Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which the person most commonly experiences frequent, distressing, recurrent thoughts, known as obsessions. These thoughts result in significant distress and anxiety which the person learns to cope with by developing actions, known as compulsions or rituals, which they feel compelled to perform in order to reduce the anxiety associated with the obsession.
Obsessions can take the form of:
- Thoughts: for example, the idea or belief that the you have been contaminated by something, or that you have harmed or are going to harm someone
- Images: for example, mental images of a violent or sexual nature which are distressing and intrusive
- Other forms of obsessions can take the form of obsessive impulses or obsessive doubt about something.
Obsessions are always distressing and never pleasurable. They can seem to be completely senseless to the person experiencing them such that people can fear that they are losing their mind or going crazy. Attempts to block out obsessions or not to think about them are invariably unsuccessful and they lead to severe anxiety.
In most people, they learn to cope or manage this anxiety by developing actions or behaviours which are known as compulsions.
- Washing one’s hands very frequently in response to the obsessive thought that one is contaminated by germs.
- Checking behaviours, e.g. repeatedly checking that home appliances are switched off or that windows/doors are locked in response to the obsession of doubt.
- Avoidance behaviours – avoiding anything that has to do with a particular obsession, e.g. avoiding the use of knives or avoiding being alone with a particular person.
- Reassurance – frequently asking others to reassure you that everything is alright.
- Feeling the need to think or do something which will prevent the obsessive idea from coming true, e.g. some people feel the need to count to a certain number, or to say a certain word in response to experiencing an obsessive thought or image.
These compulsions can take up a considerable amount of time and prevent people from getting on with their normal daily life such that they can become very disabled by them.