Admit it – you’ve done this before. At one point or another, you have probably said aloud to somebody else (or to yourself) “I’m so OCD!” implying some tendencies towards cleanliness or perfection.
Just as some other mental health concepts are frequently over and misused by many people (bipolar – I’m looking at you), OCD is a real mental health concern that most people don’t actually meet diagnostic criteria for, yet will often talk about or refer to themselves as having. Actually having OCD is much different (read: much more debilitating) than cleaning your room.
What is OCD?
OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is an anxiety disorder. Like the name suggests, in order to have OCD, a person must have both obsessions and compulsions. Even further, the obsessions and compulsions must be related, as the compulsions are performed in order to alleviate the stress or anxiety produced by the obsessive thoughts.
Obsessions are unwanted and distressing thoughts, ideas, images, or impulses that happen repeatedly. There is a difference between thinking about something once versus not being able to get that out of your mind. That is an obsession.
Compulsions are behaviors, rituals, or mental acts that you do to lessen the anxiety caused by the obsessions. There are many forms of compulsions, including:
- Repeatedly checking door locks, candles, appliances, people
- Repeatedly looking for mistakes
- Performing an action a specific number of times
- Counting to a certain number
- Keeping old things that are truly no longer useful
- Need to admit “bad” thoughts to others to relieve feelings of guilt and receive reassurance
- Having to touch items or objects in a very particular way
- Mental Rituals
- Not allowing yourself to think a certain thought, word, or number due to fear of bad luck
- Mentally saying a prayer, mantra, or picturing an image to counteract “bad” thoughts
- Considerable time spent cleaning or disinfecting
- Having to groom, wash, or clean in a specific way at all times
- Keeping objects in a particular order at all times
If a person is obsessively thinking about germs and contamination, they will excessively and perhaps ritualistically engage in handwashing behaviors in order to alleviate the stress that they are experiencing about becoming contaminated with germs. In this scenario, the worry is about contamination and ultimately serious harm to themselves or a loved one, and the compulsion is the handwashing.
If a person is frequently worried that they will forget to turn off their stove in their home and that this will cause great harm to their home or their family, they may repeatedly checking the stove to ensure it is off before leaving the house. The obsession is the frequent worry that the stove will be left on and the compulsive behavior is the repeated checking to ensure that it is not.
If a person is frequently worried about having bad luck, and engages in what we call “magical thinking” (making cognitive associations between things that realistically and logically have no relationship), they may engage in behaviors to lessen the likelihood of having such bad luck. For example, if a person believes that stepping on a crack is going to bring them bad fortune, they will avoid stepping on a crack at all costs.
On the other hand, checking your door locks twice does not mean you necessarily have OCD. In fact, this is a normal behavior that every person engages in at some point or another. In order for a person to have OCD, the obsessive thoughts and behaviors must be interfering with their life to a significant degree.
Myths about OCD
- It’s about cleanliness. Many people believe that people who like to keep a clean home are OCD. While there are forms of OCD that are about cleanliness, this is only one variation of the disorder and is not an indication that someone has OCD.
- OCD isn’t treatable. This is by far one of the most alarming myths as OCD is very, very treatable! If you or someone you know is struggling with OCD, don’t suffer in silence any longer. There are research-backed treatments that can help you to regain control over OCD. And what’s more, these treatments don’t take very long as long (as the person is actively engaged and putting in the effort!).
- You can only have OCD if you have observable compulsive behaviors. Well, this isn’t true because variations of compulsivity include mental rituals (counting to a certain number, thinking of a mantra, checking thoughts, etc.).
- OCD only affects women. Men and women experience OCD at equal rates.
WE CAN HELP
At Tampa Therapy, we are anxiety disorder specialists. If you are looking to make important changes in your life, such as reducing the amount of time and effort you put into alleviating anxiety through compulsive acts, and ultimately improving your quality of life, we would love to help. We can provide the tools and strategies needed for helping you change your thinking, reduce worry, reduce obsessions, eliminate or reduce compulsions, and increase your life quality. In addition to strategy, we provide continued support and a realistic framework to keep you motivated and progressing.
Whatever the reason, give us a call. Remember, there are many reasons why people seek therapy. Professional mental health assistance can greatly benefit you in many ways, including making important changes in your life.
We are committed to providing therapy and counseling services in a comfortable, relaxing, encouraging, and non-judgmental environment to yield the most realistic and best outcomes. Give us a call or email us today to schedule an appointment.