Are You a Prisoner of Your Compulsions?

What Does OCD Look Like?

  • Are you frequently late because you must check the stove eight or nine times to ensure it’s off before leaving your house? 
  • Do you wash your hands often, trying to get them clean, but never really feel they are? 
  • Are you unable to throw anything away because you think it may be helpful in the future? 
  • Do you become worried that you will somehow lose control of your behavior and hurt someone, even though you never have? 
  • Do you perform a verbal or physical ritual that you feel helps ensure that people you are close to stay healthy and safe?
  • Do you find it hard to let go of specific thoughts, finding them so intrusive and persistent that you cannot get other important tasks done?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may suffer from OCD – or obsessive-compulsive disorder. This illness is not rare; it affects at least four million adults in the United States and is the fourth most common psychiatric illness.

OCD is a disorder that is often progressive and can become crippling. Some OCD sufferers never leave their homes because of the various rituals they need to perform. Others can’t function at work because they spend so much time secretly engaged in various rituals. Many obsessive thoughts and practices are entirely mental, not physical, so the illness can be almost invisible to everyone close to the person affected.

As the name suggests, OCD has two parts: obsessions and compulsions. Many people suffer from obsessions only, but a good number eventually develop compulsions. 

Obsessions and Compulsions: What Are They?

Woman struggling with OCD washing her hands

Obsessions are the thoughts, ideas, or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of the person with OCD. They may feel a need to do things almost too perfectly, an unreasonable concern about becoming contaminated by germs, or a persistent fear that harm may come to themselves or loved ones. Compulsions are the behaviors that are done in reaction to this thinking, usually to try to gain some control over the uncontrollable. Following a behavioral routine gives the sufferer temporary relief through a false belief that the ritual can ensure that something unwanted will not happen. Usually, the person with OCD is fully aware that their thinking is irrational, but this does little to stop the behavior. The obsessions and compulsions often lead to an unbreakable cycle, including severe anxiety.

Most people experience obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors at one time or another. Still, the disorder of OCD is not present until the ideas and rituals have become dominant features in their lives and some aspect of the person’s work, family, or social life is affected. Once someone meets the entire criterion, OCD will often not go away, and therapy is needed before there are irreversible effects on a person’s social, academic, or work life. 

Overcoming OCD 

Young woman attending therapy after struggling with OCD

The good news about OCD is that it has a very favorable prognosis – OCD is straightforward to overcome through therapy. Most therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy to bring about relief from OCD symptoms. Clients learn to monitor their thoughts and recognize the connection between their thinking, feeling, and behavior. The therapist acts as a “behavioral coach” and often gives a lot of homework between sessions. Progress can be slow, but gradually clients learn to separate their thoughts from their behaviors. Once behavior changes, there is a strong likelihood that things will get much better sooner than later. You’ll come away with a toolbox to manage your symptoms in real time!

The bad news is that the isolation, embarrassment, and self-loathing caused by OCD can prevent some people from seeking help. They may be afraid that their thoughts or compulsions are so “crazy” that they’ll get laughed at or labeled as strange. 

Next Steps

Male shaking hands with male therapist after a successful session

If you suspect you are suffering from OCD, consider finding a therapist. Be confident that they know that this problem is unpreventable and biological, just like an allergy or sight impairment. You don’t have to be a prisoner of OCD. The combination of therapy, sometimes along with medication, usually provides effective treatment. You can make a life-changing decision by recognizing the problem and having the courage to seek help.

You are not alone if you suffer from OCD, even though you may suffer in silence. Therapy can genuinely help and give you the resources to stave off relapses should they begin to come on in the future. Cognitive behavioral therapy often provides tips and techniques you can use to manage many kinds of anxiety, so it can often have lasting effects beyond OCD.

Dr. Alan Jacobson is a Licensed Psychologist who has been in practice for over 20 years. He has helped many adolescents and adults who suffer from OCD and other challenges with anxiety.  

The GoodTherapy registry might be helpful to you to find a therapist if you have struggled with OCD. There are thousands of therapists listed who would love to walk with you on your journey. Find the support you need today.

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