I hear people all the time talking about it; “my OCD this” or “my OCD that.”
This is a term that people don’t actually understand, and use interchangeably with “neurotic.” Yes, people with OCD are neurotic, but not in the way that you think. I recently heard someone casually and laughingly say “I hate having unread emails in my inbox because of my OCD. It just bothers me and gives me anxiety.”
…because there was a time that your friend had 5 unread messages in her inbox when she found out that her mom had died…
…and now the same thing will happen to you if you have 5 unread messages in your inbox…
…so you can’t stop thinking about it because you’re OBSESSIVE, and you COMPULSIVELY check your email every eleven minutes…
…because that’s how often your phone updates its emails…
…and if you get to 5 unread messages you have a whole, elaborate ritual to undo it…
…and your entire life is dedicated to not having 5 unread messages in your inbox…
…because you truly believe, despite the logic that is trying to break through this wall that you’ve built in your head telling you that you’re off your rocker and of course nobody is going to die just because you have 5 unread messages in your inbox, that your parents will die.
If you can jokingly talk about OCD, then I can pretty much guarantee you that you don’t have it, because if you do actually have OCD you’re too busy obsessing whatever it is that you obsess over.
That is just the tip of the iceberg.
OCD is generally described as a fear of creating something catastrophic. It’s a disorder of associations; these people associate numbers, their actions, their thoughts, etc. to catastrophic events. So, they get obsessive and set rituals for themselves to try and prevent the catastrophes. Usually the catastrophes that they fear seem completely unrelated to their compulsive behaviors, but they create roadmaps in their minds so that it makes sense to them. People with OCD are aware that their fears are illogical, but they are too scared of breaking their rules to risk it.
OCD falls into several different categories: hoarding, ordering, repeating, checking, cleaning/contamination, and thinking/obsessing.
Yes, I’m sure you’ve all seen the TV show, Hoarders. But, what they don’t go into is the psychology of this disorder. It is a type of OCD. Hoarders are terrified to throw things away because they might need them later, and they’re afraid that if they don’t have that item, then something terrible is going to happen.
For instance, a person may have been hoarding newspapers for 45 years because maybe some government official will come knocking on their door one day asking if they have the newspaper from 1976 that talks about a specific event that’ll help them save the country. It may sound nonsensical to you, but this type of mind process is real for someone with OCD.
This type is similar to my first example with the email inbox. Things have to be in a certain order or pattern or else something terrible will happen. It may seem completely illogical to the observer, but it is created with an elaborate roadmap by the person with OCD. Repeating is also similar. Numbers are very important to repeaters. They think that they have to repeat something a certain number of times or else the catastrophic thing will happen.
Checkers are in the category of people who worry that they’ve left the stove on at home, or that they forgot to lock the doors, or that they hit a bump in the road so they think that they’ve run over someone with their car and must go back and check. Let’s take the stove scenario – they think that they’ve left the stove on, and if they’ve left the stove on then their house will catch fire and they’ll lose all of their possessions and their pets will die, etc. Even if they didn’t use the stove that day, they have to go back and check before they leave the house, and some will spend the entire day running back into the house checking and re-checking the stove, and never even make it into work that day.
This one is probably one of the most commonly known types of OCD. These people wash their hands or sanitize themselves in some way constantly. They’re afraid of contaminating themselves, because if they get contaminated then something catastrophic will happen; it’ll give them some sort of fatal disease or something similar. The contamination is not necessarily logical; for instance, a person may fear stepping on spots on the ground because they feel that the spots will contaminate them in some form or fashion, and if they accidentally step on the spot, they must come up with some sort of ritual to undo it; washing their shoes, or rubbing their feet in the grass, or something else. And then, if their friend has stepped on the spot, then the person with OCD will be afraid to touch their friend, because the friend is now contaminated. And it goes on.
This is the most abstract form of OCD. In this type, people think that their thoughts will make the catastrophic event happen. They will try and control their thoughts so they won’t think a certain word or a certain sentence. They’ll obsess over thoughts and ideas and their rituals will involve erasing the things that they think.
OCD in general is very specific, yet very abstract. People who have it know logically that their compulsions/rituals/obsessions are irrational, yet they feel so strongly that they are true. It’s very much an inner war between logic and emotion. They are held hostage by their thoughts.
This disorder is more than just neuroses; it is incarceration of the mind.