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OCD - First Step to Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

This article explains OCD and its components. It also pictures a unique relationship a person with OCD has with their own thoughts.

Checking is a common human behaviour. We check whether we switched off the gas and locked the front door. Sometimes we have certain routines we like to follow or like things arranged in a certain order and that is ok. Most of us do it. How many times does a person need to engage in checking in order to consider it compulsive? We will explain it in this article.

OCD is an anxiety disorder whereby people have obsessions and compulsions or one of these elements, either obsessions or compulsions. The obsessions are unwanted, unacceptable, intrusive and intense thoughts, images or urges. They are so intrusive that they often make it hard to concentrate on activities such as reading, watching television and other daily activities. Compulsive behaviours are safety mechanisms to make a person feel safe. Compulsive behaviours need to take a lot of time in a day and must interfere with your daily life e.g. social activities, work activities, relationships. The question is how much it interferes with daily functions and how much it stops you doing activities you would be normally doing. Some people might be affected to lesser extend and some might not be affected quite significantly. Some people experience almost total breakdown of activities and might not be able to leave their house or go to work because they spent so much time to perform their compulsions.

Compulsions are meant to reduce unpleasant feelings triggered by intrusions and prevent dreaded outcomes. at is triggered by the obsessions. Anxiety is the core emotions that people with OCD experience. Other emotions common in OCD are guilt and shame. Some compulsions are quite easy to observe, for instance when a person repeatedly goes in and out the door, turns on and off switches, constantly asks for reassurance about something they worry they might have harmed or offended someone. Nonetheless not all compulsions are easily observable. Some of the compulsions can occur solely in a person’s mind and these are known as ‘mental compulsions’. The person with mental compulsions engages in variety of mental behaviours such as thinking of the conversation they have had, thinking about the articles they have read or even the thoughts they have had in the past. They often engage in mental analysing in search of certainty. OCD is a disorder of the doubt therefore all the attempts to achieve certainty are futile.

OCD - unsusual relationship with your own thoughts

A person with OCD would have a thought and think ‘what does that mean about me, why would I have such a horrible thought, I must be a criminal’. This person would then fear to act out on the thoughts. They believe that just by having a thought it is more likely they will act on it and they fear that is a possibility. Even if they realise that the possibility of something bad happening is very small they cannot assume that risk. In reality, we have very many random thoughts and having them does not mean we will act out on them. However a person with OCD would believe that having a thought would mean they will act out on these thoughts and that makes them very anxious.

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