Many people have certain habits that they are particular about, but they can generally manage just fine without doing them for a while. But when these habits become uncontrollable, and when they’re used to deal with some kind of crippling, relentlessly persistent fear or idea, that’s when obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) becomes a concern.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder refers to a combination of exaggerated thoughts and fears (obsessions) that force you to perform repetitive behaviors (compulsions) in what WebMD calls “endless cycles.”
For example, a common presentation of OCD is the fear of infection. Many people are concerned about protecting themselves from germs and bacteria, so they make sure to wash their hands after using the bathroom, before meals, etc. But someone with OCD is not just concerned about protection – they are obsessed with protection. It may be all they can think about. The idea of bacterial infection keeps them awake at night. They are terrified about going places where they could catch an infection, even if the chances of catching one is highly unlikely (like getting HIV from a shopping cart handle).
In order to make this high level of anxiety bearable, someone with OCD may wash their hands and clean their living space compulsively. Doing these actions just once isn’t enough to make the thoughts about infection going away. So they wash and wash and clean and clean, over and over again, until they are satisfied and the fear of infection recedes. But then it comes back, just as paralyzing as before, even though every surface has been scrubbed and the person’s hands have been repeatedly washed. The only solution is to keep washing and cleaning.
In fact, FOX News says that compulsive hand-washing has become so synonymous with OCD that “washers” has become a widely accepted term for this particular presentation of OCD. In general, OCD affects about 2.2. million Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and the National Institute of Mental Health says that 50.6 percent of those cases are “severe.”
Someone with OCD may recognize that their obsession is not reasonable, but they are still powerless to take control of their thoughts – which, in turn, makes them powerless to stop the repetitive behaviors they are compelled to do to try and ease those thoughts.
One of the characteristics of OCD is that the compulsive behaviors can last for hours, cutting into everyday activities like sleep and socializing, and negatively affecting academic or job performance.
- Checking behaviors. This might be repetitively, compulsively checking the doors and windows at night to make sure that the house is secure. Such behavior might stem from a traumatic event where an intruder once breached the safety of a house, or an obsessive fear of irresponsibility.
- Unwanted thoughts. Everyone gets stray thoughts in their heads once in a while, but it’s easy to dismiss them. OCD patients will change their behavior because they are convinced that the thoughts have more legitimacy than they actually do. For example, someone might imagine a car crash on a particular street, and then studiously avoid driving near that street even though there was no tangible danger present.These feelings can also extend to thoughts of performing violent or sexual acts on a person. The patient is not compelled to carry out these thoughts but is unable to get past the distress of the idea, no matter how random or remote it might be. To that effect, the patient will go to great lengths to avoid any possibility of the chance of those thoughts coming true, even though such an event would be very unlikely. This might involve completely breaking off any contact with the target of the thoughts – ostensibly for that person’s own safety.
- Relationship intrusive thoughts. A constant fear that the integrity of a relationship is in a state of compromise might lead an OCD sufferer to overanalyze and overthink every interaction in light of trying to determine whether the relationship is truly ending. An offhanded comment or perceived slight becomes a focus of negativity towards the health of the relationship.
- Organization. An OCD patient often cannot function without organization that borders on perfection. This may come from a fear of lack of control, or order, and it manifests with the patient spending hours arranging and rearranging their house or workspace until they have it just so – and then starting all over again because they still feel the obsessive need to arrange and organize to perfection.Sometimes, the organization can border on the seemingly pedantic. Objects have to face a certain way or be arranged in a very particular way. Failure to achieve this level of organization can cause intense feelings of stress and anxiety in the patient.
FOX News called OCD “one of the least understood mental illnesses.” That may be true, but what’s also true is that OCD treatment has helped many people regain control of their everyday lives and thought processes. At The Recovery Village, we know how severely a life can be affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder, and we can help you. Please call us today with your questions; we are standing by to offer you effective treatment for OCD.