Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition that affects millions of Americans, but is commonly misunderstood in our society. Many of us have said or heard others say “I’m so OCD” to describe being orderly or perfectionistic. However, while someone may have a form of OCD related to being orderly or perfectionistic, OCD tends to be focused on a limited number of specific worries and actions that may have nothing to do with orderliness. To understand this better, let’s look at what are obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are thoughts, mental images, or urges that occur repeatedly, involuntarily, and cause someone to feel distress. A thought may be something such as, “Did I leave the stove on?” With OCD, obsessions happen so often and with such intensity that they usually result in the person trying to repeatedly do something to help calm themselves. The actions that people take to reduce the distress caused by obsessions are called compulsions. That is, compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person does to help them momentarily feel better about their obsession. So the person that has the thought “Did I leave the stove on?” may then engage in a compulsion of checking to make sure the stove is off, possibly needing to check it multiple times before feeling better. In OCD, this pattern of obsession and compulsion happens so frequently that it hinders a person’s ability to live a productive, enjoyable life. People may spend over an hour a day engaging in such patterns, all in an attempt to feel more at peace.
OCD is a treatable condition. The gold standard of treatment for OCD is Exposure and Response Therapy, a treatment that our therapist here are well-trained in and can use to help reduce your symptoms. See our page on Exposure and Response Therapy to learn more.
Common pairs of obsessions and compulsions:
- Obsession: Worry about harmful germs
- Compulsion: Wash hands, sometimes to the point of damaging skin
- Obsession: Worry that the front door is unlocked
- Compulsion: Check the door lock so many times that a person is very late for work
- Obsession: Worry that they might accidentally hurt someone
- Compulsion: Repeatedly ask others for confirmation that they did not hurt them
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