Looking Past the Stereotype: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


Double-checking the front door to make sure it’s locked, washing our hands, repeatedly looking at the stove to ensure it’s off—everyone has the occasional compulsive behavior. However, for some people, those behaviors become serious enough that they disrupt daily life, causing fear and anxiety when the behaviors aren’t performed exactly so.


Almost one in every 40 people in the United States will be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) at some point. Half of them develop the disorder by the time they turn 18, and thus live with it for most of their lives.

The Importance of Treatment

OCD isn’t simply compulsive behaviors, though. These behaviors are often accompanied by intrusive thoughts—fears of saying or shouting something inappropriate, thoughts of harming themselves or others, or simply unwanted or unpleasant visual changes.

People with OCD can’t control their disorder, even when they are aware these thoughts, and behaviors are irrational or senseless. For this reason, OCD can be quite frustrating to live with. Fortunately, effective treatment does exist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, including working on healthy ways to respond to intrusive thoughts and exposure therapy to reduce the need to perform compulsive behaviors, is often effective in retraining the brain and providing the affected person some relief.

Symptom Spotter

You can have obsessive or intrusive thoughts, or perform compulsive behaviors, without actually having obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Once these thoughts and behaviors begin interfering with your life, however, you may want to talk to your doctor about your concerns.

Common symptoms of OCD include:

  • A need for symmetry, or for having things in perfect order
  • An excessive fear of germs or disease
  • Fear of loss of control, usually with regard to harming yourself or others
  • Excessive attention to superstitions

Common compulsions exhibited by individuals living with OCD include:

  • Hoarding—accumulating unnecessary objects, often junk
  • Repetitive counting or tapping
  • Excessive checking of locks, light switches and household appliances
  • Devoting significant time to washing or cleaning

Sometimes, people with OCD also have physical tics or vocal tics—repetitive and often involuntary motions or sounds.

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