9 Common Things You Didn't Realize Are Signs Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
If you have several ongoing habits that take up a lot of your time, or thoughts and worries that seem strange or cause you a lot of stress, it may be a sign you have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Because, even though someone may picture a person organizing their apartment obsessively when they think of OCD, there's so much more to it.
"OCD is a mental health disorder consisting of obsessions (unwanted, intrusive, distressing thoughts) and/or compulsions (repetitive behaviors or actions in order to eliminate the distress surrounding the obsession)," counselor Amanda Petrik, LCPC, RPT-S, tells Bustle. "OCD can interfere with one’s functioning, whether that be work, school, relationships, or functioning in their home."
Obsessions are those stubborn, recurring thoughts, and compulsions are the rituals you might perform to help soothe them. "Compulsions can occupy a lot of [someone's] time keeping them from completing other tasks, or the obsessions might be so intrusive that they distract one’s attention from the present moment," Petrik says.
OCD can be intense, but there is hope. "Therapy is incredibly helpful for OCD," Rebecca Sinclair, PhD, director of psychological services at Brooklyn Minds, tells Bustle. "OCD is a biological disorder and while an individual may never completely eradicate themselves from it, behavioral therapy helps them learn the skills and become self-efficacious in managing it. Exposure and Response Prevention (ExRP) is the gold standard of OCD treatment."
So, if you feel plagued by bizarre thoughts or concerns, or find yourself compelled to alleviate these thoughts with time-consuming rituals, it may be a good idea to reach out for help. Here are a few thoughts and habits experts say are often a sign of OCD.
1. Doubting Yourself
If you're plagued with OCD-type doubt, you might lock and re-lock your front door before leaving for work, but never feel quite sure that you did it properly. Or, you might drive all the way to work, then become convinced you left the coffeepot on, and not be able to think about anything else for the rest of the day. (You might even drive home to check it more often than not.)
This is the type of ongoing doubt that often plagues people with OCD. "It is not coincidence that the French used to call OCD 'la folie du doute', the madness of doubt, or as has often been translated, 'the doubter's disease,'" clinical psychologist Michael Alcee, PhD, tells Bustle.
OCD sufferers often doubt themselves in situations like these, even though they know rationally that everything's OK. It can be quite distressing for them to skip a ritual, and they usually can't just "let it go" — even though they'd really like to. But the good news is, therapy can help.
2. Seeking Constant Reassurance
Because of these ongoing doubts, it's not uncommon for OCD sufferers to seek reassurance from others multiple times a day. As Dr. Alcee says, another "hallmark feature of OCD is reassurance-seeking, [or] asking others if they think something is OK, safe, or reasonable." If you have this habit, you might ask a friend if your thoughts make sense, or if it's OK to touch a dirty surface, or if you really do need to go home and check that your front door is locked.
"People with OCD often rely on others ... to help them shore up their sense that their world and they themselves are solid and safe," Dr. Alcee says. "Unfortunately, because experience is so subjective and never a perfect fit, they often feel that people help to a certain extent but that their questions and doubts still linger."
3. Being Overly Superstitions
It's fine to have a few superstitions. But OCD can make it easy to go overboard, due to the fact OCD is often based in worries and rituals.
"Although people may think holding superstitions is 'normal,' the level of fear they have about breaking a seemingly magical rule and potential consequences is indicative that their beliefs have crossed from common superstition to pathological," Dr. Sinclair says. "We call this 'magical thinking' or beliefs that your internal experiences can influence the external world."
The thing is, people with OCD know in their heart that performing a bizarre ritual won't really have any impact on their life. But they still feel the need to do it anyway — often causing themselves a lot of stress and wasted time in the process.
4. Apologizing Excessively
Some people apologize excessively out of habit, or due to a low level of social anxiety. But someone with OCD might be more likely to apologize due to the thinking that's often associated with the disorder.
