Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Key Features Of OCD
These are unwanted ideas or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of the person with OCD. Again and again, the individual experiences a disturbing thought, such as, "My hands may be contaminated--I must wash them"; "I may have left the gas on"; or "I am going to injure my child."
These thoughts are felt to be intrusive and unpleasant. They produce anxiety.
To deal with their anxiety, most people with OCD resort to repetitive behaviors called compulsions. The most common of these are washing and checking, as in the first two previous examples. Other compulsive behaviors include counting (often while performing another compulsive action such as hand washing) and endlessly rearranging objects in an effort to keep them in perfect alignment or symmetry with each other.
These behaviors generally are intended to ward off harm to the person with OCD or others. They are usually quite stereotyped, with little variation from one time to the next, and are often referred to as rituals. Performing these rituals may give the person with OCD some relief from anxiety, but it is only temporary.
People with OCD generally have considerable insight into their own problems. Most of the time, they know that their obsessive thoughts are senseless or exaggerated, and that their compulsive behaviors are not really necessary. However, this knowledge is not sufficient to enable them to break free from their illness.
Most people with OCD struggle to banish their unwanted, obsessive thoughts and to prevent themselves from engaging in compulsive behaviors. Many are able to keep their obsessive- compulsive symptoms under control during the hours when they are at work or attending school. But over the months or years, resistance may weaken, and when this happens, OCD may become so severe that time-consuming rituals take over the person's life and make it impossible for him or her to continue activities outside the home.
Shame And Secrecy
People with OCD generally attempt to hide their problem rather than seek help. Often they are remarkably successful in concealing their obsessive-compulsive symptoms from friends and coworkers. An unfortunate consequence of this secrecy is that people with OCD usually do not receive professional help until years after the onset of their disease.
By that time, obsessive- compulsive habits may be deeply ingrained and very difficult to change.
A person is not considered to have OCD unless the obsessive and compulsive behaviors are extreme enough to interfere with everyday life.
People with OCD should not be confused with a much larger group of individuals who are sometimes called "compulsive" because they hold themselves to a high standard of performance in their work and even in recreational activities. This type of "compulsiveness" often serves a valuable purpose, contributing to a person's self-esteem and success on the job. In that respect, it differs from the life-wrecking obsessions and rituals of the person with
OCD tends to last for years, even decades. The symptoms may become less severe from time to time, and there may be long intervals when the symptoms are mild, but generally OCD is a chronic disease.
Next Topic: Diagnosing