When someone is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, they often have repetitive and unwanted thoughts—called obsessions—of a disturbing nature. These obsessions are often unrealistic or irrational and are recognizable as such to the individual, but still trigger intense feelings of anxiety or distress. Obsessions are often, but not always, accompanied by strong, uncomfortable urges to perform certain behaviors, called compulsions. These behaviors can temporarily relieve the distressing feelings but over time, can begin to take over the person’s day, as some of these compulsions are repetitive and involve elaborate rituals that can take a long time and cut into their ability to tend to their responsibilities or engage socially.
At the heart of these obsessions and compulsions is doubt. “Doubt is a hallmark of OCD and it overrides any sense of logic or intelligence an individual might have,” says Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist based in Greenwich, Connecticut. “The cause for this doubt comes from the fact that OCD makes you obsess over certain thoughts—in this case doubting if you did something or not, and therefore, in order to get safety, security and certainty, you will obsessively repeat the action.”
Symptoms of OCD
The chief symptom associated with OCD is a person experiencing obsessions and/or compulsions. People with OCD find it difficult to manage their obsessive thinking which can wreak havoc on their ability to manage other tasks effectively. Those who experience the compulsion symptoms will have great difficulty resisting the urge to perform these compulsions. These symptoms can ultimately impact their work, education or relationships with others.
Below, we’ve listed some of the more common obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
Common obsessions in OCD:
- Fear of dirt
- Fear of germs
- Fear of harm (such as what might happen if the stove is left turned on or door left unlocked)
- Placing items in an exact order, facing the same way or matching in some other fashion
- Excessive need for orderliness
- Anxiety over unwelcome thoughts including anger or sexual or religious content
- Anxiety over unwelcome thoughts relating to harming oneself or others
- Anxiety over unwelcome thoughts relating to inappropriate behavior
Common compulsions in OCD:
- Ritualized and extensive cleaning
- Repetitive acts (like checking stoves or locked doors)
- Ordering and arranging
- Repeating mantras or phrases
- Mental rituals
- Repeating words, phrases or prayers
“OCD symptoms can be similar to those of other mental illnesses, like obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, autism spectrum disorders or schizophrenia,” says Dr. Schiff. Each person suffering from OCD may have a unique mix of symptoms that stems from personal experience, stressful events and even trauma.
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