Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Did I put my keys in my bag? Did I remember to turn off the oven? Is my wallet in my pocket? We’ve all experienced thoughts like this and felt the need to perform ‘checking actions’ to put our minds at rest. However, these thoughts and compulsions can become all-consuming and turn into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
OCD affects everyone slightly differently, but there are a few common factors. Usually, people suffering from OCD will experience obsessions, either repeated thoughts, images or urges, which are usually distressing and pop into their heads against their will. This obsession could be anything from ‘I’m going to be contaminated by germs’ to ‘my house is going to get burgled’. As a result of this, people with OCD will then perform a compulsive behaviour in order to reassure themselves. For example, they may repeatedly wash their hands to feel decontaminated, or they may relock all of their windows and doors. Most people with OCD are aware that their thoughts are unfounded and that their responses are over the top, but they don’t feel able to control them. Here are some other common symptoms of OCD:
- Feelings: Anxious, agitated, restless, uptight, tense, disgusted.
- Thoughts: Obsessive thoughts or images that are impossible to ignore or get rid of.
- Behaviours: Compulsive actions that have to be carried out, ritualistic behaviours, avoiding certain situations or triggers, looking for reassurance from others.
What are common obsessions and compulsions?
The obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours will vary between those suffering from OCD. However, there are some common themes. Some people become obsessed about germs or contamination. This can result in obsessive cleaning habits and the avoidance of touching certain things or going to places that may be dirty. Others obsess over situations that may happen as a result of forgetfulness or carelessness, for example getting burgled, setting fire to the house or crashing the car. This could result in avoiding certain situations or responsibilities, repeatedly checking windows or appliances or seeking lots of reassurance. Some may suffer from unwanted images or thoughts that involve sex or violence that are disgusting or worrying. This may result in obsessively confessing thoughts, avoiding being around certain individuals or avoiding being alone. Another common obsession revolves around order and tidiness. This could result in obsessive tidying and re-organising, lining up objects symmetrically or avoiding situations that would bring about these thoughts. Other OCD sufferers experience incessant thoughts that they may harm, or have already harmed, other people. This results in them avoiding certain situations or hiding certain objects such as knives or scissors, obsessively going over thoughts in order to reassure themselves that it isn’t true or repeatedly thinking other thoughts that put the fears to rest.
The obsessive thoughts experienced by people with OCD will generally make people feel very anxious, upset, depressed or guilty. Meanwhile, the compulsive behaviours will leave people feeling relieved or relaxed and will therefore be repeated again in the future. People who obsess over bad things happening to them or those around them may begin to feel that if they don’t regularly perform these actions, then the worst will happen. Thus it becomes a vicious circle. Meanwhile, those suffering from unpleasant or distressing thoughts may find that their relief is short lived and they’ll often feel guilty or annoyed at themselves for having the thoughts in the first place. However, the more upset they get the more difficult it is to get the thoughts out of their head. And so the cycle continues!
Understanding how OCD works and how it affects us is the first step in learning how to tackle it and break the vicious circle.