Common Obsessive Behaviors Among People With OCD

Compulsions are Obsessive Behaviors

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A key symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is compulsions. Compulsions are obsessive behaviors that are done in response to an obsessive thought. You repeat these behaviors over and over again, possibly for hours on end, in order to relieve your anxiety. Even though you may feel driven to engage in these behaviors, you probably don't want to. Though the behaviors do lessen the negative feelings of anxiety, guilt or fear temporarily, they take a lot of your time and may significantly impact your quality of life.

 

What Are Common Obsessive Behaviors?

Common obsessive behaviors, or compulsions, among people with OCD include:

  • Repeatedly checking to make sure that doors and windows are locked or that appliances are turned off. Some individuals with OCD have to check their neighborhood to make sure they have not hit someone with their car or assaulted someone.
  • Excessive cleaning of the house, clothes and/or body.
  • Counting objects, letters, words or just about anything.
  • Doing routine activities repeatedly, like standing up or going up and down the stairs.
  • Requesting or demanding reassurance from family members or health care providers, such as "Have I molested someone?" or "My hands should be clean now, right?"
  • Repeating phrases or sequences of words either out loud or in your mind.
  • Rearranging objects to ensure a specific order and/or symmetry.
  • Doing things in multiples. For instance, turning the light on and off five times because five is a "good" number.
  • Trying to stay out of situations that might trigger compulsions.

Obsessions: The Thoughts Behind the Compulsions

Obsessions are the other half of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the part that causes the compulsions, or obsessive behaviors. Obsessions involve thoughts, feelings and mental images that can seem like they are taking over your mind.

They may cause you to feel a terrible lack of control, as well as significant anxiety, fear, disgust and/or guilt. 

Common Obsessions in OCD

Common obsessions among people with OCD include:

  • A fear of contamination, such as germs, viruses, body fluids, animals, diseases, chemicals or dirt.
  • A fear of losing control of yourself by acting on thoughts or impulses, such as harming someone, stealing, blurting out swear words or becoming violent.
  • A fear of accidentally hurting someone else because of something you did or forgot to do, such as not cleaning up water that you spilled and causing someone to slip and fall.
  • Unwanted sexual obsessions, thoughts or images about children, incest, homosexuality and/or aggressiveness.
  • Worry about offending God or about living a moral enough life.
  • A fear of contracting a particular illness like cancer or diabetes.
  • A fear of losing or forgetting something important.
  • Worry about how straight or even objects are.
  • An inability to make decisions on what to keep and what to throw away.
  • A fixation on certain numbers and/or colors being good/correct or bad/incorrect.

Treatment for Obsessive Behaviors

Obsessive behaviors can often be dramatically reduced using behavior therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP). Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Paxil (paroxetine hydrochloride) or Zoloft (sertraline) may also be helpful.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.

https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/#compulsions

https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/#obsessions

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

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