Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unrealistic fears and repetitive, ritualistic behaviours that affect the individual’s ability to lead a normal life. It is a difficult condition to live with: people who are affected often try to ignore their symptoms, but this leads to even higher levels of anxiety which, in turn, can escalate the repetitive behaviours.

Like most conditions, OCD manifests differently from one person to the next. The symptoms usually involve a combination of obsession and compulsion, but some people only experience one or the other. In most cases, the early signs appear innocuous, but they escalate over time until the affected individual has trouble attending work or school, maintaining social relationships, and performing everyday activities.

What is an obsession?

We all have thoughts, ideas or beliefs that preoccupy us. In most cases, we are able to manage those thoughts, either by ignoring them or by taking action on them. Obsessions go beyond the bounds of normal preoccupation. They are thoughts and ideas that persist to the extent of intruding on daily activities, and they do not go away in spite of repeated actions to mitigate them.

For example, many people worry about leaving the house with the stove turned on, even if they have not been cooking. They will go into the kitchen before they go out to ensure that everything is turned off and that the house is safe. With this done, they are able to go to work or school without further worry. Someone with an obsession, however, might get halfway to work and then decide to return home to check the stove a second, third or fourth time.

Some common obsessions include the following:

  • The need to arrange clothing, books and other items alphabetically, by size or by colour
  • A fear of germs and disease
  • Needing constant reassurance that the water is not running or that the stove is turned off
  • High levels of anxiety when an object does not fit a pattern, such as a piece of furniture not being perfectly lined up

What is a compulsion?

All of us have personal rituals that we follow, either because they comfort us or because they make our lives easier. These rituals vary from person to person, and include following a specific sequence of activities at bedtime, or arranging the contents of a drawer or shelf in a particular way.

While these activities reduce anxiety in most of us, they add to the anxiety in people who suffer from compulsions. The more the individual engages in the action, the more they feel that they have to. These compulsive behaviours vary widely from person to person, but some of the more common ones include the following:

  • Repeatedly sorting or arranging objects with extreme precision, and anger toward anyone who inadvertently breaks the pattern
  • Washing hands until they are raw and bleeding
  • Watching the same video segments again and again
  • Constantly checking that doors are locked, and that the lights and water are turned off, even if this means returning home
  • Silently repeating a word, phrase or pattern of numbers

At InnerSight Psychotherapy, we recognize the anguish that goes with a condition like OCD. We are here to help you. Whether your symptoms are the result of a genetic predisposition to OCD, a response to trauma or abuse, or a manifestation of mental illness, our therapists and counsellors can help you discover ways to manage your symptoms and regain part of your life.