Obsessive compulsive disorder is when the person becomes fixated on a certain set of obsessive thoughts or worries that are often followed by a compulsive urge to do something to allay these fears. Often the person will feel the only way to relieve themselves of these constant thoughts is to repeat an action until the thoughts ease.
The 4 key behaviours that are recognised as component parts of OCD are:
1. Obsession – An intrusive, persistent and uncontrollable thought that enters your mind.
2. Anxiety – You start feeling stressed and anxious due to the obsession.
3. Compulsion – You find a compulsive need to exercise repetitive acts or behaviours because of the stress or anxiety that the obsession has caused.
4. Temporary relief – A temporary relief from the stress or anxiety is gained from the compulsive behaviour. This cycle repeats when the obsession returns, usually soon after.
There are various types of OCD, such as contamination fears, intrusive thoughts with sexual or violent themes, excessive rumination over something dark or troubling, hoarding tendencies, or constant checking. For example, a checking behaviour is intended to ‘neutralise’ a fear and might include the following:
- water taps (fear of flood damage to the house and contents)
- lights (fear of causing an electrical fire)
- car, door and window locks (fear of car/household items getting stolen)
- appliances (fear of the house burning down)
- gas appliances/canisters (fear of explosions)
- wallet, purse or handbag (fear of losing money, personal documents or bank cards)
- re-reading emails, postcards, letters (fear of mistakes or writing something offensive)
Various life events can trigger the onset of severe OCD, such as stress, bereavement, life transitions e.g. the birth of a child. CBT is often recommended as a targeted treatment designed to tackle these behaviours head on, using techniques such as exposure and response prevention, though other therapies can also be helpful in exploring and addressing the underlying events and causes.