Everyone double checks things sometimes. For example, you might double check to make sure the stove or iron is turned off before leaving the house. But people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) feel the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The thoughts and rituals associated with OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life.
The frequent upsetting thoughts are called obsessions. To try to control them, a person will feel an overwhelming urge to repeat certain rituals or behaviors called compulsions. People with OCD can’t control these obsessions and compulsions. Most of the time, the rituals end up controlling them.
Traditionally it has been thought that there are four main categories of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
1. Checking – the need to check is the compulsion, the obsessive fear might be to prevent damage, fire, leaks or harm. The checking is often carried out multiple times, sometimes hundreds of times, and for hours on end, resulting in the person being late for work, dates and other appointments. Common checking includes gas/electric stove knobs, water taps, door locks, lights, wallet and so on.
2. Contamination – The need to clean and wash is the compulsion, the obsessive fear is that something is contaminated and/or may cause illness, and ultimately death, to a loved one or oneself. For example fear of using public toilets, touching doors, shaking hands, visiting hospitals, eating in restaurants, being in a crowd and so on. Feelings of mental contamination can be evoked by times when a person perhaps felt badly treated, physically or mentally. The person will engage in repetitive and compulsive attempts to wash the dirt away by showering and washing which is where the similarities with traditional contamination OCD return.
3. Hoarding – Another obsession long considered to be part of ‘OCD’ is the inability to discard useless or worn out possessions, commonly referred to as ‘hoarding’.
4. Ruminations / Intrusive Thoughts – In the context of OCD a rumination is actually a train of prolonged thinking about a question or theme that is undirected and unproductive. Many ruminations dwell on religious, philosophical, or metaphysical topics, such as the origins of the universe, life after death, the nature of morality, and so on. Intrusive thoughts, in the spectrum of OCD, are where a person generally suffers with obsessional thoughts that are repetitive, disturbing and often horrific and repugnant in nature. For example, thoughts of causing violent or sexual harm to loved ones.
OCD sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some people have it while others don’t. Researchers are also looking for ways in which stress and environmental factors may play a role. For many people, OCD starts during childhood or the teen years. Most people are diagnosed by about age 19. OCD is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. So if you experience such symptoms too, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor. Control your obsessions before they take total control over you!