Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterised by:
As with other anxiety disorders, people with OCD often overestimate the threat of harm to themselves or others and/or underestimate their ability to cope with things should something bad happen. For example, a common fear for people is that of being contaminated by germs. Some people with OCD worry persistently and disproportionately about the likelihood that they will catch something and then worry further that if they catch something that it will be life threatening. In an attempt to reduce the almost constant fear of this, the person may spend many hours of their day cleaning, disinfecting and sterilising things.
However, OCD is far more complex than being a “clean freak” or simply liking things in a certain order. People with OCD:
The fear of contamination/cleaning image of OCD is the most well-known however there are many ways that OCD can present.
Like many things, OCD is on a spectrum: some people with the disorder manage well and their issues are not evident to others. Some people are completely debilitated by their symptoms and have a lot of associated depression. Complicating OCD is the fact that many sufferers know that their behaviour is irrational but they feel unable to stop.
How does OCD develop?
Human feelings are complex and sometimes, in an attempt to deal with this complexity and discomfort, our mind unconsciously comes up with creative ways to cope. OCD often represents a fear about uncertainty or vulnerability and an attempt to control the uncontrollable. For some people anxiety is an inherited or learnt thing from their family. For some people OCD emerges in childhood or adolescence. For some people there may have been long-term anxiety but the specific obsessions and compulsions do not emerge until adulthood. For some people the disorder starts after a single, perception-changing event, such as starting university, or an incidence of bullying etc where they felt suddenly frightened or unsafe. In an attempt to stop this happening again they developed some control-focussed behaviours. Perhaps initially the behaviour (such as hand washing) helped them to feel safe and reduce the fear of uncertainty. But over time the behaviour provided less and less relief until in the long run people often feel trapped by the disorder.
Part of the recovery process is learning to make space for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and make peace with some of the inherent risks in life, rather than live in fear of them. It also requires learning to be more realistic about the likelihood of harm befalling you. Therapy can assist people with this process. Things that can help with OCD include learning mindfulness skills, understanding what it is you’re afraid of and using exposure therapy to help people manage their response to feared situations. Other things that can help include medication, support groups and hearing about how others have overcome these issues.
For all sufferers there is hope and there is help available.
For more information about therapy and counselling please contact Virginia on email@example.com or 0476 674 094.