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Scrabble letters spelling out OCD

Symptoms & Signs of OCD

What Is OCD?

OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is a mental health condition that used to be considered an anxiety disorder. It now has its own unique category. People with OCD experience two main problems:

  • Recurring urges or thoughts (obsessions)
  • Recurring behaviors (compulsions)

Together, these thoughts and behaviors produce significant life disruption. They can diminish the ability to establish or maintain a sense of well-being.

Obsessive Symptoms of OCD

Obsession in people with OCD differs from the word used in general speech. You can become “obsessed” about things that bring you pleasure, such as your favorite TV show or activity. But in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsession is always accompanied by anxiety or fear. There are six main themes of obsession in affected individuals:

  • Loss of Control. Loss of control involves general fears of aggressive, savage or terrifying mental imagery. It can also involve dread of stealing or making inappropriate comments.
  • Causing Harm to Others. This category includes anxieties about causing specific types of harm. An affected person may fear being the cause of a terrible accident or the cause of catastrophic property damage.
  • Becoming Contaminated. Contamination themes may center on exposure to things like germs, blood or other bodily fluids. They can also include exposure to chemicals used in the home, airborne pollutants or anything that can leave a dirty residue.
  • Religion-Related Themes. Religious obsessions involve a preoccupation with defining rules of right and wrong. They may also involve fears of offending a higher power.
  • Urge for Perfection. This can manifest as an obsession with maintaining order. It can also include dread of losing important items or forgetting important details.
  • Undesired Sexual Thinking. This type of thinking may include taboo or illegal themes such as incest or sexual acts with children. It may also involve taboo sexual impulses toward specific adults.

There are still several common themes that don’t fall into any of these main categories. Some examples may include:

  • Obsessions with numbers
  • Obsessions with colors that bring good or bad luck
  • Obsessions with diseases not caused by some form of contamination

Compulsive Symptoms of OCD

OCD in women and men can produce compulsive behaviors that serve as reactions to obsessive thoughts, imagery or urges. There are four main categories of these behaviors:

  • Washing/Cleaning. Washing or cleaning behaviors include engaging excessively in bathing or other grooming rituals. It may include repeated hand-washing and frequent cleaning of specific items.
  • Repeating. A repeating compulsion includes a need to repeat an everyday activity like opening or closing a door. It may involve repeatedly touching or tapping parts of the body. Often it involves a need to perform an activity a specific number of times. It can also manifest as a need to write or read things multiple times.
  • Checking. A checking compulsion often centers on a need to make sure that an undesired situation or event did not occur. This may include making sure you haven’t harmed yourself or others. This type of compulsion can center on specific parts of the body or the body’s general condition.
  • Mental Compulsions. Mental compulsions are behaviors “performed” in the mind. These behaviors include using prayers or mental inspections to stop unwanted outcomes from occurring. It may also include counting to make sure that an activity is repeated the “correct” number of times.

A person with OCD may have a mixture of obsessive and compulsive symptoms, or symptoms that only fall into one of these categories. Many people with OCD are aware that their thoughts and actions don’t make complete sense. They do not enjoy checking the locks and stove every few minutes or straightening the pantry for hours. Though they cannot quit doing these things because it is out of their control.

Promises Treatment Center can help you or your loved one through treatment of OCD. Contact our recovery advisors today at 888-478-1456.


National Institute of Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

International OCD Foundation: About OCD

Posted on September 23, 2016 and modified on April 3, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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