Obsessive compulsive disorder (often referred to as OCD) is all too frequently played for laughs in popular culture.
What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
The most notable example of this is the television series Monk, a show about a man whose OCD makes him hard to be around—but also seems to be the key to his success as a brilliant private detective. Sheldon Cooper’s need to knock on a door in three sets of three knocks (while calling out a person’s name in between each set) on The Big Bang Theory is another example of a show using the symptoms of OCD to garner laughs from the audience.
Both Monk and The Big Bang Theory feature some moments in which we get a sense of just how problematic OCD can be for the individual experiencing it. But by and large, the symptoms of OCD are presented as quirks that annoy those around the person who exhibits them.
However, obsessive compulsive disorder is not simply a series of mere quirks that are funny or annoying or both. Instead, it is an anxiety disorder—one that is often quite devastating to the person who is experiencing it and trying to manage its symptoms.
As the name suggests, obsessive compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors intended to counteract those thoughts. This cycle of obsessions and compulsions can upend day-to-day life as a person struggles to keep the negative thoughts at bay and devotes significant amounts of time to the compulsive behavior. A person with OCD gets caught in this cycle even though they would far rather be engaged with other activities that are of value to them.
Examples of Obsessions
Obsessive thought, images, and urges can be centered on a variety of different potential harms on which a person may be unable to stop focusing. Examples include:
- Contamination: A person with OCD may be worried about coming into contact with bodily fluids, germs, man-made contaminants and chemicals, or even dirt.
- Perfectionism: Those with OCD worry about losing things or forgetting important information. As a result, they frequently have trouble discarding anything that might contain information or items they may need later. Obsessions related to perfectionism can also lead to an intense focus on exactness and/or evenness.
- Thoughts of harm: OCD can cause a person to obsessively worry about harming themselves or others—whether on purpose or unintentionally. They may also worry about causing harm in other ways, like stealing from someone or failing to control an impulse to insult another person.
- Other obsessions: There are many other things a person with OCD may find themselves worried about, including:
- Issues related to sex, sexual behavior, and sexual orientation
- Issues related to religion and/or morality
- Issues related to diseases like cancer
- Issues related to strong superstitions
Examples of Compulsions
As we have noted, compulsions are behaviors a person engages in with the hope that they will counteract or eliminate the kinds of obsessive thoughts we have listed above. Examples of compulsions may include:
- A commitment to checking: A person with OCD may check again and again to make sure that no one has been harmed, that nothing negative has occurred, or that they have avoided making a mistake.
- The roundabout of repetition: Those with OCD often repeat actions or activities—sometimes in sets (remember Sheldon and his knocking?) because they need to reach a “good” number.
- Keeping it (very) clean: OCD can lead to excessive efforts to maintain cleanliness—both of the individual (washing their hands over and over, for example) and of the surrounding environment.
- Other compulsions: Additional examples of compulsive behavior may include:
- Praying and making a mental account of things to ward off bad consequences
- Counting and cancelling so that things are done the “correct” number of times and bad things are replaced by good things
- Seeking frequent reassurance—often by “confessing” wrongdoing
Treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
The lists above make it pretty clear that OCD is no laughing matter. A person struggling with the disorder needs help—and that help generally comes in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medications from the serotonin reuptake inhibitor class (often called SRIs). In some cases, a person may need more intensive treatment in a residential setting for a period of time.
Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health Can Help with OCD
Far from being a punchline for jokes, obsessive compulsive disorder is instead one of several different anxiety disorders, any and all of which can make day-to-day life extremely challenging. If you are struggling with a mental health disorder, Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health can help.
We are committed to listening to and collaborating with our clients to create personalized treatment plans that can help individuals better manage mental health challenges. You do not have to let OCD overwhelm you or constantly disrupt your life. Let us help you find ways to leave obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors behind so that you can reclaim your life and pursue your passions and goals.