Obsessions and compulsions … two preoccupations that often go hand-in-hand to form an abnormal anxiety issue called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is characterized by repetitive, ritualized behaviours brought about by unwanted and severely intrusive thoughts. OCD behaviour is usually irrational and disruptive of the sufferer’s day -to-day living.
As the name suggests, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a conglomeration of two behaviours that are distinct yet highly synergistic. The first part deals with obsession; the second, compulsion. Obsession compels the mind to run certain thoughts chronically while compulsion impels the repetition of behaviour specifically intended to eradicate these obsessive thoughts. People who suffer from suffer OCD generally have to deal with both their obsessive and compulsive tendencies; however, there are some that experience only one trait.
Obsessions are mental images, thoughts, or urges that invade a person’s mind over and over despite the person’s desire to stop these chronic intrusions. The obsessed individual may know these thoughts are irrational and insensible yet feel powerless to stop the constant onslaught.
Momentary high interest in something is not to be mistaken for chronic obsession. Chronic obsession is characterized by thoughts which invade the mind all the time to the point that the obsessed negates daily tasks and even relationships in order to mull over or act on his obsession.
To illustrate the difference: Sixteen-year-old Claire is in love at the moment with the band, One Direction. She constantly “googles” them for personal tidbits and concert events, fills her rooms with One Direction posters, and dreams of kissing Harry Styles. Because of her behaviour, one would label Claire as obsessed with the band. Actually, Claire is simply infatuated with them. She has a healthy interest normal to her age group because she can still study, go out with friends, indulge in other activities, and forget about One Direction when doing important tasks. If Claire were truly obsessed with One Direction, her thoughts would revolve around the band, day in and day out, to the detriment of her studies, peer relationships, and other personal aspects of her life. She will not be able to get them out of her mind even if she wanted to and would probably go through great lengths to see the band by stalking band members, stealing money to afford concert and travel tickets, and the like.
Compulsion is a behaviour usually borne out of the need to counteract obsession. Because the need to banish the same constant thoughts is great, a person also does the same constant actions to remedy the worrisome thought. As obsession is chronic, so becomes compulsion as it is the temporary fix of these intrusive thoughts. Every time an obsessive thought hits, a person with OCD is driven to perform the counteracting action. As such, compulsion disrupts daily life as the compulsive person finds the need to perform his repetitive tasks to neutralize his obsessions and make them go away.
Daily routines like prayer, personal hygienic practices, cleaning, and organizing are, although repetitive, not compulsions on their own. If these are not done to erase obsessive thoughts nor are disruptive to daily life, then these actions are simply normal. What makes washing hands, cleaning the kitchen, or checking on locked doors abnormal and compulsive is when these are repeated many times enough to render the behaviours, time-consuming and highly unfavourable to one’s normal functioning in his personal, work, or social life. If a person usually gets to work an hour late because he had to check on his stove for the hundredth time before leaving, then that person can be said to have an abnormal compulsion.
General Categories of OCD
Obsessive-compulsive individuals generally fall under these OCD categories:
- Checkers — repeatedly check on things (door locked, pepper spray in bag, etc.) to assuage the constant thoughts of danger or harm coming their way.
- Sinners — are usually obsessed with following religious doctrine, traditions, and rules to the letter and doing everything perfectly right because they fear punishment, divine retribution, or bad karma. While following religious practices is generally a good thing, it becomes obsessive when the person throws out all common sense to do so or acquires great stress because of it.
- Washers — have the compulsion to repeatedly shower or wash their hands raw because of the obsessive fear of being contaminated by germs and getting sick.
- Hoarders — compulsively collect and store stuff. Hoarders cannot bring themselves to throw things away because they have thoughts that something bad will happen if they do so.
- Counters and organizers — are people who have a strong need for symmetry and order. They need to constantly count and arrange things. Some individuals may be superstitious about numbers, colours, and the order of things.
A normal person can have personality traits that fall into any of these categories. Just because someone constantly wipes his gadgets clean of fingerprints after use does not make him obsessive or compulsive. He is simply being clean and neat. A person with a genuine obsessive-compulsive disorder is severely distressed by his thoughts and behaviour. His behaviour takes up a lot of his time and interferes with his daily life and relationships.
Therapy for OCD
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has often proven to be effective with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It focuses on teaching you healthy techniques and ways of dealing with obsessive thoughts without resorting to compulsive behaviour. Although antidepressants may be prescribed in conjunction with the therapy, the medication is only a small part of the healing process. Prescribed drugs often cannot relieve the symptoms of OCD without the partnership of cognitive behavioural therapy.