5 Common Myths About OCD

You've probably heard someone say, "I'm so OCD," when referring to excessive cleaning or keeping things in an orderly fashion. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often misunderstood due to these stereotypical catchphrases or portrayals in the media.

These misconceptions tend to stigmatize and minimize the disorder, which can be demoralizing and harmful to those struggling with the condition. OCD is one of the top 10 disabling disorders by the World Health Organization (WHO), often resulting in a poor quality of life and a decrease in social interactions. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of OCD, we're here to clear up some typical OCD myths and give you the facts about this disorder.

What Is the Clinical Definition of OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder refers to a condition where individuals have recurring, unwanted thoughts or compulsive, repetitive behaviors — or both. These behaviors, urges and thoughts are often significantly distressing, interfering with a person's daily routine and resulting in intense anxiety.

People with OCD generally cannot control their thoughts, even if they're aware they're excessive or illogical. It's common for those with OCD to feel temporary relief from anxiety or a sense of safety when they give in to their urges or compulsions, but it often takes up a substantial amount of time in their day.

Before we dive into the symptoms, it's important to note that not all habits are considered compulsions, and not all repetitive thoughts are obsessions. Some examples of obsessions or obsessive thoughts include:

  • Intrusive, disturbing or forbidden thoughts or images involving harm, sex or religion.
  • Fear of perpetuating harm or aggression.
  • Fear of contamination or germs.
  • Extreme worry about losing or misplacing items.
  • Extreme concern that something is not complete.

Some examples of compulsions include:

  • Checking things repeatedly, such as doors, appliances, locks and switches.
  • Counting in certain patterns.
  • Demanding reassurance or approval from others.
  • Following a strict routine.
  • Silently repeating words and phrases.
  • Washing or cleaning excessively.
  • Ordering items in a particular way.

What Are Common Myths About OCD?

Now that you have a brief overview of what most people with OCD experience to some degree, here are the top five myths about OCD that can cause individuals to hide their symptoms due to stigma and embarrassment.

1. Everyone Has a Little OCD

First and foremost, OCD is not a personality trait or something a person can control. Being neat and clean is a personality trait — and is often mistakenly associated with OCD. Those who struggle with this condition feel compelled to engage in these behaviors as a result of anxiety associated with their obsessions.

Generally, people with OCD are aware that their actions, such as checking a door five times to ensure it's locked, do not have a logical basis. This means that, even though many individuals understand what they're doing is unnecessary, they cannot control it or "turn it off." For example, someone with an obsessive thought of losing a loved one may develop anxiety about it.

As a result, this leads to compulsive behavior, such as repeating certain phrases or ruminating on death-related topics. Completing these actions reduces their anxiety about potentially losing their loved one.

2. OCD Is Caused by Stress and Childhood Trauma

There is no official cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many professionals agree that it can result from many factors, including an inability to cope with uncertainty and genetic predisposition. Though it's possible that a troubled childhood or excessive stress during developmental years can contribute to OCD, it does not mean that someone with this condition grew up in a dysfunctional home.

Having a family member with OCD can increase the risk of developing the disorder, but the risk factors and symptoms are multifaceted. Stressful events or situations can exacerbate the symptoms of OCD, but they do not inherently cause it.

3. It's Obvious When Someone Has OCD

As with any mental health disorder, you cannot always observe if someone has OCD. Sometimes, it can be very difficult to spot. Seeing a loved one ask for constant reassurance, exhibit an excessive need for symmetry, or develop a routine of tapping or counting can be signs of OCD. However, not every person with OCD has the same symptoms. One person could wash their hands religiously to ease an obsession, while another person has to walk in and out of their door several times before leaving their house.

Misconceptions can contribute to this, but many people with OCD are also able to hide their symptoms due to fear of judgment or receiving unhelpful advice. This means that you could come across someone with OCD and not realize it because they only engage in their compulsions privately or discreetly.

4. OCD Is Just About Cleaning and Being Neat

One of the most common myths about OCD is that it includes anyone who simply prefers to keep things very neat and clean. This is not true. OCD is characterized by persistent, recurrent and often unwanted obsessions that lead to repetitive behaviors to reduce distress. Many people with OCD have contamination fears about spreading germs or contracting an illness.

This often leads people to spend excessive amounts of time doing things over and over to ensure it's done "correctly" to avoid contamination. While some individuals have an extreme fixation on cleanliness, even to the point that they wash their hands until they're raw, cleanliness triggers are only a small part of compulsions. Individuals with this disorder can have an obsession or compulsion for many more things than cleanliness, including:

  • Touching and tapping objects.
  • Hoarding.
  • Repeating actions over and over.

5. OCD Cannot Be Treated

OCD can absolutely be treated. A common reason people do not seek treatment for OCD is because they feel ashamed, embarrassed or made to feel like their condition is "not that serious." Though there is no cure for OCD, there are various treatment options that can help individuals lead happy and productive lives. Many OCD treatments, including mindfulness, therapy and medication, have been proven to help people find relief from debilitating symptoms.

A qualified therapist or mental health professional can introduce other techniques like grounding, meditating, breathing exercises, and exposure and response prevention to manage intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for any mental health condition, including OCD. The right treatment will vary from person to person, depending on their needs and mental health history.

Find Compassionate Care for OCD at Diamond House

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can cause severe debilitation that affects every part of your life. Early intervention is important, but it's never too late to seek help to prevent your symptoms from worsening or disrupting your daily activities. At Diamond House, we know how challenging it can be to maintain your mental health when compensatory behaviors and bothersome intrusive thoughts take over.

Our licensed, dedicated and experienced mental health providers can provide a range of treatment options to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. If you or a loved one are struggling with the impact of OCD, our team will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan of therapy, medicine and coping strategies that work for your needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about our mental health treatment options for OCD.