7 Signs You Might Have High Functioning OCD, According To Experts

Hannah Burton/Bustle

There are a lot of myths and stigmas surrounding obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, but that doesn't make it any less serious of a disorder. It isn't all about extreme tidiness or counting things, though those are valid expressions of the disorder itself; rather, OCD is characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts, as well as compulsive behaviors that are used to help manage those thoughts, according to Psychology Today. But as with many mental illnesses, it exists on a spectrum; many people may have high functioning OCD, but might not realize it because they're unfamiliar with the term.

Dr. Sherry Benton, a therapist and the founder of affordable therapy database TAO Connect, tells Bustle that high functioning OCD can be difficult to spot because it may not have as much of a day-to-day impact on a person's daily life. "In low-functioning OCD, individuals are overwhelmed by the disease," she says. By contrast, high functioning people with OCD may not seem overwhelmed internally or on the surface, but still work to manage symptoms of the disorder, whether through self-care strategies or therapy.

If you're concerned that you might be living with OCD, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a consultation with your therapist to see if there are strategies that can help you. Here are seven subtle signs of high functioning OCD.

1You Ruminate And Have Intrusive Thoughts

The key symptom of OCD is obsessive, intrusive thoughts, and compulsive behaviors develop as a way to control or banish these thoughts. "These compulsive behaviors or actions aren’t always rationally connected to resolving a problem, yet they relieve the stress and anxiety around the obsessions." For someone who is not high functioning, Dr. Benton says, "The symptoms — including ruminative thinking, compulsive behaviors and debilitating anxiety — are nearly constant." In people with high functioning OCD, these thought patterns are the same, but they're much less evident on the surface; the coping behaviors aren't as visible.

2Your Life Seems Under Control

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"In high functioning OCD, the individual might have highly distressing symptoms, yet can be very successful and productive," says Dr. Benton. Compulsive anxiety can appear as an asset in certain contexts, particularly detail-oriented jobs, but it can also hold you back. Intrusive Thoughts, an OCD awareness organization, notes that even high functioning individuals with OCD can find their anxieties getting in the way of completing tasks, making them obsess over the perceptions of others or delaying how they do various tasks.

3You Worry Often

Hannah Burton/Bustle

The thought process that lies behind OCD is very distinctive. "Intrusive thoughts are thoughts you can’t put out of your mind," says Dr. Benton. "For example, you see something disturbing and you keep thinking about it, and you are completely unable to put it out of your mind. These thoughts commonly produce anxiety related to those thoughts that are intrusive, unwanted and disturbing." If you have high functioning OCD, the thoughts are present and can be very upsetting, but the solutions you've developed to cope aren't necessarily getting in the way of your everyday life.

4It May Not Have Always Been There

Hannah Burton/Bustle

High functioning OCD "can begin in early childhood, but it can also appear in early adulthood," says Dr. Benton, or even after experiencing a traumatic brain injury. Further research still needs to be done about how high functioning OCD develops in the brain, but it's necessary to know that you don't need to have had it all your life for it to be valid.

5You Have Behaviors That Make Your Anxiety Die Down

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

The big difference between the different kinds of OCD is in compulsive behavior. "In high functioning OCD, obsessions are prominent and distressing," says Dr. Benton. "However, often the compulsive behaviors are less obvious or debilitating." Constantly monitoring things, for instance, or micromanaging others, could be subtle examples of behaviors stemming from high functioning OCD.

6You May Have A Relative With OCD

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"Patterns in the brain are different for people with OCD than for others," notes Dr. Benton. "OCD can run in some families." If you've noticed the same patterns of thinking or behavior in others in your family and made a connection to OCD, it may be worth reflecting that it's a potential diagnosis for you as well.

7You Don't Feel You "Fit" Typical OCD Descriptors

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"There is no laboratory test for OCD," says Dr. Benton. "It is usually diagnosed through a diagnostic interview with a mental health professional. There is a good self-screening test on BeyondOCD.org’s website, but scoring high doesn’t always mean you have OCD." Many people may read about symptoms of OCD online and feel as though the diagnosis might not apply to them, but that doesn't necessarily mean a trained counselor or doctor wouldn't make that diagnosis.

Remember that just because somebody says, "But you don't look like you have OCD," doesn't mean that it's not the right diagnosis for you. People who live with OCD are not a monolith, and everyone's experience with the disorder is different and valid. It's important to break down the stigmas and preconceptions around this disorder, however, to make sure everyone can get the treatment they need.