You’ve heard someone say it. Maybe you’ve said it. “I’m so OCD.” But, what is OCD really? Is that desire to organize and straighten things a sign that you have OCD? Maybe you struggle with intrusive thoughts, and you wonder if that means you have OCD. Well, I am a Psychologist who assesses and treats OCD, and I’m going to share a few things to help clarify what OCD is.
First of all, OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. So, what are obsessions? These are disturbing and intrusive thoughts that enter your mind over which you seem to have no control. They can be horrifying like thoughts of harming another person, or they can be fears for your own well-being. Some of those fears might be worried about getting sick or dying.
Also, they can be thoughts about your partner that don’t make sense like, “I’m not sure if I’m in love with him/her,” when you can clearly tell others that you are finally in a great relationship. These thoughts can be contrary to your values, things you personally would never ever do. They can be doubt thoughts that you can factually say arent’ true, but somehow the thoughts keep entering your mind, again and again. “Why am I thinking this,” people often ask. The repetition of the thoughts causes so much anxiety, that the person develops behaviors that allow them to escape the anxiety.
Compulsions are rituals that develop to allow a person to escape the intrusive and disturbing thoughts that just won’t stop. It can be a repeated behavior like flushing a toilet, or turning off a light, in response to an obsession about a loved one being in danger.
It could be handwashing, bathing, or cleaning rituals in response to fears about health issues. It might be a mental ritual like thinking a word or phrase in your head that somehow makes you feel better. That is basically what a compulsion boils down to. It’s a behavior or a mental process/thought that a person invokes to decrease the anxiety caused by the obsessive thought.
It may only work for a few seconds, or it might work for hours or days. The ritual does not have to have a logical connection to the obsession. Even when it does, as when a person does cleaning in response to a health fear obsession, it is often way beyond what most people would do to protect their health and might actually be damaging to their health in some way. The problem is that the relief that the ritual provides doesn’t work forever. The obsessive thought comes back bringing the anxiety with it. The anxiety builds and builds, and the person suffering from OCD’s life becomes smaller and smaller.
In order to prevent obsessions in the first place, a person might start avoiding things that trigger the obsessions. If the obsession, for example, is about harming a loved one, they may avoid spending time with that person for fear they might act on the obsessive thoughts. A person who has OCD tends to have multiple obsessions. For this reason, as they avoid situations, people, places, activities that trigger the obsessions, their lives get smaller because there are fewer and fewer things they can do that won’t trigger an obsessive thought.
Do You Have OCD?
All I am really doing here is providing a very light overview of what this disorder does to a person. These people suffer a great deal, and truly need help from a professional trained in OCD to get better. If you suspect you have OCD, please find such a person and get an evaluation. Just like googling your stomach pain on the internet can yield a lot of inaccurate diagnoses by us non-physician types, you can misdiagnose yourself with a mental health condition also.
To really know for sure and get the help that will actually work, use those googling skills to find a therapist who is trained in diagnosing and treating OCD using “evidence-based” therapies. Evidence-based means that research has proven that the specific type of therapy, such as exposure and response prevention therapy, actually does bring about results. People get better. I know that it takes some courage to take that step, but the people who do end up telling us that it was so worth it to finally feel like the OCD isn’t bossing them around anymore.
Lillian Hood is a therapist offering Online Therapy services to adults throughout the state of North Carolina. Her office is located in Wilmington, NC. She offers PTSD therapy, anxiety therapy, binge eating therapy, OCD therapy, and phobia therapy. Text 910.742.0433 to schedule a free phone consultation, or visit our Contact Us.