OCD is a serious mental illness that often requires treatment. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about OCD. Learn how to separate myth from fact.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 2.3% of the U.S. population. Like all mental illnesses, there are many misconceptions about the disorder. These OCD myths — while rampant — can be harmful and demoralizing for people struggling with the condition. Let’s unpack some of the common myths about OCD.

1. Myth: Everyone with OCD is super neat and organized.

Fact: Not everyone with OCD needs their spaces to be clean.

While it’s true that some people with OCD may also be neat or organized, the two are not mutually exclusive. Even if the individual does have cleanliness compulsions, they typically do not enjoy these rituals. Instead, they feel mandated to complete them.

Furthermore, many people with OCD do not live in “super neat” worlds. In fact, there is a strong relationship between OCD and hoarding due to the fear that something catastrophic could happen if personal items are thrown out.

2. Myth: OCD is all about cleanliness.

Fact: OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions.

As mentioned, cleanliness can be a symptom of OCD. However, it is not always the case. OCD refers to the presence of recurrent and persistent thoughts that are intrusive and unwanted (obsessions) and repetitive physical behaviors or mental acts intended to reduce the distress associated with obsessions (compulsions).

Compulsions may, for example, include excessive hand washing or cleaning a counter, but they can also include numerous other behaviors like counting, praying or repeating certain phrases. These compulsions have nothing to do with cleanliness. Therefore, this myth is not accurate for all people with OCD.

3. Myth: People with OCD are uptight or neurotic.

Fact: People with OCD have a diagnosable mental health condition.

The association between neuroticism and OCD is a misinformed one. For one, calling someone neurotic tends to be a derogatory and condescending insult. It’s usually an insensitive way of dismissing someone’s anxiety or stress.

Even if people with OCD seem to be uptight or neurotic, this is not by choice. Most struggling individuals know that their obsessions are irrational and unrealistic. They tend to experience profound shame and humiliation over their condition.

Furthermore, with the right treatment, many people with OCD enjoy meaningful and fulfilling lives. Research shows that most people respond positively to treatments like exposure and response prevention and antidepressant medication.

4. Myth: People with OCD just need to relax.

Fact: OCD is a serious mental illness, not a personal decision or lifestyle choice.

Telling someone with OCD to relax is similar to telling someone with depression to “stop feeling sad” or telling someone with an eating disorder to “just eat.” Mental illness is never that black-and-white or simple. Like all mental illnesses, OCD can be chronic and pervasive. It can significantly impact how a person interacts with the rest of the world and it can affect functioning in all areas of life.

5. Myth: OCD is obvious.

Fact: It can often be difficult to tell when a person has OCD.

There’s a good chance that someone in your life has OCD and you’d never know. Many people with OCD hide their compulsions in public due to fear of being exposed. They often will not talk about their obsessive thoughts and only engage in compulsions either in private or in a very discreet manner.

Most mental illnesses can carry a deep sense of shame and stigma. For this reason, many people are skeptical to share their struggles. They do not want to be judged, ridiculed or given unhelpful advice

6. Myth: OCD is caused by a troubled childhood.

Fact: OCD does not have a single, clear cause.

Many people with mental illnesses also have a history of trauma. However, it is essential to point out that trauma does not inherently cause OCD. Furthermore, there are many individuals with OCD who do not report any history of childhood problems.

Experts have not identified a single or exact cause of OCD. Like most mental illnesses, the symptoms and risk factors appear to be multifaceted. That said, research suggests that OCD may involve communication problems between the front part of the brain and deeper structures in the brain.

7. Myth: OCD isn’t treatable.

There is not a cure for OCD, but treatment can help most individuals manage their symptoms and improve their overall life satisfaction.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to OCD treatment. However, most clients respond well to one or more of the following methods:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Group therapy and support groups
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs)
  • Anti-anxiety medications

The right treatment will vary depending on the individual and their mental health history, preferences and past experiences with treatment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with OCD and co-occurring addiction, The Recovery Village can help! Our comprehensive services offer evidence-based treatment and invaluable support throughout your care. Contact us to learn more about what we offer today!

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Nicole Arzt
Nicole Arzt is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in Southern California. Her clinical emphasis lies in working with females with substance use, eating disorders, and complex trauma. Read more
Read Previous
OCD Brain Scans

International OCD Foundation. “Facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” 2019. Accessed May 23, 2019.

International OCD Foundation. “OCD Symptoms: OCD-Related Hoarding.” 2019. Accessed May 23, 2019.

International OCD Foundation. “Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).” Accessed May 23, 2019.

International OCD Foundation. “What Causes OCD?” Accessed May 23, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.