleach, is also common, to the point it becomes a health hazard.
#2. Intrusive Thoughts
Those with this type of OCD struggle with disturbing, distressing, or taboo thoughts. These thoughts tend to go against someone’s moral values. Often it involves the thought of harming others or themselves. Sometimes it can be sexual. Others may have thoughts they perceive as “sinful.”
Most people have intrusive thoughts, but someone with this type of OCD cannot easily let go of these intrusive thoughts to move on from them. They may feel like they are inherently bad because they have these intrusive thoughts and may isolate themselves to “protect” others. A person with this OCD may also feel the compulsion to perform a ritual or action to cope with these thoughts.
People with this form of OCD have an intense compulsive need to keep things in the “right place” or perfectly symmetrical. They are compelled to review their environment to ensure everything is correct constantly. This is not the same as having a high standard for order or neatness. These serious compulsions often cause those struggling with them to spend most of their time perfecting everything.
Of course, perfection does not exist, so it causes intense stress in the person attempting to achieve it. A person with this OCD may even have intrusive thoughts that if they don’t keep things organized and perfect, that harm will come to them and those they love.
#4. Doubt and Checking
Those with this type of OCD often doubt their memory or perception of reality. When someone might wonder if they locked the door and check once, someone with this OCD may check multiple times to be sure. The heart is the fear of harming themselves or others through their carelessness or inaction.
This may also cause someone to repeat an action multiple times until they get it just right. An example is someone turning a faucet on and off until they feel as if they turned it off correctly. Sometimes people repeat these checking behaviors for a significant portion of their day.
This is a type of OCD that causes someone to hoard through obsessive thought patterns or compulsive behavior. A person with this type of OCD may be afraid to throw away items because they believe it may cause them or others harm if they do so. For example, someone may keep decades-old documents for fear that they may be needed in the future. They may also be afraid to donate items for fear of contaminating others.
A person with hoarding OCD may become stressed and afraid when even thinking about throwing items away. This is not to be confused with other kinds of hoarding disorders. Those focus on the hoarding response to traumas, not obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
What to Do if You Experience Symptoms of OCD
If you or someone you love is experiencing any symptoms of OCD, it’s essential to reach out for help immediately. Call your local mental healthcare facility to make an appointment with a mental healthcare professional. If you are anxious about using the phone, don’t worry, as many care facilities utilize email and chat features for this reason.
Having obsessive-compulsive disorder can feel embarrassing or shameful to some. However, it’s important to remember that mental healthcare professionals are professionals. They will never judge or mock you for needing help with your OCD. Remember, recovery from OCD is possible with time, effort, and a good care team. That includes you and the people you love.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not just people who fear germs or like things to be neat and tidy. OCD is much more complicated than that and is often misunderstood by the media and the general public. As a result, those that struggle with the symptoms of OCD often do so without fully understanding what is happening to them. At Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we work hard not just to treat people with OCD but also to educate their loved ones as well. People with OCD deserve to have their experiences validated and treated with respect. If you or someone you love is struggling with symptoms of OCD, call (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.