Emotional Wellness-®, Fox Valley Institute’s newsletter, is published six times per year and addresses topics important to your overall well being.
If you’re not already a Newsletter subscriber, please click here to sign up.
Obsessions and Compulsions
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is defined by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that interfere with a person’s normal routines, daily functioning, or relationships with others. They are distressing to the one who suffers from OCD and they are time-consuming.
Obsessions are persistent thoughts, ideas, impulses, or images that cause anxiety and worry. The person feels that the thoughts are not within his or her control and that the thoughts are not normal. The person suffering from obsessions knows that these thoughts come from within and are not imposed from an outside source.
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors performed in response to obsessive thoughts in order to relieve anxiety or worry. The discomfort of an obsessive thought compels the sufferer to want to contain or neutralize the discomfort by engaging in some ritualistic behavior. These compulsions can be mental acts, such as counting, praying, repeating words silently, or repetitive behaviors such as checking, hand washing, or putting objects in order. People with OCD do not experience pleasure from performing these behaviors – they engage in them in order to avoid some dreaded consequence, such as harm that might come to others or to themselves, if they do not perform the rituals.
To qualify as obsessive-compulsive disorder, the person recognizes that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable. They cause marked distress, are time-consuming (taking up at least one hour per day), and significantly interfere with the person’s normal routine, work or school functioning, or usual social activities or relationships.
OCD is not the same as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, an eating disorder, or superstitious behavior. It is important to realize that OCD is not the same as Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, which is a tendency that some people have to be perfectionists.
These people like having order and some rigidity in their lives. People with OCD, on the other hand, are disturbed by their ritualistic patterns.
OCD is not the same as Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, which is a tendency that some people have to be perfectionists. These people like having order in their lives.
The onset of OCD is usually gradual, although in some cases, people have reported a sudden onset. When a person has a biological predisposition to OCD, it can be triggered off by stress at home, with a relationship, with friends, or on the job. It is often associated with major life transitions, such as pregnancy, leaving home for the first time, increased levels of responsibility, or health problems.
OCD is linked to anxiety. Not only do the obsessions and compulsions cause the person great anxiety, but they may actually be the way a person alleviates anxiety. When victims of this disorder experience anxiety, they find structure and a degree of comfort in repeating the same thoughts or behaviors over and over again. But engaging in these thoughts and behaviors seems itself to cause further anxiety. This becomes an endless cycle in which the person truly feels trapped.
Some OCD Statistics
About 20% of the people with this disorder have only obsessions or compulsions (but not both), and the remaining 80% experience both obsessions and compulsions. Most people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder will show symptoms prior to the age of 25; only 15% of all OCD sufferers will first show signs after the age of 35. About 15 to 20% have a family member who also suffers from this disorder. Approximately 70% of those with OCD will suffer from a major depression at some point in their lives. There is a slightly higher incidence of OCD in women if it first appears during adolescence. However, if it first shows itself in childhood, boys with OCD outnumber girls by about two to one. What these statistics show is that if you suffer from OCD, you are not alone. People with OCD keep it a secret, so we don’t usually realize how many of the people around us suffer from the same condition.
If you suffer from OCD, you are not alone. We usually don’t realize how many of the people around us suffer from the same condition.
What Causes OCD?
Despite the myths that early childhood experiences (like the way one is toilet trained) might lead to OCD, there is no real evidence to support this notion (although one may end up with a particularly rigid personality because of early childhood training). There does seem to be a genetic component to this disorder, however. It runs in families. There is evidence that it may be related to brain chemistry, especially with neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Furthermore, about one-fourth of all those with this disorder seem to have it triggered by a stressful life experience. While the exact cause is not known, it appears that OCD results from a combination of inherited predispositions combined with environmental factors. These environmental factors may include trauma, childhood neglect, family stress, illness, divorce, accidents, as well as major life transitions such as adolescence, leaving home, marriage, parenthood, and retirement.
Some Common OCD Compulsions or Rituals
In order to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions, people with OCD feel that they have to do something, so they engage in ritualistic behaviors. The fears soon return, however, and they have to start the rituals all over again. Here are some common ones:
• Grooming behaviors, like washing hands repeatedly
• Changing clothes again and again
• Counting to oneself over and over
• Arranging things in a certain ritualistic way
• Checking light switches, stove burners, locks, or electrical outlets constantly
• Hoarding things like magazines or mail
Some Common OCD Patterns
Counting and Repeating: Some people with OCD feel that they have to count things, like passing automobiles or the number of seconds it takes to brush one’s teeth. They may feel that they have to repeat a word a certain number of times in order to protect themselves or someone else from harm, or they may feel that they have to change clothes repeatedly before leaving the house.
Protecting Against Contamination: The most common form of compulsion is repeated cleaning and washing. Some OCD sufferers may wash their hands thirty, forty, or more times a day, or they may take a shower several times throughout the course of a day. If someone has come into the house, they may later scrub the house thoroughly to avoid possible exposure to germs or other contaminants.
Checking: A common OCD compulsion involves checking things over and over again to make sure that everything is in order. A person may check the locks on the doors repeatedly or go through all the light switches in the house to make sure that they are turned off. They know logically that everything is all right, but they have a secret feeling that things should be checked again and again. They may go over a report on the job or at school so often that they cannot get things in on time.
Hoarding: Some people cannot throw out anything. In order not to lose anything of importance, they will save old mail, newspapers, magazines, old clothes, dead plants, or used containers until it becomes impossible to maneuver through the house.
Strange Movements: Sometimes rituals can be seen in the form of odd movements, like making every fourth step a skip while walking or rotating one’s neck a certain number of times before entering a room.
