Understanding the Difference between Having OCD and “Being OCD”
By: Maurine Anderson
You often hear people say that they’re “OCD” about something when they want to indicate that they’re very particular or organized about it. “I’m really OCD about how I take notes,” or “I’m really OCD about how the dishes are done.” In fact, I’ve noticed that when I’m in a stage where I’m couponing and looking for ways to save money, I tend to refer to myself as “OCD” because I have to be really organized and attentive. I’ve asked a couple of my friends who actually have obsessive compulsive disorder about whether or not this offends them; and they are generally good sports and say that it doesn’t. But I still think that using “OCD” as an adjective to describe being organized or particular about something contributes to a lot of the misconceptions we have about OCD. So, in an effort to better understand OCD as a mental health condition, here is a look at the difference between having OCD and simply “being OCD.”
Clinical OCD cannot be resolved by “mind over matter.”
Because the term “OCD” is used so frequently to describe everyday thoughts and actions, one common misconception about OCD is that it can be resolved with an attitude of mind over matter. Clinical OCD, however, is characterized by obsessions and compulsions that the individual can do little to control.
Clinical OCD can be extremely distressing and life inhibiting.
Obsessions are defined as thoughts, images, or urges that occur over and over again and cause intense feelings of distress. Usually, individuals with OCD can recognize that these thoughts, images, or urges do not make sense; but that does not make them any more controllable. Compulsions, meanwhile, are defined as repetitive thoughts or behaviors that a person engages in to counteract their obsessions. These compulsions are usually things that the person with OCD would rather not do. The obsessions and compulsions that people with OCD cope with are extremely distressing and life inhibiting.
Clinical OCD isn’t just about obsessions with cleanliness.
While some people with OCD have an obsession with germs or cleanliness—and in turn compulsively wash their hands or clean their surroundings—many people with OCD experience entirely different obsessions and compulsions.
Examples of obsessions include:
Fear of accidentally harming others
Fear of accidentally lashing out (either verbally or in written form)
Fear of losing something or forgetting important information
Fear of stealing something
Excessive concern about committing blasphemy or immorality
Superstitious ideas about numbers or certain colors
Examples of compulsions include:
Frequently checking that you did not harm others
Frequently checking writing for accidental obscenities
Frequent rereading or rewriting
Frequent asking or confessing for reassurance
Repeating body movements (such as sitting down)
Repeating activities in multiples
These are only a few of the many examples of obsessions and compulsions that people with OCD have to cope with.
Clinical OCD can increase your risk of other mental health conditions.
Having OCD can also increase your risk of other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. As this article states, for example, someone who is experiencing symptoms of OCD might seek substance use as a form of self-medication for their symptoms. This, in turn, can lead to addiction.
Knowing the link between OCD and other mental health conditions is really important because it can help you better understand why someone with OCD might feel or act that way they do on a daily basis. Maybe you have a friend who has OCD and who also happens to smoke, for example. Many people would point to that smoking habit and immediately stigmatize it as a poor health decision or a flaw in character. But for the person with OCD, choice may not have been the only factor involved when they began smoking. Smoking might honestly be a way in which that person is able to cope with the symptoms of OCD.
Some cases of OCD are more serious than others.
One more important thing to note—just as with physical health, there are no clear-cut lines in mental health. It isn’t always as simple as either having or not having OCD. Some people experience severe symptoms of OCD daily, while other people experience symptoms much more mildly. The important thing to remember, however, is that being a particular or organized person does not automatically mean that you have clinical OCD. True OCD can be extremely distressing, debilitating, and life inhibiting.
If you or a friend are wondering whether you might have clinical OCD, this article has a lot of great information about the disorder. Ultimately, it’s best consult a licensed mental health professional, who can give you a proper diagnosis and help you find effective treatment options if necessary.
Disclosure: This is a guest post, meaning another author wrote this article. I do not own the text or images within this article.