Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive obsessive thoughts that result in compulsive ritualistic behaviors and routines. While it’s possible to have only obsessive symptoms, or only compulsive symptoms, they usually occur in conjunction. People suffering from OCD experience uncontrollable, distressing thoughts or fears about certain things (such as dirt, germs, or order) which then lead to compulsive behaviors performed as an attempt to alleviate worry or anxiety. Just being a “neat freak” or afraid of germs doesn’t necessarily constitute OCD – OCD is diagnosed by obsessions and compulsions which significantly interfere with daily life.
Symptoms of OCD can be divided into obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are described as being “ego dystonic”, which means that even though the person who experiences them recognizes them as their own thoughts, they feel the obsessions are outside of their control.
Obsessions that are symptomatic of OCD include:
- Severe anxiety and obsessive thoughts regarding contamination and germs
- Worrying about having done something bad by accident (e.g., accidentally running someone over with a car)
- Worrying about having forgotten something important (e.g., forgetting to lock a door)
- Needing to have things in a particular order (e.g., having things arranged symmetrically)
- Fear of social embarrassment that triggers compulsions
- Repeated thoughts or images
- Inability to control intrusive thoughts
- In diagnosed OCD, sufferers will usually spend at least an hour a day dealing with intrusive thoughts or compulsions.
- Compulsions are repetitive physical or mental actions that a person engages in to reduce anxiety. Often, the compulsion is designed to counteract or undo an obsession.