Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition, which can manifest itself in many ways, that are unique to the individual.
No two people have exactly the same symptoms or rituals for the same reasons.
However, we can gain a greater understanding of the condition with this definition:
‘Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations (obsessions) and engage in behaviours or mental acts in response to these thoughts or obsessions. Often the person carries out the behaviours to reduce the impact or get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only brings temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety. A person’s level of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe, but if left untreated, it can limit his or her ability to function at work or school or even to lead a comfortable existence at home or around others.’
Examples of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
To give you a better idea of what it is like to have OCD, this could manifest in a person having:
- Fear of germs or contamination;
- Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, and that harm is going to come to them, loved ones or even people they don’t know, unless they carry out a ritual;
- Aggressive thoughts towards others or self;
- A need for things to be symmetrical or in a perfect order – which is relatable to controlling what you can (your inner environment such as home) to try and control those things that you cannot – life.
- Feelings that they are putting family/friends/strangers at risk of harm IF they do not complete certain rituals.
What are Compulsions?
Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that a person with OCD feels the urge to do, in response to an obsessive thought.
If you have OCD, it can feel like not completing these tasks may make something ‘bad’ happen to you or family and friends.
Or it can feel like your day is just not going to work out ‘right’ and something bad may happen; or whatever it is your anxiety may be about. These behaviours are all anxiety driven, and they are both exhausting and draining, and can have a massive impact on your life.
Common compulsions include:
- Excessive cleaning and/or hand washing;
- Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way;
- Repeatedly checking on things, such as to see if the door is locked, or the oven is off, and hair straighteners unplugged;
- Compulsive counting;
- Rereading or rewriting;
- Repeating routine activities (eg going in or out doors, getting up or down from chairs);
- Repeating body movements (eg tapping, touching, blinking);
- Repeating activities in “multiples” (eg doing a task three times because three is a “good,” “right,” “safe” number).
Not all rituals or habits are compulsions, and it is fair to say everyone double checks things sometimes – we can all have days where we are rushing and have to go back to check the door or alarm. But a person with OCD generally:
- Can’t control his or her thoughts or behaviours, even when they recognise those thoughts or behaviours as excessive;
- Spends at least 1 hour a day minimum on these thoughts or behaviours;
- Doesn’t get pleasure when performing the behaviours or rituals, but may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause;
- Experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviours.
Intrusive and Worrying Thoughts
A person with OCD may be fully aware that excessively checking and re-checking the house is not ‘logical’, however due to intrusive and worrying thoughts, will still continue.
Some people need to check their house up to 5+ times before it feels ‘right’ and nothing ‘should’ go wrong that day.
Rituals and checking can be extremely distressing for the individual. Internally it can do damage to your mood – driving to work miles from home for example, the intrusive, self-doubting thoughts can return. ‘Did I lock the door?’ or ‘Did I turn the cooker off?’. ‘Will my house burn down or will my house be broken into?’.
One client I worked with was convinced that her baby was going to get trapped in the blind cords, however the room didn’t have blinds – it had curtains. Her constant checking day and night was exhausting. However her obsession was the blind (even though there was not one), and her ritual was checking this excessively. She knew it was ‘irrational’ but could not stop and continued with the obsessive thoughts and rituals until she realised that she needed help.
Treatment for OCD
Working towards treating this debilitating condition includes a trip to see your GP to discuss medications that may help.
Professional counselling with somebody like myself could also be of benefit, as we could work on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to challenge these thoughts and rituals. The primary goal would be to decrease these obsessions by identifying what is driving them, which will then reduce the rituals. This may sound a little too easy (!) and there is work to be done, but OCD is curable and can be brought under control with the right support.
Have faith in this, and do not continue to suffer with these thoughts and rituals, as it can be very distressing.
And remember, you are not alone. This condition affects 500,000 people in Australia alone, and you can be assured that there is no judgement when you come for counselling and treatment.
Author: Liz Taylor, BA (Hons).
Liz Taylor is a social worker with over ten years’ experience in helping people with mental health issues and conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Liz’s counselling strategies are drawn from the Relapse Prevention Model, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). She is passionate about enabling her clients to function and feel a sense of control in their lives, and to achieve the goals and outcomes that they wish.