According to the International OCD Foundation, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is “a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings.”
While the definition seems straightforward, a surprising number of people have misconceptions about the disorder. Here are 3 of the most common things people get wrong about OCD:
1. OCD is Common
Though the term “OCD” has become very common, the actual disorder is not. In fact, OCD affects only 1% of adults in the United States. The misconception lies in the fact that so many people claim to or believe they have the disorder.
How many times have you heard a friend or coworker say, “Oh my God, I am so OCD when it comes to xyz?” Odds are they are not. What they mean to say is they are “very particular when it comes to xyz.”
2. OCD is Reasonable
If OCD were reasonable, it would not be a debilitating issue for the percentage of the population it affects. It is reasonable to want to wash your hands, and wash them really well, after touching something dirty. Wanting clean hands is reasonable.
It is reasonable to want things on your desk arranged how you like them. And if someone accidentally knocks into your desk and disperses your cup of pens and pencils, it is perfectly reasonable to rearrange them to get them “just so.”
People who have OCD have triggers that are totally unreasonable.
Reasonable trigger: Washing your hands diligently because you just touched something slimy and unidentifiable in the office lunchroom.
OCD trigger: Spending an hour or more during the day ensuring your vintage magazine collection is arranged by color because if just one of them is out of order, you’re unable to move forward with your day to day life.
OCD triggers are extremely powerful and emotional. Individuals inflicted with the disorder develop rituals to make certain that other rituals have been carried out completely. This is why someone must insist they wash their hands 50 times. The washing ritual typically has nothing to do with having clean hands but rather is an effort to avoid tragedy and chaos.
Washing your hands because you want them clean is reasonable, but OCD triggers are not.
3. People Can “Get Over” OCD with a Little Willpower
Resisting OCD impulses is vastly different than resisting eating an entire bag of Doritos in one sitting. Just as it takes coping skills (and not just willpower) to deal with substance addictions on a daily basis, it will take the same to live with but not submit to the intrusive thoughts of OCD.
A therapist can help those afflicted with the disorder deal with their obsessions in healthy ways so they don’t spend hours each day completing unreasonable rituals.
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