Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, poses challenges, not the least of which is making sure you don’t let your OCD define you. If OCD is part of your life, make the effort to focus on other health needs as well. Learn about what the disorder is and the many forms it takes so that you can start overcoming the disorder.

Defining OCD

People with OCD have recurring obsessions — intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that are disturbing and cause distress. OCD sufferers also have compulsions — actions or words they use to reduce the distress brought on by their obsessive worries. Compulsions can include repetitive prayers, counting, touching things in certain ways, checking, and arranging items in special symmetrical ways.

Other features of OCD include:

  • Obsessions are unwanted and generally inconsistent with the sufferer’s morals and values.

  • OCD significantly interferes with daily life.

  • OCD sufferers attempt to suppress distressing thoughts but can’t.

  • The thoughts are coming from inside, not being broadcast by space aliens.

  • The compulsions must be done “correctly,” or they must be repeated.

  • The compulsions don’t really make a lot of sense.

  • OCD sufferers usually know that their obsessions and compulsions are unreasonable, but can’t stop them.

The many forms of OCD

OCD can be categorized in quite a few ways, and no clear consensus exists among professionals. However, the following list shows some of the most common forms that this strange disorder takes:

  • Contamination: Fears of dirt, germs, and various kinds of toxins. Contamination worries frequently lead to excessive focus on cleanliness and hand-washing.

  • Doubting and checking: Fears of having caused harm to one’s house or someone else through negligence. Doubting and Checking OCD often leads to compulsive checking of locks, appliances, and possible victims.

  • Inappropriate thoughts: Fears of acting extremely inappropriately by engaging in shameful acts, or displeasing God. This type of OCD often causes people to engage in various rituals in order to stop them from losing control.

  • Symmetry: Discomfort with asymmetry and having things out of place. Symmetry concerns lead to a compulsive need to have everything arranged “just so.”

  • Superstitions: Obsessional fears about unlucky numbers, anything related to death, and specific words. Superstitious OCD leads to avoidance of these superstitions or attempts to neutralize their effects.

Various forms of OCD sometimes overlap and co-occur. If you have several of them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your treatment won’t succeed.

Tips for living with OCD

If you live with OCD, you may feel frustrated, isolated, and just plain strange. Keep the following facts in mind, or on a card to carry with you, as you go about your daily life:

  • OCD obsessions and compulsions do not define who you are; you are not your OCD.

  • Seeking reassurance when you have obsessional worries only makes things worse. Try to avoid asking other people whether everything will be okay. Instead, wait a while and see how things turn out.

  • Overcoming OCD requires you to work hard and accept a little discomfort. Remember that your tolerance for discomfort will increase slowly over time.

  • Changing compulsions in some important way (such as washing your hands differently or arranging things in a new way) helps prepare you to overcome the compulsions. When you change your compulsions, they won’t feel as satisfying, but that’s actually a good thing.

  • Every time you hold off a compulsion, you are taking a step toward overcoming your OCD. Even waiting just 15 or 20 minutes is an accomplishment.

  • Don’t forget that unpleasant feelings always lessen if you give them enough time.

  • Don’t try to suppress your obsessive thoughts. Just remind yourself that they are merely coming from the OCD part of your mind.

  • Reward yourself whenever you take a step forward — do something special, take a break from work, or eat a piece of chocolate.

OCD affects both your emotional and physical health. Many people are so consumed by their OCD that they fail to live a healthy lifestyle in other ways. The following tips can remind you to take care of yourself.

Get regular exercise. Join a self-help group.
Get enough sleep. Have patience.
Eat a healthy diet. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion.
Don’t isolate yourself. Get professional help if your efforts stall.
Consider getting support from some friends or family.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.  (Corrales, New Mexico) is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. He presents nationally and internationally on new developments in the assessment and therapy of emotional disorders.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. (Corrales, New Mexico) is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. She is often asked to provide consultations to attorneys, school districts, and governmental agencies. She presents workshops on cognitive therapy and mental health issues to national and international audiences.

Laura L. Smith, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and former President of the New Mexico Psychological Association. She presents workshops and classes on cognitive therapy and mental health issues for national and international audiences.

This article can be found in the category: