Are there troubling thoughts that constantly invade your mind and disrupt your life? Are there things you do repeatedly that almost feel done against your will? Perhaps you feel you must count steps, collect and arrange certain objects, or wash things many times. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) does not look the same for everyone. Many people find themselves pestered by unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or performing rituals or organizing things in a highly particular way (compulsions), but not everyone experiences both together. If you are reading this page, you may have received a formal diagnosis from a physician or psychiatrist, or be wondering about patterns in your life that bother or constrain you. However obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviours might show themselves, they are both related to anxiety and to the attempt to manage it.
Defining OCD: What Are Obsessive and Compulsive Thoughts and Behaviours?
What obsessive or compulsive thoughts or behaviours look like in your life may be quite unique to you. For example, you may get a distressing image (related to violence, sex, or something else) in your head that will not leave; you might find yourself checking things (like the stove or a lock) multiple times; or you may feel you have to avoid certain numbers. Many people who struggle with OCD feel a very strong need for control and order in their physical surroundings. You may find yourself bogged down by details and planning, and concerned with avoiding risks. You (and others) may consider yourself a perfectionist. While careful thinking can be a great strength in some areas of life, suffering from OCD can make it feel more like a curse.
If you struggle with compulsions, you may not be able to feel as open, spontaneous, or easygoing as the way you would like, because you are so concerned with how things should be done. If you are obsessive, you may find yourself thinking in exhausting circles about things without being able to make decisions or act upon them. You may get into conflict with others around boundaries, control, and compromise, and find yourself accused of being rigid or unfair. Many people find their intrusive thoughts or their ritualistic behaviours to be isolating and frustrating because of the impact they have on relationships.
How a Therapist Works with Obsessive and Compulsive Thoughts and Behaviours or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Seeing a therapist to address obsessions or compulsions in your life will involve some or all of the following:
- Identifying your obsessions and/or compulsions and noting what triggers them
- Investigating possible origins for your thoughts and/or behaviours in your past
- Working to access and express any emotions related to them (including anxiety)
- Finding alternative ways to cope with and manage these emotions
- Recruiting medical and/or community-based resources if necessary
- Helping foster less rigid and more spontaneous ways of thinking and acting
Additional Help and Resources for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has an excellent profile of and resource guide for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Click here to access it online.