One of the more common anxiety disorders, OCD can come in many forms. Some might think of stereotypes like someone who has to keep all their books in alphabetical order, or only wear matching clothes. However, it is a far more complex condition than that and can even affect sufferers in intangible ways such as through their thoughts, leading many to suffer in silence.
Unfortunately, it’s something that’s often made the subject of jokes. However, the reality is that OCD is not something to be laughed at. OCD can be a debilitating condition that affects many aspects of their day-to-day lives for sufferers. Its effects can be divided into behaviours (compulsions) and obsessions (thoughts). Let’s take a look…
OCD compulsions can affect our everyday actions, from washing to checking
For example, imagine not being able to leave your house until after you’ve turned your light switch off seven times? It might look funny to an outsider, but to the person who has undergone this compulsion, it’s a torturous and frustrating routine that causes them great anxiety when they can’t do it.
Excessive washing is another example of OCD. While we should all practise good hygiene, and there are instances when extra care is needed (as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown), obsessive-compulsive washing might be when someone has to scrub their hands after touching absolutely anything furiously; even things that are perfectly clean. In this instance, the obsession might be the fear of infection from the perceived “dirty” object. This causes the person great anxiety, so they “cope” with it with the compulsion of excessively washing their hands to lower this anxiety. It’s often the case that a person’s anxiety truly stems from something else altogether; the “infection” fear is merely how it is being expressed.
OCD can manifest itself through obsessions with intrusive thoughts
For some, OCD doesn’t always involve physical compulsions (e.g. checking a door or handwashing). Some sufferers are plagued by troubling intrusive thoughts that can lead them to question their morality, relationship, even sexual orientation. For instance, a new parent might momentarily have an image of them smothering their baby. Most people would dismiss it as just a thought and move on. But an OCD sufferer might ruminate on the thought and fear that this is a sign that they’re actually going to harm their child. For others, they may fear that may have been unfaithful to their partner while drunk (with no evidence to suggest that this is the case) or that they’re having inappropriate sexual thoughts, a straight person might start to ruminate over whether or they’re gay or vice versa. A religious person might worry over having blasphemous thoughts, etc. In reality, of course, our thoughts do not define us, but for an OCD sufferer, they can become overwhelming and seem real to the point that they’re tortured by them. What’s worse, the nature of these thoughts can make them unwilling to tell anyone for fear of shame.
Some common misconceptions about OCD
The problem with some of the well-known examples of OCD is that they can lead some people to believe that these are the only forms. So, someone who might have an obsessive thought complex, for example, might rule out OCD. “I’m very untidy, therefore I can’t have OCD”. The thing is, there are so many different forms of OCD it’s possible to give a one-size-fits-all example. While for some people OCD does indeed manifest itself through a preoccupation with order and tidiness, for others their OCD about other things may become so overwhelming that they actually neglect tidiness.
Can OCD be treated effectively?
Yes, it most certainly can. OCD is a very treatable condition. Many sufferers benefit from attending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). In these sessions, a therapist works with the OCD sufferer around how they view these thoughts, to gradually reduce the effect their OCD has on their lives.
Exposure Response Therapy is a form of CBT that is particularly effective at treating OCD. Clients are exposed to the source of their fear over a period of time until it has a practically negligible impact on them.
I hope that this has helped give you a brief overview of OCD and some of the misconceptions around it. If you or a loved one thinks they might be suffering from OCD, I’d be happy to arrange a consultation.