Examples of OCD Behaviors

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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.

Diagnosing OCD

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.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, you don’t pay more when buying through my links. Thank you for helping support this site!

(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. 

Please leave comments or questions below.

I would love to hear from you!


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6 Replies to “Examples of OCD Behaviors”

  1. Hi there Alison, 

    Thanks for talking about this issue of OCD at length. I have a friend who is really struggling with it and I think your website could be of great help. I will tell him about this site and encourage him to read the guide and get the book you recommend. He’s going to love them because he is always looking for ways to manage the problem. Thanks heaps for that.

    1. That’s really good of you Dave. 

      I’m glad he has a friend like you who would take what he’s going through seriously and offer him help and encouragement!

      It’s a pleasure having you visit my site.


  2. Ismeglamour says:

    As we all know obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which time people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that makes or compel them to do something repetitively (compulsions).Thanks for sharing this awesome article it really explains OCD to the fullest.thanks for sharing i hope it helps others

    1. Thanks Ismeglamour, I hope it does too.

  3. Anastazja says:

    Although I found you article on OCD informative and accurate, I am thinking that it would have been good to explain how the formal diagnosis of OCD is made and family informed.  I did not see in the article that the important support of caring, consistent professional help is needed in many cases.  OCD is often a diagnosis that accompanies other difficulties.  This is the primary need for professional diagnosis.  I hope that your article informs someone who has concerned about themselves or a loved on.   The detail you have given will help with self-diagnosis and hopefully point to the need for more formal support.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, I am glad I have a chance to address your concerns.

       In looking back over my article I will just try to mention a few of the many references I made to formal diagnosis and support for OCD.

      Under the heading “Diagnosing OCD” I said, “it’s diagnosed by a mental health professional who does an interview and evaluation based on certain criteria” and then went on to list in detail the criteria that doctors use.

      I also state, “There are many other disorders that can cause some similar behaviors and can occur along with OCD.”

      Under the heading “Where Can I Find Help and Support for OCD” I mention talking to family, 2 helpful books, a link to find a local support group, a link to my article “OCD Self-Help Guide” where I detail how Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (a form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy) works and that it has an over 80% success rate, 4 more “support for OCD” books and a link to where you can get Cognitive Behavior Therapy online.

      Here is another quote from my conclusions in that article: 

      “Living with OCD is painful and treatment is necessary.
      ERP is the main and most effective treatment recommended for OCD, results can be seen in a few weeks or less.Find an experienced and trained Cognitive Behavior Therapist to administer ERP”

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      All my best to you and yours,


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