OCD Obsessions and Compulsions Can Make Life Difficult
Obsessions and compulsions associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can make life very difficult. People with OCD obsessions and compulsions spend significant amounts of time dealing with their condition and the anxiety it causes. This may cause them to miss out on favorite social activities or even lose their jobs. Often, they've tried repeatedly to decrease or stop their OCD behaviors without success.
Obsessions and Compulsions – What's the Difference?
Obsessions and compulsions are two different parts of the condition called OCD. The term, OCD obsessions, refers to persistent and repetitive ideas, thoughts, or images that occur involuntarily. These intrusive thoughts frequently arise while thinking about or engaging in other activities. Typically, they don't make any sense but cause you to feel an urgency to take certain actions. Not taking action results in intense anxiety, increasing the urge to act out ritualistic behaviors.
OCD compulsions are the repetitive behaviors that your obsessive thoughts urge you to perform. You continually repeat the behaviors because doing so briefly alleviates the anxiety caused by your obsessive thoughts. You can voluntarily stop the compulsive behavior, but tension and anxiety will increase until you resume the behavior.
Examples of OCD Obsessions and Compulsions
People who experience OCD obsessions and compulsions may or may not perceive their obsessions as abnormal. For the person with OCD, his or her thoughts tend to focus on particular behaviors, such as washing, counting, or checking. Typically, the obsession is coupled with what experts refer to as a "magical thought". For example, you may have an obsessive thought that you must touch your elbow to the doorknob five times to avoid something bad happening, such as an illness or tragic accident. The compulsion refers to your need to actually touch your elbow to the doorknob five times. If you don't, your anxiety level will become severe because of your fear of the bad event (i.e. the illness or accident), compelling you to perform the behavior.
Other examples of obsessions and compulsions include feeling an intense need to check if you hurt someone when driving, even though there's no evidence that you did. You return to the spot where you feel the accident may have occurred to check for an injured person. Likewise, even if you know on some level that you turned off the water sprinklers outside, you may still feel compelled to check. (While there is no cure for OCD, effective treatment for OCD obsessions and compulsions does exist.)
List of Obsessions and Compulsions
Examples of Obsessions
- Doubt that you turned off the oven or locked the door
- Fear that you hurt someone in traffic
- Intense distress if objects aren't lined up or in arranged in an orderly way
- Urge to shout obscenities in inappropriate situations
- Replaying of pornographic or other unwanted images in your mind
- Fear of contamination by germs, dirt, or harmful substance
- Fear of discarding personal possessions
Examples of Compulsions
- Repeatedly checking that you turned off the oven or locked the door
- Retracing your driving route to make sure you didn't hurt anyone along the way
- Arranging all of your magazines or silverware to face the same way and match up exactly
- Counting in certain patterns to ward off the occurrence of a bad event
- Repeatedly washing your hands to remove all possibility of contamination
- Hoarding all sorts of personal possessions regardless of worth
- Hair pulling or skin picking
This list represents only a small sampling of the obsessions and compulsions that may occur in people with OCD. As with almost any mental disorder, there is a significant gap between those with mild and severe OCD. Those severely affected with OCD are utterly debilitated by their condition, but mild sufferers of OCD often lead successful, yet stilted lives.
Last Updated: 03 February 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD