According to OCD-UK, around 12 in every 1000 people are suffering from some form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is commonly thought to involve obsessive hygiene regimes such as frequent or excessive hand-washing, however this is not always the case. The term OCD can apply to a broad range of potentially debilitating symptoms. The common features of OCD are:
Unfortunately the media tends to portray OCD as simply an obsession with cleanliness or order when in fact one of the least known, yet most common forms of OCD is intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts may involve repetitious thoughts of violently harming a loved one or a stranger that appear to flash as images in your mind, or may involve pervasive fears that you might turn into a murderer, rapist, or paedophile. Alternatively they may involve a fixation with accidents or the idea that something bad may have happened and you feel as if you may be responsible.
Understandably such symptoms are incredibly distressing and may provoke a strong feeling of shame in the sufferer, preventing them from talking about their experience. For this reason I believe that the number of OCD sufferers is potentially much higher than the figures suggest, with most cases going undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Let's look at some of the other common forms of OCD:
One very common form of OCD involves identity issues. Identity issues may centre on themes of sexual identity. A common form known as HOCD or Homosexual Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder involves a perplexing battle that you might be gay even though you don't feel that you are. As mention previously, a major component of OCD is a troubling sense of self-doubt; a self-doubt that can cause you to ruminate on an issue for an inordinate length of time without ever fully resolving it. Another form of identity issue is known as Imposter Syndrome; a belief that you are merely pretending to be someone you are not. A key feature of Imposter Syndrome is the pervasive fear that you are going to be 'found out' and put to shame.
"A major component of OCD is a troubling sense of self-doubt; a self-doubt that can cause you to ruminate on an issue for an inordinate length of time without ever fully resolving it."
Another form of identity issues, known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, centres on themes of appearance. Sufferers experience parts of their face or body to be incorrect and typically seek cosmetic surgery to fix the problem. This often leads to a slippery slope in which the desire to control every minute detail and 'imperfection' in your appearance causes you to obsess more and more about what's 'wrong' such that you never feel fully satisfied with how you look.
Another highly common form of OCD is referred to as contamination anxiety. Contamination anxiety involves strong worries and concerns about such things as germs, disease, and bacteria. Sufferer's may be concerned about contracting a disease such as HIV or AIDS. They may fear airborne viruses or bacteria on door handles or handrails, especially if these are used by the general public. Sometimes sufferers have a fear that their food or drink may be spiked with drugs. This can become a major problem that prevents the sufferer from eating or drinking anything for fear that someone may be intending to harm them. One of the strange things about OCD is that as a sufferer you are often aware that your fears are unfounded but this awareness doesn't cause them to stop.
"One of the strange things about OCD is that as a sufferer you are often aware that your fears are unfounded but this awareness doesn't cause them to stop."
Often sufferers of OCD report a chronic impulse to repeatedly check things. This can include door locks, oven hobs, or plug switches. It can, of course, be useful to check these these things because they can lead to real risks and dangers. The difficulty with OCD is that the sufferer's anxiety isn't abated by checking and so they feel impelled to check again, and again...and again. Sadly the drive to check, driven by a desire to ease anxiety and self-doubt, can be so strong that it becomes crippling and interferes with day-to-day life.
Checking may also occur in relation to such things as texts or emails, which are read over and over again to ensure that they are 'right' and don't contain any profound 'mistakes'. The urge to check may also occur in relation to ones work. It's important to realise that OCD, like most other symptoms, is really an exaggeration of normal human experience. We all experience these different fears and anxieties from time to time, however in the case of OCD these fears and anxieties become all-consuming and therefore require professional help to resolve.
"It's important to realise that OCD, like most other symptoms, is really an exaggeration of normal human experience. We all experience these different fears and anxieties from time to time, however in the case of OCD these fears and anxieties become all-consuming and therefore require professional help and support to resolve."
Another common form of OCD involves numerical obsessions. Numerical obsessions may involve repeatedly counting backwards from a certain number or performing a specific act a certain number of times. Often checking rituals have a numerical component to them such that the sufferer has to check something a certain number of times before they can proceed. Numerical obsessions may lso include performing rituals in specific sequences or feeling anxious when the radio dial is slightly off-centre, or when it's an odd numbered day of the month, for example. It may also involve aspects of numerology and seeing secret 'codes' everywhere. Again, this only becomes a problem when it really begins to impact on your life.
Occasionally OCD will manifest as strong feelings of anxiety or fear around spiritual, religious, or occult themes. The sufferer may experience an overbearing sense of religious guilt, or paralysing fears of sin, eternal damnation, or possession by evil spirits. They may be concerned about witchcraft or black magic, or they may experience intrusive distressing blasphemous thoughts. Alternatively sufferers may be driven to ruminate about the end of the world or judgement day to such a degree that it interferes with their day-to-day life. Sufferers may also experience strong feelings of anxiety or depression in relation to such things as parallel universes or concepts such as 'time' or 'infinity'.
Various impulse control issues fall under the category of OCD such as trichotillomania (hair pulling), demerotillomania (skin picking), onychophagia (nail-biting), and various tic disorders.
While frequent hand-washing is the most recognised form of OCD it's important to be aware of the many different forms that OCD can take. As an OCD sufferer you might be able to relate to some of the things I've mentioned above. If so don't worry, you're not crazy, and fortunately help is at hand. Having suffered from elements of OCD myself in the past I understand how bad it can be. When you have OCD you often feel scared of yourself and the world around you, and many people fear what they are capable of.
A very gentle, sweet lady came to see me recently because she was being plagued by thoughts of hurting her husband in a violent way. When I asked her if she actually wanted to hurt her husband she replied, “No way! I love him, I couldn’t, I can’t even bare the thought of it.” Naturally, I was expecting this response. Similarly a young man consulted me because he had a fear that he might become a paedophile one day. When I asked him if he felt such tendencies he too replied, "No way! I can't even bare the thought of it!"
Herein lies the immense conflict OCD sufferers can experience. Sufferers are often kind, compassionate, gentle, good-natured people, who unfortunately experience chronic self-doubt and powerfully dread being out of control. As a result they fear their own thoughts and the potential risks and dangers in the world around them. Some OCD sufferers will recognise themselves in this classic thought-cycle:
Occasionally OCD sufferers report experiencing classic OCD fears without any compulsive component. This is sometimes referred to as Pure 'O'. In OCD the compulsive component is a specific act you feel compelled to perform in order to alleviate your sense of anxiety, such as checking. For more information about Pure 'O' please refer to the page on obsessions.
Life with OCD is stressful so allow me to reassure you that there is a way out. In fact many clients who come to see me have already tried several different avenues before, such as counselling or CBT, with little-to-no-effect. The fact is that when you have OCD you don't need to talk about your problem or have someone tell you that your thoughts are irrational! You need someone to show you practical step-by-step instructions for how to get back in control.
I'd be honoured if you'd join me at The Bristol Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy Clinic or online over Skype for your FREE initial consultation so we can chat about your experience and discuss how to help you overcome your OCD. Naturally I appreciate that some of the fears and anxieties you may have been experiencing can be quite difficult or upsetting to talk about so please rest assured that I'm on your side and have a totally non-judgemental friendly approach to helping all my clients. Why not get in touch to book your free initial consultation and let's start putting you back in control.
I went to Seb with a life crisis and I can’t thank him enough. One of the first things he said to me after I explained my situation was, “I really want to help you with this.” That’s Seb for you - a passionate and caring therapist. I think the main message I’d like to leave is that if you find yourself in Seb’s office it means you’ve taken the first step. So, just go for it. It’ll be well worth it. This was truly an amazing experience for me.
C.S. - OCD