Please stop using OCD to describe your obsessive personality traits

Please stop using OCD to describe your obsessive personality traits
(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler)

If you spend time on social media, you’ll be no stranger to spotting people tweeting about having ‘OCD’, using the term to describe habits that are in no way related to an actual OCD diagnosis. 

I’m not saying everyone who uses the term doesn’t know what it means – or that they haven’t been diagnosed with it.

But a large proportion of the people using the term are using it incorrectly – and are getting it mixed up with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

I’ll see people calling themselves ‘OCD’ when they talk about liking the items in their cupboard lined up in a certain way. Perhaps they like their wardrobes colour-coordinated or their makeup in dedicated drawers.

But this isn’t OCD. This is a form of OCPD.

OCPD is totally different to obsessive compulsive disorder, and it’s important people know this. Not only so that they stop talking about a serious mental illness incorrectly, but to prevent misconceptions around OCD, and ultimately to help actual sufferers of the illness highlight how debilitating it can be.

OCPD is a personality disorder characterised by a general pattern of concern with orderliness, perfectionism, excessive attention to detail and interpersonal control.

(Illustration: Monika Muffin for

OCD, however, is an anxiety disorder that’s characterised by recurrent obsessions and compulsions.

Sure, at first they may sound pretty similar – but they’re not.

Characteristics of OPCD consist of people who have an excessive need for perfectionism and order. This involves attention to detail, ordering their lives with rules and lists, and hoarding items despite them no longer having value.

This is the disorder – if diagnosed – that you should be using to describe your need for order. Not OCD.

Why? Because OCD isn’t about order.

To break it down, let’s look at OCD as it is: Obsessive. Compulsive. Disorder. This means it’s a disorder that is made up of both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions of OCD cause extreme distress.

They’re intrusive thoughts, horrible images or unwanted ideas that won’t go away. They’re thoughts that feel impossible to control, taking over your mind with the feeling of no escape.

They’re not simple worries about everyday problems. They’re obsessions so intense you’ll try every route to get rid of them – which is where the compulsions come in.

(Picture: Ella Byworth for

Compulsions within OCD are generally used to get rid of the intrusive thoughts and images. They’re ritual behaviours that you’ll carry out over and over.

For example, someone may walk around the house fifteen times over the space of two hours to check all the doors are locked, because they have horrible thoughts of someone breaking in and hurting them.

Or washing your hands over and over until they’re raw, because you’re terrified you’re going to risk contamination and infection – even if you’ve not touched something dirty beforehand.

OCD compulsions are rituals that a sufferer can end up carrying out so often that it becomes debilitating and their everyday life is affected. Compulsions aren’t just an act of suppressing an obsession – they’re an urge that can leave you feeling uncomfortable and incredibly on edge if they’re not carried out multiple times.

I have been diagnosed with OCD, and over the years I’ve experienced many intrusive thoughts and images, and have carried out compulsions in an attempt to control them.

I once went through a phase of spending three hours a night walking around my flat with my partner to convince myself all of the lights were off, the plugs were unplugged and the doors were locked because I was terrified bad things were going to happen while I slept. It didn’t matter how many times I checked these things, I had this horrible urge in my body that meant if I didn’t carry out the checks until I felt somewhat satisfied I’d toss and turn with worry.

(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler for

I would, and still do, wash my hands over and over until the skin peels because I convince myself that if I don’t I’m going to develop infection.

I’ve had awful thoughts. Some I feel too embarrassed to even write about because they feel so messed up. Death, mutilation, assault, and deeply disturbing images that have left me shaken and upset, unable to get them out of my head.

Which is why I find it so deeply insulting when people so easily use the term ‘OCD’ without even realising the serious extent of the disorder.

OCD is distressing. OCPD is not the same. While both disorders may involve attention to detail, with OCD this is done to reduce overwhelming anxiety caused by the intrusive thoughts. With OCPD, it’s done to improve efficiency.

If you’re living with the latter, please take the time to research your struggles before so easily labelling them as a debilitating mental illness.

While it’s annoying, I don’t blame the people saying they have OCD when they don’t. It’s not their fault. It’s the fault of everyone who over the time has created the illusion that OCD is simply an obsessive personality disorder.

We see it in films, in TV, in the media and in books where people label themselves with OCD at the slightest obsession.

(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler)

This is worsened by the people who pick up on this label, and go on to use it in every day use – especially on social media.

Some people may say I’m overreacting, that it’s just a term.

But OCD is a mental illness. It’s an illness. While it may be an invisible one, it doesn’t make it any less serious.

You wouldn’t say you had pneumonia if you had a cold, and you wouldn’t say you’ve broken your leg if you’ve got a bruise. So why is it okay to use a mental illness to describe your personality traits?

Using a mental illness to describe your traits without an actual diagnosis is wrong. It’s damaging to the people who live with it and the people who still don’t understand it.

As a sufferer, I know firsthand what it’s like to say I live with OCD only for someone to say: ‘Yeah, it sucks. I can’t stop organising my drawers.’

It’s infuriating and it takes the seriousness away from the illness, and goes on to further the misunderstanding around the illness.

It’s so easy to simply stop using the term and to start describing your traits correctly – so why aren’t we doing it? Because it’s easier to use a mental illness? Because people might take you more seriously?

(Picture: Ella Byworth for

It’s having the opposite effect. The more people who are using the mental illness as a descriptive term, the less seriously the illness is being taken.

And the less seriously it’s being taken, the less likely sufferers are to want to seek help for it.

Please, people, stop using mental health terms to describe your habits. Or at least do a little research into the term before publishing it to the world.

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