Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is considered to be an anxiety disorder. In order to fully understand obsessive-compulsive disorder, let’s look at the two terms separately. Obsessive behavior constitutes irrational thoughts, where the person cannot stop themselves for obsessing over a particular thought or idea. They may constantly think that they need to wash their hands, check to see if an appliance is off, or rearranging books. Furthermore, the person may be fully aware that such thoughts are irrational, but cannot help but be compelled to act on their impulses. This is where compulsive behavior comes in. The individual systematically goes through ritualistic motions, such as counting, washing, touching certain items, or rearranging. By acting on their obsessive thoughts, the individual experiences temporary relief from the obsessive thoughts (Mental Alliance on Mental Illness, 2003).
While it may be tempting, and even easy to find OCD amusing, that is far from the truth. Certain people we know or characters from television, such as Adrian Monk, may come to mind when we hear the term OCD. If you are not familiar with Monk, it is a television comedy aired on USA Network that follows Adrian Monk, a sufferer of OCD, while he solves mysterious crimes. It is quite a comical show and one that I personally enjoy. However, it is a glorified rendition of OCD.
A person suffering from this condition does not enjoy or benefit from it. It alienates them from the outside world, including family and friends. It is normal to have some things in life that we like a particular way, but for a person with OCD, it goes far beyond the realm of normal.
The following list was comprised by Smith, Jaffe-Gill, and Segal (2010):
Common obsessive thoughts in OCD include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others
- Fear of causing harm to yourself or others
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images
- Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
- Fear of losing or not having things you might need
- Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right.”
- Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky
Common compulsive behaviors in OCD include:
- Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches.
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe.
- Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety.
- Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning.
- Ordering, evening out, or arranging things “just so.”
- Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear.
- Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers, magazines, and empty food containers, or other things you don’t have a use for.
As with most psychological disorders, OCD can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and even self-help. Medication can alleviate some of the anxiety a person experiences and therefore, help the individual to move beyond the obsessive thought cycle, but it is temporary. In order to fully benefit from treatment, a person needs to seek help from a professional. A trained professional can help the individual with OCD to overcome the very thing he or she fears. A part of this therapy involves teaching the patient how to respond o obsessive thoughts, thus having the patient take an active part in their own recovery.
Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, author Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, has been a tremendous source of hope for those suffering from OCD. In his book, Schwartz lists four principles that are essential for a person to grasp in order to take control of OCD. These are:
Step 1: Relabel-recognize obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges
Step 2: Reattribute-reattribute the intensity of the thought or urge to its real cause, to recognize that the feeling and the discomfort are due to a biochemical imbalance in the brain
Step 3: Refocus-shift attention to something else
Step 4: Revalue-refuse to take the thoughts and urges at face value
(For further information, visit the Westwood’s Institute for Anxiety Disorders at http://www.hope4ocd.com/foursteps.php)
I often write about the importance of seeking help if you or someone you know is suffering from a medical or psychological condition, so I will not break tradition here. However, I want to emphasize that for those who are suffering from OCD, please seek treatment. OCD is a thief; it steals your security, freedom, joy, peace of mind. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family.
Smith, M, Jaffe-Gill, E., & Segal, J. (2010). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Symptoms and treatment of compulsive behavior and obsessive thoughts. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://helpguide.org/mental/obsessive_compulsive_disorder_ocd.htm
Westwood’s Institute for Anxiety Disorders (2010). Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’ Four Steps. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from http://www.hope4ocd.com/foursteps.php