Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Obsessive thoughts are reoccurring, unwanted thoughts. These thoughts are nearly impossible to avoid and they cause significant discomfort and fear. The more you try to push the thought away, the more stuck it becomes.
The content of obsessive thoughts greatly varies, but they often target what is most important to the individual such as their values or wellbeing. For example, harm coming to a loved one, safety of a child, sickness, and/or relationships. These thoughts can also target seemingly unrelated areas such as a song lyric or items being placed “just right”. Regardless of the content, the thoughts are nearly impossible to control and cause significant distress for the individual.
Common categories of OCD thoughts include:
- Contamination and health. A fear of germs or other types of contamination (e.g., rabies, HIV) and/or a general fear of getting sick or dying.
- Examples may include: What if I have rabies and I don’t know it? What if the lab made a mistake with my blood test results? What if this doorknob has germs on it?
- Doubt and incompleteness. Intrusive doubt that a task wasn’t done correctly or completely.
- Examples may include: Did I lock the front door? Was the garage door down when I drove away?
- Religion, and morality. A fear of immorality or sinning.
- Examples may include: What if I committed a sin and I didn’t even know it? What if I offended God? What if God thinks I’m immoral?
- Order and symmetry. Obsessive thoughts regarding objects being placed “just right” and/or a fixation on things feeling “just right”. Individuals may also have specific superstitions about numbers, patterns, and symmetry.
- Examples may include: Desire for things to look balanced, be positioned in a certain way, and/or face a certain direction. May extend to feelings in which an individual may want to feel the same amount of pressure on each foot or to have their hands touch the same items.
- Harm. A fear of accidentally harming oneself or someone else. This may also include violent, aggressive images.
- Examples may include: What if I mistakenly leave the stove on and the house burns down? What if I hit someone while driving and I didn’t even know it?
- Sexual orientation. Obsessive evaluation of a person’s sexual orientation. An individual may fear they are in denial of their “true” sexual orientation or, they might fear that their sexual orientation could suddenly change.
- Examples may include: What if I suddenly change my sexual orientation? What if I am really gay/straight?
- Relationship. An individual may become stuck on whether their relationship is ‘meant to be’. He/she may also struggle to tolerate the uncertainty of the relationship.
- Examples may include: Is this person right for me? Is there someone better out there? I noticed someone was attractive, does that mean I don’t love my partner?
- Self-control. A fear of losing control and doing something inappropriate.
- Examples may include: What if I shout an obscenity during my meeting? What if I lose control and blurt out an insult while talking to my friends?
- Pedophilia. Pedophilia OCD is associated with a significant amount of shame, guilt, and stigma. A person with pedophilia OCD is obsessively concerned with proving to themselves that they are not a pedophile. For someone with this subtype of OCD, the idea of potentially harming a child is terrifying. Remember, OCD targets what is most important to you.
- Thoughts may include: How can I be absolutely sure I won’t hurt a child? Did I look at that child in an inappropriate way? Do other people have these thoughts? What if I become a pedophile? It is important to emphasize that these intrusive thoughts revolve around a fear of being a pedophile. This experience is entirely separate from actual pedophilia. Someone with pedophilia OCD is terrified by their thoughts and will spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to make these thoughts go away.
Reach out to a qualified anxiety specialist today to learn how to overcome your OCD!