Obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD)

Explains what obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

Your stories

Finding help for OCD

Katie d'Ath
Posted on 17/10/2013

Winning Mastermind and managing OCD

Clive shares his recent Mastermind victory and his experiences of managing OCD.

Clive
Posted on 28/04/2014

What’s wrong with ‘a little OCD’?

Steve
Posted on 17/10/2013

What are the symptoms of OCD?

This page covers:

Obsessions

Obsessions are persistent thoughts, pictures, urges or doubts that appear in your mind again and again. They interrupt your thoughts against your control and can be really frightening, graphic and disturbing. They may make you feel anxious, disgusted or 'mentally uncomfortable'.

You might feel you can't share them with others or that there is something wrong with you that you have to hide. You do not choose to have obsessions - but you might feel upset that you are capable of having such thoughts.

Remember: obsessions are not a reflection of your personality. People with OCD are very unlikely to act on their thoughts because they find them so distressing and repugnant. There are no recorded cases of a person with OCD carrying out their obsession.

I get unwanted thoughts all through the day, which is very distressing and affects my ability to interact with others and concentrate on my studies.

Type of obsession Examples include

Fear of causing or failing to prevent harm

  • worrying you've already harmed someone by not being careful enough. For example, that you have knocked someone over in your car.
  • worrying you're going to harm someone because you will lose control. For example, that you will push someone in front of a train or stab them.

Intrusive thoughts, images and impulses

  • Violent intrusive thoughts or images of yourself doing something violent or abusive. These thoughts might make you worry that you are a dangerous person.
  • Religious or blasphemous thoughts that are against your religious beliefs.
  • Relationship intrusive thoughts often appear as doubts about whether a relationship is right or whether you or your partner's feelings are strong enough. They might lead you to end your relationship to get rid of the doubt and anxiety.
  • Sexual intrusive thoughts or images. These could be related to children, family members or to sexually aggressive behaviour. You might worry that you could be a paedophile or a rapist, or that you are sexually attracted someone in your family.

Fear of contamination

  • Contamination (for example by dirt, germs or faeces). You might worry that you have been contaminated and that you - or other people - are spreading the contamination. You might worry that you have or might get a disease.
  • Mental contamination. You might experience uncomfortable feelings of 'internal uncleanliness'.

Fears and worries related to order or symmetry

  • You might have a fear that something bad will happen if everything isn't 'right' - for example if things are not clean, in order or symmetrical.

You might experience more than one type of obsession. They are often linked together. For example you might experience a fear of contamination and a fear of doing someone harm by accidentally making them ill.

You can read more about the different types of obsessions on OCD UK's website.

Anxiety and arousal
Intrusive sexual thoughts may lead you to constantly monitor and check your genitals. This attention and the anxiety you are feeling may actually increase blood flow and physical arousal. This can make you feel as if you are aroused by the intrusive thoughts when in fact the opposite is true. Many people with this type of OCD call this 'groinal response'.

I would seek medical reassurance online and for a day or so I could breathe a sigh of relief... but then the doubt would set in and I started the process again.

Compulsions

Compulsions are repetitive activities that you feel you have to do. The aim of a compulsion is to try and deal with the distress caused by obsessive thoughts.

You might have to continue doing the compulsion until the anxiety goes away and things feel right again. You might know that it doesn't make sense to carry out a compulsion - but it can still feel too scary not to.

Repeating compulsions is often very time consuming and the relief they give you doesn't usually last very long.

Compulsions can:

  • be physical actions
  • be mental rituals (people who only have mental compulsions sometimes refer to their OCD as Pure O)
  • involve a number (for example, you might feel you have to complete a compulsion a specific number of times without interruption).
Type of compulsion Examples include
Rituals
  • washing your hands, body or things around you a lot
  • touching things in a particular order or at a certain time
  • arranging objects in a particular way
Checking
  • checking doors and windows to make sure they are locked
  • checking your body or clothes for contamination
  • checking your body to see how it responds to intrusive thoughts
  • checking your memory to make sure an intrusive thought didn't actually happen
  • checking your route to work to make sure you didn't cause an accident
Correcting thoughts
  • repeating a word, name or phrase in your head or out loud
  • counting to a certain number
  • replacing an intrusive thought with a different image
Reassurance
  • repeatedly asking other people to tell you that everything is alright

Avoidance

You might find that some activities, objects or experiences make your obsessions or compulsions worse. For example if you are worried that you might stab someone then you might avoid the kitchen because you know there are knives there.

Sometimes it might feel easier to avoid situations that mean you have to do a compulsion. For example if you have to do a long and time consuming ritual every time you leave the house, you might just decide it's easier to stay indoors. But avoiding things can have a major impact on your life.

Getting ready involves so much hand washing and so many mental rituals. Sometimes, I feel like staying in bed and avoiding the day.

What is 'Pure O'?

Pure O stands for 'purely obsessional'. People sometimes use this phrase to describe a type of OCD where they experience distressing intrusive thoughts but there are no external signs of compulsions (for example checking or washing). The name is slightly misleading as it suggests that there are no compulsions at all.

If you have Pure O you will still experience mental compulsions - but you might not be aware of them. Because they are not as obvious as physical compulsions it can sometimes be difficult to define exactly what these compulsions are.

Here are some examples of internal compulsions:

  • checking how you feel (for example, you might check to see if you are still in love with your partner)
  • checking bodily sensations (for example, you might check to see if you were aroused by an intrusive thought)
  • check how you feel about a thought (for example, you might check whether you are still 'appropriately disgusted' by the thought)
  • repeating phrases or numbers in your head
  • checking if you still have a thought (for example, first thing in the morning)

Pure O can be successfully treated. Treatment can sometimes start by helping your recognise your mental compulsions. You can read more about Pure O on the OCD-UK website.

My OCD: A Monster in My Mind

Read Foyez's blog about his experience with OCD and being interviewed for BBC’s Horizon special OCD: A Monster in my Mind

 

Want to add your story? Find out more about blogging for us.


This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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