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The Truth About OCD

Many people believe that having OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) means being incredibly concerned about being organized or having every detail correct. Everyone has seen that person who has exclaimed “I’m so OCD!” after organizing their closet according to color or fixing that one item that was out of place. However, this can be incredibly harmful to those who actually have OCD as this is not really what those with OCD have to endure every day.

What is OCD?

According to the International OCD Foundation and Mayo Clinic, obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a mental health disorder impacting people of all ages with many different backgrounds. A person with OCD experiences obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are undesirable, invasive thoughts, images, or urges that cause very distressing and stressful feelings. Ignoring or trying to stop obsessions may only cause more distress. These thoughts and urges may return causing more ritualistic behavior, continuing the cycle of OCD. Compulsions are behaviors one does to try to remove obsessions or lower distress levels. Many people have obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors in their lives but that does not necessarily mean they have OCD. In order to have OCD, a person’s obsessions and compulsions must be so severe that it takes up a large amount of time and disrupts important activities.


As said above, the International OCD Foundation says that obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that are recurring and feel like they are not in the person’s control. People with OCD do not want these thoughts and see them as disconcerting. Usually, people with OCD know these thoughts are not practical or rational, but obsessions often come with intense and uncomfortable feelings like fear, disgust, doubt, or feel that things have to be done in a specific way that is “just right.” Obsessions are time consuming and can interrupt activities someone cares about, which makes the difference between a psychological disorder or obsessive personality trait.

Being “obsessed,” when used in every day language, does not mean having issues in day-to-day living. For instance, you may be “obsessed” with a song or TV show but you are still able to get ready for bed quickly, get to work on time, go with a friends to see a movie, etc. People with OCD may not like hearing that someone is “obsessed” or “so OCD” since it diminishes their hardships with OCD symptoms. This is why it is important to stop using language like that since it is disrespectful.

Many people have worried about getting sick or a loved ones being safe or making a large mistake but these obsessions may not be OCD symptoms. Someone that does not have OCD may think about these thoughts, be nervous for a little while, and then move on. With OCD, intrusive thoughts come often and cause extreme anxiety that disrupts day-to-day functioning.

Some common OCD obsessions are contamination obsessions, including fear of being exposed to perceived contaminated objects or things like bodily fluids, germs or disease, environmental contaminants (asbestos, radiation, etc. ), household chemicals, or dirt. Another one is responsibility obsessions, including fear of being responsible for something catastrophic occurring like a fire or fear of hurting others by not being careful enough. There are also perfectionism-related obsessions such as being overly worried about evenness or exactness, being overly nervous with a need to know or recall, fear of losing or forgetting important information when discarding something, excessive concern about doing a task “perfectly,” or fear of making errors. There are also sexual obsessions, religious or moral obsessions, identity obsessions, relationship-related obsessions, obsessions relating to death/existence, real event/false memory obsessions, emotional contamination obsessions, and others.


Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or thoughts a person does to try to neutralize, counteract, or cause an obsession to subside. People with OCD know this is only a temporary solution but may lack a better way to deal with their obsession so they depend on the obsession as a temporary fix. Compulsions can also be avoiding situations that cause obsessions. Compulsions take up large amounts of time and disrupt important activities a person cares about. Like obsessions, not all repetitive behaviors or “rituals” are compulsions. For instance, bedtime routines, religious practices, and learning a new skill have to do with repeating activities again and again, but are often good and are a part of everyday life. Also, arranging books for hours is not a compulsion when the person is a librarian. If you like paying attention to details or arranging things nicely, “compulsive” may mean a personality trait or something you like about yourself. People with OCD often feel they need to do compulsive behaviors and would prefer not to have to do these time consuming, sometimes torturous acts. With OCD, compulsive behavior may be engaged to try to get rid of obsessions or lower anxiety.
Common compulsions are washing and cleaning, including washing hands excessive or in a particular manner, excessive showering or toothbrushing or grooming, cleaning household items or other items excessively, or taking action to prevent or stop contact with contaminants. Checking is another compulsion, including checking that you did not or won’t hurt others, checking you won’t hurt yourself, checking that nothing bad occurred, checking that you did not commit an error, or checking certain parts of your physical condition or body. Repeating, mental compulsions, and others are all also considered compulsions.

Symptoms of OCD

Some obsession symptoms may be fear of contamination or dirt, being unsure or having a hard time dealing with uncertainty, needing order and symmetry, aggressive or fearful thoughts about losing control and hurting yourself or others, and thoughts of aggression or sexual or religious subjects. For instance, someone may be scared of being contaminated by touching an item others have touched. Some compulsion symptoms may be washing and cleaning, checking, counting, orderliness, adhering to a strict routine, or needing reassurance. For instance, hand-washing until skin is raw or checking doors again and again to ensure they are locked are compulsion signs and symptoms.

OCD can start in the teen or young adult years but may even begin in childhood. Symptoms often start gradually and may vary in severity as life goes on. The types of obsessions and compulsions someone goes through may change over time. Symptoms can get worse as someone goes through more stress. OCD is often thought of as a lifelong disorder and may have mild to moderate symptoms or severe ones. If obsessions and compulsions are impacting someone’s quality of life, it is important to see a doctor or mental health professional.
In summary, OCD is not necessarily being a perfectionist or trying to organize your desk. OCD is a disorder where an obsession followed by a compulsion becomes debilitating and disrupts someone’s life by becoming time consuming. So if you happen to organize your closet by color just for fun, don’t say you are “so OCD” since this may be insensitive to those actually struggling with the disorder. Also, it is important to keep in mind that if someone is struggling with obsessions and compulsions, treatment is available to help. There is nothing wrong with getting help and receiving treatment can help drastically improve someone’s life. No one should be ashamed of having thoughts and actions that are simply out of their control. Again, mental health conditions are not any different from physical conditions. Just like someone would not be embarrassed if they broke their leg, there is no reason to be ashamed of getting help for a mental health disorder.

Help your child understand the concept of time by saying what time it is during routine activities. Use and explain words like morning, noon, night, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Make a timeline together showing a typical day, with drawings of regular events and the time of day written beneath each one.


1. “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 Mar. 2020,

2. “What Is OCD?” International OCD Foundation,