In reality, OCD is an anxiety related condition that can be extremely debilitating as it increasingly interferes with a person’s ability to function in normal life. OCD is characterized by anxiety provoking persistent thoughts, worries or impulses, that are experienced as intrusive and not under the person’s control; while the compulsive element describes repetitive behaviours that the person feels compelled to carry out in an attempt to reduce the anxiety. While the person usually knows the thoughts are irrational, they nevertheless feel the compulsive behaviour is the only way to relieve the anxiety, or to stop any harm coming to someone they care about.
In the U.S. and U.K., it is estimated that about 12 in every 1,000 people are living with OCD, but this may be an underestimate as many people either don’t recognize the problem in themselves, or are too embarrassed to seek help.
Typically a person’s OCD will fall into one of four main categories:
- Fear of Contamination
- Ruminations / Intrusive Thoughts
Clients I have seen with OCD have displayed worries around using public bathrooms or certain supermarkets, leaving the house without checking everything numerous times, travelling on public transport or being in busy public spaces, to name just a few examples.
Brain scans of OCD patients have revealed there is a worry-circuit as several parts of the brain - notably the caudate nucleus, orbital cortex, and thalamus - tend to be running in overdrive.
Interestingly, there is a cultural element to OCD as in the West, people tend to worry about cleanliness and hygiene, or safety and checking things are switched off/locked, while in the Middle East it has been reported that OCD tends to be more commonly associated with the correctness of how religious rituals are observed. So, typically people develop OCD around more widespread cultural narratives, but the commonality is the power of the obsessions to shape and define behaviour.
While OCD is a chronic condition, it is also very treatable. Treatment is typically psychotherapy with a focus on cognitive-behavioural techniques to break the cycle of worry, and indeed research suggests that psychological therapy has a very biological effect on changing the way the brain works, enabling the client to take control of their thoughts and therefore change their behaviours.
If you have a concern that you or someone close to you has OCD, then I highly recommend you contact a counsellor or psychotherapist to help break the cycle before it becomes further entrenched.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.