Obsessive compulsive disorder is often an unspoken affliction because those who suffer from it may feel ashamed and guilty because they think they are unique and cannot be cured. The difference between an obsession and a compulsion is that a compulsion is felt (thought about) while the compulsion is acted out behaviourally.
The obsessive person is driven by persistent negative thoughts that are involuntary, uncontrollable and consuming. Self-doubt, ambivalence, indecision and impulses fill him.
With the OCD sufferer, obsessions are repetitive, unproductive thoughts. Most people have experienced thoughts of that type from time to time but, not to the insanity producing extreme that distinguishes OCD.
Imagine driving down a road, maybe ten minutes from home, heading for a week’s vacation and suddenly the thought enters your mind, “Did I unplug the iron after I finished with that shirt?”
Then you think, “I must have…but I don’t know, I was rushing around so much at the last minute. Did I reach down and pull the chord out of the socket? I can’t remember. Was the iron light still on as I walked out the door? No, it was off. Was it? I can’t leave it on all week or the house will burn down!”
Meanwhile, your blood pressure is going up, you may be sweating, you’re certainly not focused on the road and your anxiety levels are rapidly escalating.
So, as an OCD person, you have to turn around and head home to check because that’s the only way to feel relieved.
And, for some OCD persons, they will be doing their “checks” on the way home that will let them know whether or not the house is in flames. Checks such as “how many red cars have I seen in the last X minutes?” there are good numbers and bad (harmful) numbers for OCD sufferers.
The point to the above is that a lot of healthy people can identify with some of the symptoms of OCD, such as checking the stove or iron before leaving the house. But for people with OCD, such activities consume at lease an hour a day, are very distressing and interfere with daily life.
In the mind of the person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, worries become exaggerated, highly distressing and persistent. Furthermore, the OCD sufferer, this type of thinking is impossible to resist.
That’s why Devin Hastings calls OCD the Borg disease. The Borg are an alien species (on Star Trek) who assimilate or destroy all species they come into contact with. Their motto is: “Resistance is futile”. That’s how it feels with OCD.
Let’s move on to the second aspect of OCD. The second part of OCD consists of compulsions. These are repetitive, unproductive behaviours (versus thoughts) that OCD people engage in ritualistically.
As with obsessive thoughts, there are a few compulsive behaviours in which the average person might engage. For example, as children, we all had our superstitions such as never stepping on a sidewalk crack or the number 13 somehow being dangerous. Some of these “protective” responses gently persist as we grow older.
In fact, you probably know someone who will never walk under a ladder or get off an elevator on the 13th floor of a building.
But, with the OCD person, intense anxiety and even panic can come whenever the person attempts to stop whatever ritual they engage in. The tension and anxiety build to such an intense degree that s/he surrenders once again to the thoughts or behaviours. Unlike an alcoholic, who feels compelled to drink but also (sometimes) enjoys the drinking experience, the obsessive-compulsive person can achieve a type of relief through their ritual but usually no pleasure.
Let’s have a look at the most common OCD disorders.
(Note: All diagnostic information adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition; American Psychiatric Press, 1994)
- Hoarding, saving and collecting
- Compulsive slowness
- “Pure obsessing”
- Contamination obsessions
- Ordering obsessions
- Scrupulosity-a.k.a. religious obsessions
- Aggressive obsessions
- Sexual obsessions
- Cleaning and washing
Related OCD disorders
- Compulsive bullying
- Compulsive stealing
- Addictions (this is disputed)
Obsessive compulsive disorder is treated with solution-focused hypnopsychotherapy which involves a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnoanalytical psychotherapy which takes an average of 8 to 12 sessions.