Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the urge to wash clean hands | obsessive compulsive anxiety

Typically a person’s OCD will fall into one of the four main categories:


1) Checking: This could be because of a fear of causing a fire at home or a fear of the car being stolen, for instance. There will be constant checking whether doors are locked or the stove knob is turned off. There will be constant reading of words in a book in the fear of missing something in the book. The checking will be done many, many times.


2) Contamination/Mental Contamination: The compulsion here is to be clean and that a door knob or a water tap could be contaminated. There will be a fear of using public phones, or public toilets and even shaking hands, or being in a crowd due to the fear of getting germs from other people. There will be constant cleaning of the bathroom or kitchen or brushing teeth many times and washing hands or showering again and again. The feelings of ‘Mental Contamination’ arise when the person thinks he or she is badly treated and made to feel like dirt, and that again evokes the compulsion to be clean and wash repeteadly.


3) Hoarding: The person will buy and save things over long periods of time, even when the stuff becomes useless, and finds it difficult to get rid of these items. The person genuinely feels that the item will be needed later. Sometimes, the items are not thrown away due to a fear of harming others, as it could contaminate them. The hoarding happens also because of an emotional attachment to certain things, where you cannot let go.


4) Ruminations/Intrusive Thoughts: The person will dwell on religious or philosophical questions such as what happens after death. He or she will think these questions through for a long period of time. The intrusive part is when the person thinks of causing others harm, but they go to extreme lengths not to let that happen.


(While there are four main categories of OCD, there are numerous forms of the disorder within each category).




OCD is diagnosed when the obsessions and compulsions:

1) Consume excessive amounts of time (approximately an hour or more).

2) Cause significant distress and anguish to the individual.

3) Interfere with daily functioning at home, school or work, including social activities and family life and relationships.

(Clare Smart)



Common Compulsions in OCD


• Washing hands excessively.

• Excessive showering, bathing, or toilet routines.

• Cleaning household items or other objects excessively.

• Checking that you did not or will not harm others.

• Checking that you did not or will not harm yourself.

• Checking that you did not make a mistake.

• Rereading or rewriting.

• Repeating routine activities.

• Repeating body movements (such as tapping, touching, blinking).

• Praying to prevent harm (to oneself, others, to prevent terrible consequences).

• Counting while performing a task to end on a “good”, “right”, or “safe” number

• “Cancelling” or “Undoing” (example: replacing a “bad” word with a “good” word to cancel it out).

(Courtesy: International OCD Foundation)