Often times Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is misunderstood as primarily a behavioral disorder, as something that is being done obsessively like washing hands, aligning cans by color, or flicking light switches. These behaviors only account for the compulsive side of the diagnosis.
I find that many people lack the dynamic understanding of what OCD really is.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders states, “OCD is characterized by the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessionsare recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as intrusive or unwanted, whereas compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform.”
When we limit OCD to behavioral aspects we diminish our ability to see the full spectrum of the diagnosis, and may misunderstand the severity of certain behaviors or discredit the experience of those who suffer from the diagnosis.
What is a compulsion?
A compulsion is a behavior or mental act that an individual performs in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be rigidly applied. Compulsions are carried out to diminish the anxiety from an obsession. For example, an individual with a cleaning compulsion may have an underlying contamination obsession or an individual with a symmetry obsession may participate in compulsive ordering, counting or repetition tasks. Mental acts are also a feature of compulsion which may include counting, repeating words silently, or reciting mantras/prayers/or hymns.
What is an obsession?
An obsession is a preoccupation that may be experienced as a thought, urge, or image. Obsessions can include forbidden or taboo thoughts, inflated sense of responsibility, the tendency to overestimate threat, perfectionism, or intolerance to uncertainty. For example, an individual may experience recurrent thoughts of aggressiveness, sexuality, or religiosity, or persistent fears of harming one’s self or another.
Someone with OCD may experience only obsessions, or obsessions and compulsions. Many individuals with OCD solely posses obsessions and do not carry out compulsions. Further, the object of obsession or compulsion can vary significantly from person to person.
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Raquel Buchanan is a mental health profession in southern California who blogs about life and relationships. Raquel is on a mission to spread awareness about the impact of violence, abuse, and trauma. The information contained on this site is for entertainment purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional assistance. Contents contained in these blogs are based on true stories or the experiences of several several people and are fictional. Identifying information has been changed to protect the anonymity and confidentiality of therapy patients.