What is OCD?
Compulsions are the other part of OCD. The DSM defines compulsions as:
- Repetitive behaviors or mental acts that someone feels driven to do as a response to the obsession.
- These behaviors and mental acts are done to reduce stress, limit anxiety or prevent some type of terrible event from occurring. Usually the behaviors are not connected to the event in any direct or indirect ways. The links are only imaginary.
To complete the criteria to have an OCD diagnosis, the person must have significant stress or impairment at work, home, school or in the community caused by the OCD. Perhaps, you lost your job, failed out of school or got divorced because your OCD symptoms interfered greatly with your life. Also, the obsessions or compulsions must be time-consuming during the day.
This is the area that really separates the people with OCD from those that have OCD-type symptoms. As mentioned, everyone has quirks or idiosyncrasies that seem odd or strange to the outside observer. Maybe you are particular about the way your wash your face or the way you set your alarm clock, this does not mean that you have OCD unless it significantly interferes with your life or you spend hours doing it each day.
Common OCD Themes
The range of obsessions and compulsions are nearly limitless. Interestingly enough, there are common groups and themes that emerge when groups of people with OCD are questioned. The types include:
- Washing – People with this form of OCD believe that certain things, people or places contaminate them with germs, dirt, bacteria or viruses. When they think they are contaminated, the obsessions will revolve around how they will get sick or get people around them sick. These obsessions will create distress until the washing compulsion is completed. Washing typically begins at a normal frequency and intensity but grows over time. People will wash for longer periods of time, with stronger chemicals and avoid touching things.
- Checking – This is a good example of “everyday OCD” that becomes extreme. People with OCD symptoms in this theme will check and recheck something to ensure safety. For example, you leave your house and begin to question if you unplugged your curling iron. This doubt leads to thoughts of what could happen if you left it on and did not check. You imagine the house burning down and utter calamity. The stress builds so you walk back in to check the curling iron, which of course, is off. Some will never make it out of the bathroom because the need to recheck is so strong.
- Ordering/organizing – People that order are very interested having parts or the entirety of their life orderly and organized. Their refrigerator will be organized by color, date of purchase and type of food. They will spend hours doing this and become very distressed if something comes out of order. Their towels will be folded, refolded and folded again to make certain it is completed the “right” way. If someone uses a towel, they will be frustrated and have to being the process over again.
- Counting/symmetry – This theme can take many forms as it involves counting to have the “right” feeling and symmetry to achieve balance. Someone with this theme of OCD may flip a light switch 14 times before leaving the room because doing it once doesn’t feel comfortable. They may create catastrophic scenarios transpiring if they do not flip the switch. Others may need to do behaviors an even number of times, an odd number of times or with each hand to gain this balance. Walking away from the light switch or not counting would lead to intense obsessions.