What exactly is OCD?

Obsessions and compulsions are two different parts of the condition called OCD. The term, OCD obsessions, refers to persistent and repetitive ideas, thoughts, or images that occur involuntarily. These intrusive thoughts frequently arise while thinking about or engaging in other activities. Typically, they don’t make any sense but cause you to feel an urgency to take certain actions. Not taking action results in intense anxiety, increasing the urge to act out ritualistic behaviors.

OCD compulsions are the repetitive behaviors that your obsessive thoughts urge you to perform. You continually repeat the behaviors because doing so briefly alleviates the anxiety caused by your obsessive thoughts. You can voluntarily stop the compulsive behavior, but tension and anxiety will increase until you resume the behavior.

Examples of OCD Obsessions and Compulsions

People who experience OCD obsessions and compulsions may or may not perceive their obsessions as abnormal. For the person with OCD, his or her thoughts tend to focus on particular behaviors, such as washing, counting, or checking. Typically, the obsession is coupled with what experts refer to as a “magical thought”. For example, you may have an obsessive thought that you must touch your elbow to the doorknob five times to avoid something bad happening, such as an illness or tragic accident. The compulsion refers to your need to actually touch your elbow to the doorknob five times. If you don’t, your anxiety level will become severe because of your fear of the bad event (i.e. the illness or accident), compelling you to perform the behavior.

Other examples of obsessions and compulsions include feeling an intense need to check if you hurt someone when driving, even though there’s no evidence that you did. You return to the spot where you feel the accident may have occurred to check for an injured person. Likewise, even if you know on some level that you turned off the water sprinklers outside, you may still feel compelled to check. (While there is no cure for OCD, effective treatment for OCD obsessions and compulsions does exist.)

List of Obsessions and Compulsions

Examples of Obsessions

  • Doubt that you turned off the oven or locked the door
  • Fear that you hurt someone in traffic
  • Intense distress if objects aren’t lined up or in arranged in an orderly way
  • Urge to shout obscenities in inappropriate situations
  • Replaying of pornographic or other unwanted images in your mind
  • Fear of contamination by germs, dirt, or harmful substance
  • Fear of discarding personal possessions

Examples of Compulsions

  • Repeatedly checking that you turned off the oven or locked the door
  • Retracing your driving route to make sure you didn’t hurt anyone along the way
  • Arranging all of your magazines or silverware to face the same way and match up exactly
  • Counting in certain patterns to ward off the occurrence of a bad event
  • Repeatedly washing your hands to remove all possibility of contamination
  • Hoarding all sorts of personal possessions regardless of worth
  • Hair pulling or skin picking

OCD In Men

Some of the most common sources of fear and anxiety among men suffering from OCD include:

  • Fear of becoming ill, getting injured or dying
  • Fear of loved ones becoming ill, getting injured or dying
  • Fear of germs or being unclean
  • Fear of causing harm to others
  • Fear of upsetting a higher power
  • Fear of losing personal objects
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts
  • A need to maintain perfect order or symmetry
  • Superstitious beliefs

Men suffering from OCD will often turn to ritualistic behaviors in order to calm their fears and anxieties. But because their fears arise so frequently and are often only loosely grounded in reality, such behaviors only offer temporary relief and must be repeated over and over again.

Common ritualistic behaviors among men with OCD include:

  • Excessive hand washing, showering, etc.
  • Arranging objects in specific patterns
  • Obsessively checking one’s work for errors
  • Obsessively dwelling on and reviewing one’s actions
  • Compulsive hoarding or collecting objects of little value
  • Behavioral tics such as touching a doorknob five times before turning it, or tying and untying one’s shoes multiple times before feeling satisfied.

Men suffering from OCD are usually aware of the fact their fears and compulsions are irrational. However, this doesn’t make it any easier for them to control their ritualistic behaviors on their own. This internal conflict creates extreme levels of mental distress. It should come as no surprise that many men will turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of their OCD.

While drug and alcohol use may be an effective short-term strategy to control the anxiety resulting from the symptoms of OCD, it doesn’t take long for this pattern of self-medication to transform into a powerful chemical addiction.

An obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis can only come from a qualified mental health professional. To receive an OCD diagnosis, you must meet certain diagnostic criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). If you receive an OCD diagnosis, it means that you have a chronic mental illness that will require lifelong management. There are effective ways to treat and manage OCD and many people with the disorder live productive, happy lives.

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