Being Scrupulous: Some people with OCD will do anything to avoid certain thoughts or actions.
For example, their obsessions may lead them to avoid certain words in their speech, certain places, some items of clothing, or consuming certain foods or drinks.
Hyman, Bruce, M., and Cherry Pedrick.
The OCD Workbook, Third Edition.
Paperback, 2010, 352 pages.
This newsletter is intended to offer general information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from these broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problems. ©2016 Simmonds Publications: 5580 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037 • Website ~ www.emotionalwellness.com
THE BACK PAGE
Is there help for OCD?
Although there is no absolute cure for OCD at this point, there is substantial help available for those who suffer from this disorder. Life for the OCD sufferer can become normalized so that the symptoms don’t interfere with everyday living. With effective treatment, people with this disorder can live full, productive, and normal lives.
Many have found antidepressant medication to be a helpful part of their treatment for OCD. These medications, called SSRI’s, can increase the level of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the brain, and this seems to reduce OCD symptoms. Dosages of these medications are usually higher in treating OCD than when they are used solely for depression. Medication alone, however, is not usually as helpful in controlling OCD as a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, is an important part of recovery from OCD. This form of therapy provides the tools and skills necessary for managing obsessional and compulsive behavior. One helpful therapeutic tool used with OCD is exposure and response prevention. This technique reduces the anxiety associated with obsessive thoughts through a process called habituation. When a person is exposed to anxiety repeatedly, the nervous system gradually adjusts to the anxiety (just as our hands adjust to being dipped in cold water after a period of time). Thus, we learn to tolerate the anxiety associated with obsessive thinking and decrease the need to engage in compulsive techniques for reducing the anxiety. Psychotherapy also aims to challenge the faulty thinking patterns that drive and maintain the obsessive thoughts. Another valuable technique is called mindfulness, in which we increase our awareness of the thoughts that guide our debilitating behavior. Supportive therapy with a concerned professional can help the person to gain knowledge and courage to try to deal with anxieties without resorting to obsessional thoughts and compulsive behavior.
An important component of therapy is to bring other family members into the process so that they can learn appropriate ways of coping with the disorder and provide a supportive and understanding environment for the sufferer.
Most people who suffer from OCD try to keep their condition secret and may engage in denial. The first step in overcoming this debilitating circumstance is to make an appointment to talk to a professional psychotherapist. The sessions with your therapist are safe, trustworthy, and supportive. Getting your condition under control is a challenge – but things will only get better after making that first call. Help and hope are just a phone call away.
List of Newsletters
- January/February 2014 – Problematic Personalities
- March/April 2014 – The Committed Relationship
- May/June 2014 – Eating Disorders
- July/August 2014 – The Influence of Birth Order
- September/October – No Secrets – Telling the Truth in Our Relationships
- November/December 2014 – Resisting Violence in Children
- November/December 2011 – Freedom From Emotional Abuse
- September/October 2011 – Creating A Strong Supportive Family
- July/August 2011 – Arguing Constructively – and Not So Constructively
- May/June 2011 – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- March/April 2011 – Social Anxiety – Overcoming Shyness
- January/February 2011 – Loss Can Bring Gain
- November/December 2009 – Relationship Conflicts
- September/October 2009 – Rumination
- July/August 2009 – The Altruism Option
- May/June 2009 – Relationship Addiction
- March/April 2009 – Understanding Anxiety
- January/February 2009 – Loneliness
- November/December 2008 – Understanding Anger
- September/October 2008 – Depression in Men
- July/August 2008 – Self-Reflection and the Inward Looking Person
- May/June 2008 – Staying Together – How to Build a Healthy Committed Relationship
- March/April 2008 – Surviving the Life Crisis
- January/February 2008 – Emotional Manipulation
- November/December 2007 – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- September/October 2007 – Weight Management and Your Emotions
- July/August 2007 – Making Life Changes
- May/June 2007 – Friendship and Social Support
- March/April 2007 – Cognitive Distortions
- January/February 2007 – Control Issues
- November/December 2006 – The Crisis of Infidelity
- September/October 2006 – Procrastination
- July/August 2006 – The Lasting Relationship
- May/June 2006 – Sleep & The Sleep Disorders
- March/April 2006 – Body Image
- January/February 2006 – Pets and Emotional Wellness
- November/December 2005 – Birth Order
- September/October 2005 – Breaking Up
- July/August 2005 – Effective Listening
- May/June 2005 – The Intimate Relationship
- March/April 2005 – Enhancing Your Self-Esteem
- January/February 2005 – Negotiating Life Transitions
- November/December 2004 – Authentic Happiness
- September/October 2004 – Emotional Unavailability
- July/August 2004 – Punctuality – Getting there On Time
- May/June 2004 – Attention Deficits – Living with ADD and ADHD
- March/April 2004 – Manipulation in Relationships
- February 2004 – Stress and Anxiety Disorders
- January 2004 – Looking for Love in all the Right Places
- November/December 2003 – Understanding the Personality Disorders
- September/October 2003 – Truth and Honesty in Our Relationships
- July/August 2003 – Assert Yourself
- May/June 2003 – Resilience – The Ability to Bounce Back
- March/April 2003 – Living With Chronic Illness
- January/February 2003 – It Takes Two – A Way to Understand Relationship Conflicts
- November/December 2002 – Grieving – Our Heartfelt Response to a Major Loss
- September/October 2002 – Overcoming Shyness and Social Anxiety
- July/August 2002 – Adult Children of Substance Abusers
- May/June 2002 – Enhancing Your Emotionally Committed Relationship