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  • Writer's pictureTejal Jakatdar, PhD


Updated: May 16, 2018

How well do you know your #OCD?

1. Your obsessions - intrusive thoughts, images, and impulses that pop in your head are obsessions. You get anxious. You want to get rid of the obsessions and the anxiety. You want to make sure, i.e., get certainty that the bad things won't happen. Some examples of obsessions - “am I contaminated”, “I want to make sure I’m not gay”, “what if I stab my child”.

2. All obsessions are mental phenomenon – that means the obsessions pop in your head. It’s impossible for anybody to stop something from popping in his or her head. Controlling your thoughts or “thought stopping” is a myth.

3. Your compulsions/rituals – most things you do in your head, like reassuring yourself or repeating something a certain number of times or going back and forth in your head/arguing in response to the obsession may be a ritual. Likewise, you may do a physical behavior in response to the obsession, like touching something a certain number of times, washing, arranging, checking, avoiding certain things. These behaviors are most likely rituals. You may engage in a combination of mental and physical rituals in response to an obsession. Your quest for certainty falls in this category. We use the words rituals and compulsions interchangeably.

4. Pure obsessions are very rare - you may not recognize something as a ritual, especially when it’s not a physical behavior. But if you’re trying to get rid of the anxiety/obsession, trying to figure out why you’re thinking it, and get certainty, it’s a ritual.

5. The obsessions are not the problem - even if you think they are. They can be scary, may not make sense, you may get anxious, you may feel guilty, but they don’t maintain the OCD.

6. The rituals maintain the OCD - when you ritualize, you may feel better for a little while. That’s the reason you want to repeat the rituals again and again. But every time you do that, you’re strengthening the OCD. The more you try to get rid of something, the more you think about it.

7. Rituals are learned – believe it or not, it is good news that the rituals are the problem and not the obsessions. Rituals are learned and they’re a choice even if you absolutely think they’re not. With new skills and practice, you can learn to not engage in them. That will help with breaking the cycle that maintains the OCD.

8. Intolerance of uncertainty is at the crux of OCD - your quest for getting certainty is going to be met with failure because OCD is a condition rooted in doubt. When you think you have certainty, your OCD will come back with “but what if” and you will continue the cycle of obsessing and ritualizing.

9. Themes in OCD – it is very common to have more than one theme in your OCD. Some themes recur while some themes crop up once. Example of some common themes – violent obsessions, contamination, sexual identity, perfectionism, magical thinking, checking.

10. OCD is only limited by a person’s imagination - OCD can latch onto anything!

11. You may experience any number of emotions - anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, frustration, feeling isolated, feeling conflicted, feeling misunderstood, and so on.

12. OCD is a condition you manage - OCD is not something you can get rid of. You learn to manage it with skills and by learning to live with uncertainty.

13. There is hope - OCD is very treatable with exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy for treating OCD. Several decades of research shows us that ERP is the most effective form of treatment for OCD. Regardless of how long you’ve battled with OCD and the severity of the condition, OCD is treatable.


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