OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) is an anxiety disorder characterised by obsessive thoughts and physical and/or mental compulsions.
What are obsessions?
An obsession is a persistent thought, image or urge that triggers distress. These obsessions are frequent, unwanted and difficult to control or get rid of.
Common obsessions include:
- Fear of contamination from dirt, germs, viruses, bodily fluids, faeces, chemicals, dangerous materials
- Fear of being harmed (e.g. doors not being locked)
- Excessive concern with order or symmetry
- Obsessions with body or physical symptoms
- Blasphemous thoughts (e.g. offending God)
- Upsetting sexual thoughts
- Thoughts of violence or aggression
It should also be noted that studies have shown that all people experience intrusive thoughts from time to time. However, a person with OCD worries that an intrusive thought is a sign of danger.
What are compulsions?
Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. Most people with OCD have more than one compulsion.
Common compulsions include:
- Checking (e.g. taps, gas, locked doors)
- Repeating acts
- Ordering or striving for symmetry/ exactness
Often people think something awful will happen if they do not act on their compulsions.
These types of compulsions may be quite noticeable to an observer. However, there are lots of compulsions which can be carried out in a person’s head. These are known as mental compulsions (e.g. saying a fixed repetitive prayer, or a certain pattern of words).