Rituals are part of our everyday lives. Getting dressed in the morning, cleaning house and checking the oven to make sure you have turned it off are normal behaviors. For people with obsessive compulsive disorder, however, rituals are the mind’s way of blocking out upsetting thoughts. They may wash their hands repeatedly to rid them of invisible contaminants or repeatedly check their wallet for fear that a twenty-dollar bill may have slipped away unnoticed. These repetitive acts go beyond healthy routines and can often interfere with work, friends, and family life.

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Thought to be an anxiety disorder that causes ordinary worries and doubts to amplify, about 2.2 million adults are affected by an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Men and women receive diagnoses equally, with about one-third reporting symptoms as early as childhood. Individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder may or may not realize that their ritualistic behavior is senseless, but they are powerless to stop it.

For instance, someone may go through a door several times until they get it “just right.” A child may take longer on a test because she keeps erasing checkmarks to make them look “perfect.” Often, individuals diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder have difficulties getting to work or school because of the time lost on their rituals. For instance, they may repeatedly dress and undress to perfect the routine and never make it out the door.

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Signs of OCD

You might have an obsessive compulsive disorder if rituals, such as cleaning your house several times a day or worrying obsessively that you or someone in your family may get hurt are interfering with your daily life. Although consumed by their habits, those diagnosed may also have intrusive thoughts about hurting themselves or others or having impulses to do socially unacceptable things following rituals.

Some individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder are preoccupied with life order. Others have a difficult time throwing away things and may result to hoarding. While some people refer to themselves as “pack rats” and keep a lot of possessions in an attic, garage, or spare bedroom, hoarders often have so many objects in their homes that they must walk on them or over them to go from one room to another. The clutter eventually takes over their lives. OCD is often associated with motor tics or twitches, ADHD, eating disorders, or Bipolar Disorder; if left untreated, it can become emotionally debilitating.

Individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder often have a substance use disorder to cope with their symptoms, making it important to seek help from a trained professional who can accurately diagnose the problems and prescribe the right course of treatment.

Below is a list of some of the common symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder:


An obsession is a recurrent impulse, thought, or image that the individual cannot seem to escape. Even though they may view these thoughts as senseless, they tend to interfere most when the focus is on something else.

Here are a few of the obsessions and symptoms that someone with OCD may exhibit:

  • Preoccupation with dirt and germs
  • Images of hurting his/her child
  • Excessive focus on religion
  • Obsession with order
  • Sexually explicit thoughts
  • Fear of losing things
  • The impulse to shout obscenities
  • Compulsive hair pulling
  • Making mistakes
  • Fear of touching objects that have been touched
  • Anxiety over hurting oneself or others
  • Dermatitis due to hand washing
  • Excessive focus on morality
  • Obsession with superstitions
  • Intrusive violent thoughts or images
  • Fear for safety
  • Skin lesions (due to picking)
  • Fear of “unlucky” numbers
  • Fear of doing something bad


A repetitive thought or action used to relieve anxiety, for instance, a preoccupation with a fear of contamination, he may wash his hands continuously to reduce those feelings. However, the compulsive acts usually provide only temporary relief from the obsession.

Here are a few of the compulsions and symptoms that someone with OCD may exhibit:

  • Ritualistic counting
  • Hoarding possessions
  • Obsessive “checking
  • Repetitive motions or activities
  • Repeatedly checking the stove
  • Obsessive cleaning
  • Placing items “in order”
  • Need for constant reassurance
  • Washing skin until it becomes raw
  • Counting in patterns

(Because these symptoms in and of themselves do not always indicate the presence of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, please contact your physician or mental health treatment provider in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis.)

Treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Individuals can learn to manage symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder through treatment based on the causes and symptoms. Most cases of OCD are treated with a combination of the following mental health therapies:

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Exposure and Response Prevention


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