Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) suffer from unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads (obsessions), often compelling them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions) to try and ease their anxiety.
Most people who have OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational, yet they feel powerless to stop them. Some spend hours at a time performing complicated rituals involving hand-washing, counting, or checking to ward off persistent, unwelcome thoughts, feelings or images.
These can interfere with a person’s normal routine, schoolwork, job, family, or social activities. Several hours every day may be spent focusing on obsessive thoughts and performing seemingly senseless rituals. Trying to concentrate on daily activities may be difficult.
Left untreated, OCD can interfere with all aspects of life, and many feel ashamed of the condition, isolating themselves.
Examples of obsessions and compulsions
The following sequence is usually present in people with OCD:
- Thoughts appear, sometimes with no apparent cause
- The individual feels these thoughts are disturbing or ‘wrong’
- The person immediately tries to get rid of said thoughts, sometimes with the belief they shouldn’t be having them
Examples of such thoughts are:
- Have I injured someone?
- I need to arrange thing in a specific order or else something bad may happen
- Am I going to do something inappropriate?
- Violet or sexual thoughts that disgust the individual
Compulsions to ‘neutralise’ the thoughts may involve checking doors repeatedly, washing your hands numerous times, avoiding contact with door handles, hoarding things, or asking for assurance from others. Not all compulsions, however, are physical. They can be mental, too. This includes ruminating over and over again about unwanted thoughts, images or self-talk.
Forms of OCD that do not involve physical rituals and revolve around purely mental thoughts include Primarily Obsessional Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Pure-O, for short. Gee, what a mouthful), and Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD).
All forms of OCD are serious, yet treatable, anxiety disorders that often occurs with depression and other anxiety disorders. Approximately 80% of OCD sufferers become depressed. Think about that for a minute, 80%!!! If not treated properly, it may become disabling.
Accepting one’s thoughts
The usual reaction to obsessive thoughts is to want to get rid of them. The urge to get rid of them is often the problem, though. Learning to accept your obsessive thoughts instead of fighting them, no matter how disturbing they may be, is absolutely paramount to overcoming the reign OCD has on your life. A mental health professional can help you do this, but a few exercises will be provided below.
Individuals with OCD have a thinking distortion which makes them believe that they are alone in their disturbing thoughts. Well, if you are one of these individuals, I am pleased to tell you that you certainly are not.
In one study, 90% of people without OCD had weird thoughts. People without OCD simply do not treat them as significantly as OCD suffers do. OCD suffers will dwell on them.
Dr. Robert Leahy, in his book ‘Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You’, suggests a wonderful exercise for those with OCD: imagine your thought as a lonely character with no friends. Everyone yells at him stop and that’s the only attention he gets. Don’t feel like the victim to your own thought; it is not a reality.
Most people who seek treatment experience significant improvement and enjoy an improved quality of life. It is important to work closely with a health care professional to determine the best option. Dr. Leahy’s book, that I mentioned above, is highly recommended for self-help treatment while you wait.
If you’re concerned about symptoms of OCD, make an appointment with a therapist or your doctor.
Dr. Robert Leahy – Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You, Second Edition