"Another common OCD-like trait is to excessively apologize to people, as if your very words or actions (or lack of action) could have the magical power to harm another person," Dr. Alcee says. Someone with OCD might apologize to their mom several times after a small argument, for example, fearing that if they don't, something bad might happen to her.
"People with OCD are often very sensitive about harming others and about exhibiting overly-assertive or aggressive thought or action," Dr. Alcee says. By apologizing, they might believe they are "undoing" any harm they may have potentially caused.
5. Needing To Do Something A Specific Number Of Times
Many OCD sufferers have rituals, or compulsions, they perform in order to ease their anxiety. And this can result in a habit of counting or checking things a certain number of times.
"Often these behaviors are so repetitive or have been going on for such a long time that the person doesn't think to report them to a therapist," Dr. Sinclair says. "Mental rituals can include counting, tracing objects, repeating specific words over and over, saying a 'good' word to counter a 'bad' word, repeating prayers or mantras, making mental lists, or replaying past conversations over and over."
And again, if the sufferer doesn't do these things, they might feel like something bad will happen. "Although these are behaviors other people may do, a marker of OCD is if the person feels they cannot stop or that it would feel very distressing to stop," Sinclair says.
6. Worrying That You're A Bad Person
We all have scary thoughts from time to time, but OCD sufferers often get hung up on them. Take, for example, the passing worry that you might have clipped a cyclist with your car mirror while driving to work — even though you really didn't.
"Non-sufferers [can] usually quickly dismiss those thoughts and continue with their day," Anna Prudovski, psychologist and clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services, tells Bustle. "But individuals with OCD tend to take those thoughts very seriously."
Same goes for dark thoughts and worries, such as "what if I'm a bad person?" As Dr. Sinclair says, "Their thinking process goes like this: 'Oh no! Why did I just have this thought? I must be a horrible person and a danger to others. I should try to prevent the disaster from happening. I need to understand what this thought means.' This over-engagement with the thoughts creates a never-ending loop of trying to figure out or neutralize those thoughts." And when that happens, therapy can come in handy.
7. Having Distressing "Existential" Thoughts
"One type of OCD that is easily misunderstood is 'thought OCD,'" licensed therapist Amy McManus, LMFT tells Bustle. "If you have 'thought OCD' you have uncomfortable thoughts that pop up randomly in your mind all the time ... and you might even develop some rituals in your head to soothe yourself (compulsive thoughts)."
When thought OCD occurs, you might start to wonder about some pretty strange things, like "if the world you see and interact with is really real," McManus says. "While this can be fun to debate at 2 a.m. with your friends, people who suffer from existential thought OCD are tormented by constant thoughts that everything is imaginary."
It may sound bizarre, but it's a common worry many OCD sufferers have. However, through therapy, they can move past it.
8. Struggling With Indecision
For those who suffer with OCD, indecision can truly hold them back from getting on with their day. They might miss the bus, be late to work, or find themselves stuck at home doing the same task for hours on end.
As Dr. Sinclair says, "We often see how indecision impacts people on a day-to-day basis, from taking a significant amount of time getting dressed in the morning to hours spent deciding what to have to lunch. Other people may notice how this indecision may manifest, but not realize the OCD anxiety behind it."
By going to therapy, these issues can be uncovered and dealt with in a healthier way.
9. Difficulty Facing Uncertainty
Nobody likes to feel uncertain, but "for people with OCD, uncertainty can feel intolerable and often leads to compulsive checking, researching, or reassurance seeking," Dr. Misti Nicholson, licensed psychologist and clinical director of Austin Anxiety and OCD Specialists, tells Bustle. It can crop up during moments of change in life, but can even come about when small unexpected things happen, such as a delayed train or a change at work.
If you've had these thoughts and worries all your life, you might not realize they're a sign of OCD. But if they hold you back or cause you stress, that very well may be the case. Therapy is a great place to start, and medication can be helpful too, when treating OCD.