Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a relatively common type of anxiety disorder in which individuals have intrusive, anxiety-provoking thoughts and, in many cases, must do certain things to reduce their anxiety. The most common example is someone who washes their hands excessively because of worry about contamination or germs, but there are many types of OCD.
Contamination worries (being overly concerned about germs or being dirty) is the most common type of OCD. People who have this type of OCD are worried about touching or being around things that they believe are contaminated. Worrying more than expected about something that might be dirty (touching an elevator button) is one way this manifests itself. Someone who experiences contamination OCD can also be worried that things not actually dirty or contaminated, like their own clothes, are. People with contamination OCD will often engage in significant rituals to clean items or themselves if they have, or think they have, encountered a “contaminated” item.
Some people with OCD worry about making sure everything is perfect. Perfection in this case is defined by the person with OCD, so it could mean a certain number, a certain look, symmetry, or any other standard as defined by that person. This type of OCD often means that the person changes or rearranges things to get the perfect look or feel, to their own satisfaction. It may seem from the outside that the item is already perfect, but the person with OCD needs it to be what they deem perfect themselves, which can take a lot of extra time and effort on their part.
Doubt and Questioning
This type of OCD leads people to worry about choices or actions that they have already made. A common example is wondering whether they have done something (Did I really turn the oven off?) and not being able to move on from it until they have checked. Someone who doubts or questions may also check with others many times to see if they did or did not do the task. People with this type of OCD may have great self-doubt, and a sense of dread when it comes to being responsible for someone getting harmed or something getting damaged.
Forbidden Thoughts and Actions
Finally, the last most common type of OCD is forbidden thoughts and actions. People with this type of OCD get intrusive thoughts about things or actions that are inappropriate, offensive, or even violent. These thoughts are very distressing and the person who experiences them is unable to control them. Often the thoughts take over and, in some cases, the person will act irrationally to try and clear their mind. Some people also experience Thought-action fusion, which means that they worry that they actually did the offensive action they had been thinking about.
While there are many different types of OCD in addition to these, it is important to remember that OCD is a highly treatable disorder with therapy, medications, technology, or a combination of those.
Heather Yardley, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She has a special interest in working with youth with type 1 diabetes and their families as well as youth with obsessive compulsive disorder.
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