OCD used to be considered a fairly rare disorder. Many people with OCD try to disguise their condition and are extremely reluctant to discuss it with anyone. But more and more well know figures are coming ‘out of the closet’ nowadays, and knowledge of the disorder is much more widespread. Recent estimates suggest it is relatively common, and ‘minor’ OCD symptoms – ‘eccentric’ or ‘odd behaviour’ – are very widespread. There is a wide variety of bizarre patterns of obsessive and compulsive behaviour, and a large majority of cases include both obsessions and compulsions.
Typical obsessions are with:
- fear of shameful misbehaviour
- death and disaster
- perverted sexual thoughts
- symmetrical arrangements
- intrusive thoughts and images
- lucky or unlucky numbers
- unsatisfactory body images
Typical compulsions include:
- repeating ritual actions
- hoarding things
- confessing imaginary ‘sins’
All of these OCD symptoms are forms of behaviour that in small doses would not be a problem. There are plenty of people around who are a bit finicky about cleanliness; or who like to double-check that the door is locked at night; or who like their possessions to be arranged ‘just so’. Others may think of them as a bit odd, but that is as far as it goes.
People with OCD are in a different category. Their compulsions are so strong that ritual behaviour swallows up great chunks of their day, putting jobs at risk, relationships under strain, and generally making life a kind of living hell. Obsessive-compulsives can also damage themselves physically – with constant washing, for example.
The compulsive rituals are carried out to help ease the anxiety caused by the obsessive thoughts. The OC thinker will also use ‘curing’ thoughts such as counting, thinking ‘good things’ etc. that are relevant to him or her but probably have little connection with the intrusive thought or thoughts that they are used to counter.