What is OCD?

“I’m so OCD” is a phrase commonly used on social media to describe a range of things from organized closets to quirks to perfectionism. Typically when people use the term OCD in colloquial language, they mean they like to have things neat and in order, perhaps a little more than what feels “average” when compared to the people around them. The truth about OCD, however, is that its true definition doesn’t match up with any of the popular uses of the term on social media or in everyday conversation. OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and it is a mental disorder with specific diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5)

According to the DSM-5, the main criteria for OCD are that an individual must have either obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors or both. Those obsessions or compulsions must take up a significant amount of time (i.e. more than an hour per day), and they must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in daily functioning. The obsessive thoughts required for an OCD diagnosis are what the psychology world refers to as “ego dystonic.” Ego dystonic thoughts do not match up with what a person would say they want or believe. So, if someone is obsessively thinking about something they enjoy or want to take place, most likely those obsessions are not related to OCD.

Depending on a person’s life history and social location, the content of their obsessions and compulsions can vary. Obsessions and compulsions that are stereotypically associated with OCD would include, an obsession about germs or contamination that results in compulsive hand washing or an obsession about safety that results in compulsively checking locks or turning off appliances like a curling iron or oven. Most people’s lived experiences with obsessions and compulsions do not match right up with stereotypes though. People can have obsessive thoughts about having harmed someone or fearing that they want to harm themselves or someone else. Obsessions can also be related to religious beliefs like a fear of having committed an unforgivable sin or a fear of not truly being “saved.” Compulsions can be mental rather than external, like needing to think a certain series of thoughts repeatedly, say a certain prayer, or count to a certain number. 

The content of a person’s obsessions and compulsions can change over time or according to circumstances. 

Regardless of whether or not a person with OCD’s obsessions and compulsions are stereotypical or unique to that individual, OCD can be a crippling condition that can greatly decrease the quality of life for those who have it.

We will follow up with more infromation on OCD in future blogs, and in the meantime, if you or someone you know suffers from OCD, please consider reaching out for help. Our counselors at Restoration would love to help you start taking back your thoughts and actions from the power of OCD.

written by Sally Smith, PHD, LPC

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