National Anxiety Foundation

 

What is OCD?

WHAT IS IT? 
Anxiety about thoughts or rituals over which you feel you have little control is typical of OCD.  OCD can take so many different forms.  Let's try to make sense of it. 
     
Obsessions are thoughts, often intrusive and upsetting. 

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Obsessions are to be distinguished from ruminations or worries about routine life issues such as finances, children or job security. Some examples of obsessions in OCD may be thoughts or mental images of an upsetting nature like violence, vulgarities, harm to self or harm to others. Obsessions may be of special numbers, colors, or single words or phrases . . . sometimes even melodies. 
Here are some examples.
Obsessions with: 
GERMS 
DIRT 
DOUBT 
ORDER 
SYMMETRY 
REPUGNANT SEXUAL THOUGHTS 
REPUGNANT RELIGIOUS THOUGHTS 
REPUGNANT IMAGES 
HORRIFIC IMAGES 
VIOLENT IMAGES 
FEAR OF FORGETTING 
FEAR THAT A MISTAKE WILL HARM A LOVED ONE 


Compulsions are behaviors. 
     A compulsion is a repetitive behavior in response to an urge. It is difficult to stop this behavior. Obsessions provoke compulsions. Examples include washing the hands too many times, showering too frequently or washing things about the home like clothes or floors or even groceries. 
     How much is too much? Many experts agree that engaging in more than an hour a day raises suspicions of OCD. Compulsions are often performed repetitively and in some stereotyped or ritualistic fashion. You may be bothered by urges to perform rituals like repeatedly turning off and on a light switch until it 'feels right'. 


Here are some more examples
Compulsions to repeatedly: 
WASH HANDS 
SHOWER 
CHECK LOCKS 
CHECK STOVES 
TOUCH THINGS 
COUNT ITEMS 
ORDER THINGS 
CLEAN THINGS 
PERFORM SILLY RITUALS UNTIL IT 'FEELS' RIGHT. 


The list of all possible obsessions and compulsions is long and varied.  Fortunately OCD seems to bother each person with OCD in only a few particular ways.  We do not know why OCD bothers each person in a different way.  It does seem that it is almost as if OCD 'knows' what would bother you the most and hones in on that.  For example, if you are a particularly religious person you might be plagued by repugnant religious OCD thoughts that are a lot more upsetting to you than they would be to a person with below average concern about religion. 
     Often the obsession comes first and the compulsion seems to be a response to the obsession. For example, a person may have an obsessive fear of ingesting or absorbing illegal drugs from indirect contact with people they suspect to be taking illegal drugs. Such a person may obsessively fear losing his mind from using a restaurant's public rest room after seeing someone they suspect may be a drug addict using the facility. After leaving the restaurant, he may have to throw away his shoes and floor mats in his car that may have been 'contaminated'. He may have to scrub his hands in bleach exactly ten times perfectly. Other articles of clothing may have to be washed repeatedly or thrown away. He may be afraid to take medicine that has been touched by a pharmacist who he thinks might be using marijuana after hours, fearing that some of the residue might have contaminated their medicine. 
     There is no pleasure in carrying out these rituals. There is only temporary relief from the anxiety caused by the obsession.