Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted often unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive behaviors.
We all have habits that we repeat or thoughts that come up regularly. For people with OCD, these thoughts or actions interfere with their lives in a bad way and even though that’s true… they can’t control it. These uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions), and the urge to do things repeatedly (compulsions) take up a lot of time.
Examples of OCD Behaviors
- A need to trace over each of the tiles on a tiled surface.
- Repeating words, phrases, or sentences under their breath; this acts as anxiety relief, or there may be a belief that something bad will happen if the repetitions aren’t completed.
- May spend a lot of time washing hands, showering, or cleaning surroundings to relieve the fear of contamination by something such as dirt, chemicals or germs.
- Repeatedly checking things like making sure the door is locked several times or checking several times that the stove or any appliance is off.
- Sometimes the actions don’t relate to anything and might be more like tapping on the counter specifically 8 times (or any number)
- Repeated actions can be caused by a sensation, for example, my son used to continually push his hair back on his head because of the sensation that it was in his eyes but in fact, it was too short to be anywhere near his eyes.
- Rearranging items into a certain order, for example by color, size, or alphabetical order.
- Swallow ‘wrong’ once and then swallow a hundred more times to make up for it or ‘make it right’ (my son told me this)
- Repeating things in prayer in the exact ‘right’ way of repeating something over a certain number of times.
- Need to count things a certain number of times.
- Constantly checking and re-checking your bag or backpack to make sure a certain item is there.
- Reading words or paragraphs over a specific number of times.
- Scared about what one’s own violent or disturbing thoughts say about them.
- Fear that they might act on these thoughts.
- Need reassurance that they are OK, they are safe.
This is a shortlist. There are many, many more behaviors attributed to OCD and they vary greatly among individuals.
There is not a laboratory test like a blood or urine test that detects OCD so it’s diagnosed by a mental health professional who does an interview and evaluation based on certain criteria.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition gives doctors criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.
The criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are:
1a. The Presence of obsessions. Further defined as, recurrent thoughts, impulses, ideas, or images that are unwanted and intrusive, sometimes violent or obscene, and cause distress. The individual tries to ignore or suppress these thoughts and impulses or neutralize them by performing a compulsion.
1b. And/or the presence of compulsions. Further defined as, repetitive behaviors like hand washing, checking, ordering, or mental acts like praying, counting, or repeating words silently. The individual feels driven to perform these in response to an obsession. These are performed with the aim of preventing or reducing anxiety and distress or to prevent something dreaded from happening but they aren’t realistic in the sense that they could not actually prevent anything.
2. The obsessive, compulsive acts take up more than an hour a day or they cause significant distress or impairment related to work, school, or other important areas of life.
3. These symptoms cannot be attributed to substance abuse or another medical condition.
4. The behaviors experienced by this individual are not better explained by another mental disorder.
There are many other disorders that can cause some similar behaviors and can occur along with OCD. I hope to discuss more of these in another article.
What Is the Cause of OCD?
The exact cause isn’t known however it has been established that the way certain areas of the brain function in people with OCD is different than in people who do not have it. This has been discovered by taking pictures of the brain where researchers can see brain function. There may be communication errors in certain parts of the brain.
This means that there is a neurobiological basis for the disorder which just means it’s something to do with our brain. Other factors like genetics or our environment can also play a part. It is thought that if someone is already predisposed to OCD it can be triggered by something such as a serious bacterial or viral infection. Parenting style has been blamed as an environmental trigger but again this would not be the cause but a trigger in someone who may already be predisposed to OCD. Excessive stress in someone’s life can also be a trigger. Approximately 20% of kids with OCD have a family member with the disorder indicating a genetic link to the disorder.
Abnormalities in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate, are also involved in the disorder. These are the chemicals being referred to when you hear the term “chemical imbalance”. Neurotransmitters allow the neurons in our brain to communicate so a breakdown in this communication is behind many, many different kinds of anxiety and mental disorders. I need a whole article here on neurotransmitters because they are fascinating and there is a lot we can do to improve their function.
More About Living with OCD
Sometimes we may hear OCD talked about in a joking way or we may say we have OCD when we obsess about getting something perfect. But for those who really have OCD, it is extremely distressing, upsetting and can be debilitating. If there is a fear of germs for example they may avoid going out in public.
Most people with OCD realize that their obsessions are irrational but are compelled to carry out their rituals which causes more anxiety and can lead to more behaviors. Often times they suffer in silence feeling like they should be able to control themselves or fearing that they are different or strange. This can all lead to much anger, shame, and frustration and hopelessness can result.
Thankfully there are strategies and supplements that can help manage the intrusive thoughts, compulsions, and behaviors.
Where Can I Find Help and Support for OCD
Talk to your family about what you’re going through. Show them this information or other information you find.
Please see my article: OCD Self Help Guide
Click Here for a wonderful Online-Therapy experience.
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(The links to the books below will open in Amazon in a new page)
When a Family Member Has OCD: Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Skills To Help Families Affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an extremely helpful book to have as a resource. It helps family members understand OCD and learn how to communicate better.
Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts – This book will make you feel understood and not so alone. It will make you feel relieved that bad thoughts happen to good people.
Check here to find a support group near you.
Remember you are not alone!! Millions of people are just like you.
Good people, like you, suffering from OCD may have violent and disturbing thoughts but they do not act on them and neither will you.
For Families and Friends:
We need to acknowledge the painfulness of this disorder for the people who are suffering and try to raise awareness as much as we can.
Love, empathy, patience, and understanding are all needed.
Learn as much as you can about OCD and re-assure your loved one that this is a biological problem, it is not their fault.
For those reading this with OCD … It is not your fault!
OCD is not misbehavior or lack of self-control.
I hope this article has helped you. I have confidence that you will be able to manage the symptoms of OCD.
I wish you the best,
Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or mental health conditions. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider to evaluate and treat your physical and mental symptoms.
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