Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) occupies a strange space within mental health. While many people are quick to try and hide the fact that they may suffer from anxiety or depression, it seems like a large number of people are all too ready to admit that they suffer from this condition. But the truth is that not everyone who says they have OCD has a legitimate case of the disorder. For many people, it’s become a byword for being a bit fussy or particular. This does a great disservice to many of those who do have a serious case of the condition. Because OCD is so readily accepted as part of our collective identity and vocabulary, it means that the challenge it represents is largely written off as something we all have to deal with… ‘Everyone has OCD.’ But is that really an accurate statement? Even taking into account the fact that many mental health conditions exist on a wide spectrum, OCD still can’t be that pervasive.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
To find an accurate description of OCD, you really need to look no further than the name of the condition. It’s most commonly characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. These thoughts are repetitive in nature, which often revolve the excessive urge to engage in one or more actions to alleviate a sense of anxiety that persists if they’re not carried out – or not performed in a specific order. One of the hallmarks of the condition is that although people with the condition are often aware that their behaviours don’t make sense, they’re unable to consciously change their habits without the intervention from a trained psychologist.
Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- An obsession is defined as an unwanted or unpleasant thought, image or urge that cannot be shut out of your mind. It’s one that causes distress, discomfort and anxiety.
- A compulsion is defined as a repetitive act or behaviour that you feel has to be carried out to relieve yourself of a burden or to avert some form or imaged/perceived negative consequences.
The 4 Main Types of OCD
One of the biggest eye-opening facts you may be surprised to learn is that OCD is not a singular diagnosis. It’s a multi-faceted condition that can manifest in many ways and will also fluctuate in severity according to the environmental factors and influences that you may have been subjected to. Here are the four main types and what they look like.
- Cleaning and Contamination
This is the classic depiction of OCD. Many people tend to associate the condition with excessive hand-washing. But it’s not the act of hand-washing itself that’s the issue – it’s only the symptom. The real issue at play is the overt fear of contamination. And as such, this form of OCD can include many other behaviours that feed into this neurosis. It can see an individual having to constantly clean their work surfaces. This could also be thought of as being germophobic, as the main source of the anxiety is the fear of being exposed to possible viruses.
- Symmetry and Ordering
This is where a lot of people may begin to mistakenly think of themselves as being OCD. Many people are prone to being very particular about their belongings and space. And it’s completely natural to take pride in your home environment. But within the context of OCD, this need is taken to the nth degree. The need for exact symmetry and order in all things becomes a debilitation rather than a stress reliever. Books, DVD’s and clothes all may be kept in a certain order. And it can even extend to things as abstract as physical injuries. For example, if you scratch your left arm, you may be compelled to scratch your right to maintain that sense of ‘order.’
- Forbidden Thoughts
This form of OCD could be described as the act of ‘mental policing.’ It sees the individual adopting a state of near-constant judgment around any perceived negative thoughts. And these could relate to absolutely anything. The debilitating aspect this form of the condition is that it’s even more involuntary than some of the other variants. For example, if you see a horrendous crime and TV, you’ll naturally have thoughts in response. It’s natural. But although you’ll be many times detached from the event, you may experience feelings of shame and guilt. This can then lead to anxiety that you may then carry out these same actions.
Hoarding is rooted in the idea that everything has a value and that by throwing things away unnecessarily, the individual in question may bring great harm not only to themselves but also to those around them, as well. This type of hoarding has a certain spiritual or thread of mysticism running through it. But a more a common observed reason for hoarding is linked to the idea that by throwing things away, you may be discarding things that may turn out to be needed in the near future. However, this form of OCD isn’t to be confused with hoarding disorder which is a related but entirely separate mental health condition.
What Causes OCD?
As with many other mental health conditions, there is no one pre-determined factor that leads to the onset of OCD. It can and does have many variables that can either be at play individually or else work in conjunction with one another.
Family History: It’s been shown that you’re far more likely to develop OCD-like tendencies if you come from a family with one or more confirmed cases. This is especially true of more tic-related OCD conditions.
Biological Causes: Brain chemistry is also said to play a prevalent role in the formation of what goes on to become obsessive-compulsion behaviours. Some studies have suggested that impaired function within the brain or problems with neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine can also play a part.
Environmental Factors: This represents perhaps the biggest cause. And it’s been widely reported that abuse and trauma can lead to the development of OCD. In this context, the compulsive tendencies serve as a compensatory mechanism to help alleviate the stress associated with trauma.