Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that is the result of a coming together of two sets of symptoms: obsessive thoughts coupled with compulsive behaviours. And like many other mental health disorders, it isn’t doesn’t present itself as one identifiable set of characteristics. In much the same way that addictions, emotional difficulties and anxiety can all follow a different narrative depending on the case in question, so too, can OCD. The definition and criteria for a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsiveness goes far beyond the stereotypical hand-washing and orderly compulsion that is most associated with it. Here is an overview of the main behavioural sub-types that make up the condition:
The compulsion to check is usually the result of a deep-lying fear that something terrible is going to take place, leading to the same action being repeated to try and alleviate the anxiety associated with that thought. Many people are prone to double-checking minor details throughout the day, but for the individual with OCD, their concern often results in a compulsion that sees them ‘check’ hundreds of times before they’re satisfied enough to move on. This can have a significant impact on work and social activities and the ability to keep a steady job or relationship, due to the difficulty in sticking to a schedule.
Contamination references what some people may refer to as ‘germ phobia.’ It’s the overriding fear that by interacting with the world at large in everyday scenarios, the individual is putting themselves at constant risk of disease or infection. This leads to the obsession and ritualistic cleaning and cleansing of oneself until they feel they’re rid of any harmful bacteria that may cause them undue harm. Like checking, it can be repetitive in nature and hence, very time-consuming. And as well impacting on social responsibilities, it can also lead to unintentional self-harm, as there are many cases in which people have been known to scrub their skin raw or else cause other aberrations on the body.
Symmetry and Ordering
This is one that the average person will relate to and may have prompted either themselves or those close to them to remark that they’re a ‘little bit OCD.’ Symmetry and ordering is the want for everything to be a certain way with each material object having a proper place it should reside in for there to be balance and order. Doing so often forms part of a ritual, needing to be completed before that person can move onto another activity. This type of OCD also causes its own kind of isolation, as in severe cases, the sufferer may be so fearful of having their space disrupted and ‘thrown out of order,’ they close themselves off from the world.
Hoarding refers to the inability of a person to throw away any possessions that have long since served their purpose and become worn out. This can be for multiple reasons such as sentimentality, coping with a traumatic life-event, which hasn’t been processed and even the idea that those items will again be useful someday. Despite hoarding being reclassified by the DSM-5 as its own condition in 2013, people who display these behaviours will still hoard due to very specific and obsessive fears that place it firmly in the territory of OCD. It can reach to such an extent that those who suffer from the most severe cases of hoarding can literally fill up their houses with decades worth of clutter.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
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