What is OCD

In this article we’re going to talk about what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is and the symptoms of it. Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about anxiety disorders and personality disorders. Unlike the personality disorder OCPD, OCD is an anxiety disorder. 

OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes an individual to behave in a variety of unusual ways.

Obsessions and Compulsions are what make OCD what it is. When a cycle of obsessions and compulsions becomes so intrusive that it affects the individual’s life on a regular basis, OCD is usually diagnosed.

When discussing the various types of OCD, it’s important to keep in mind that the individual suffering does not not want to be experiencing the obsessive thoughts that they are.

Being understanding and helping them the best way possible will go much further than blaming them or being impatient.

Discussing Obsession and Compulsion 

Obsessions are referring to the intrusive thoughts that obsessively take over a person’s thoughts. Compulsions are the reaction to obsessions whether one reacts physically or mentally.

For example, if I have OCD and an obsession about how dirty something could be pops in my head it’ll cause me to react a certain way.

Perhaps I’d wash my hands a certain number of times per day. I may also feel the need to clean certain things in my house daily or multiple times per day.

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Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that someone with OCD struggles with. These thoughts are usually things you would not want to be thinking about.

what is ocd symptoms

They relate to a variety of aspects such as cleanliness, harming oneself or others or inappropriate/sexual behavior, among other things.

These obsessive thoughts are extremely unpleasant for the person experiencing them. Part of this disorder is that they have no control over these obsessions.

It’s involuntary and the obsession to think about it just happens.

Examples of obsessions may vary from an inappropriate sexual scenario or worrying about getting sick from something that will most likely not make you sick.

It’s important to note that like most disorders, there is no standard of what obsessions or patterns of obsessions people could have. 

Compulsions are simply the reaction to the obsession in most cases. This can be an internal or external reaction.

Referring to our previous example, the obsessive thought of how dirty something might be would lead me to the compulsion of excessively cleaning it.

what is ocd symptoms

Compulsions are interesting because they do not always need to be related to the obsession.

For example, if you feel the need to perform a certain task (like turning a light switch on and off 7 times) before leaving the house or else your house will catch on fire, this would be considered an unrelated compulsion.

So having an obsessive thought about how dirty something could be and cleaning it is a related situation of obsession and compulsion.

The light switch scenario where if you don’t turn it on and off a certain number of times or house will catch on fire is an example of unrelated obsessions and their compulsions.

For a more in depth look at obsessions vs. compulsions, check out this article. 

What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

As we’ve mentioned in similar articles, many disorders, especially anxiety disorders, can be inherited from our parents.

what is ocd symptoms

External factors such as environment and a series of situations can also cause OCD.

The third most common cause is a chemical imbalance in one’s brain.

It’s important to note that someone may have a combination of all three of these causes as well.

Sometimes external factors will lead to chemical imbalances and they play off of one another. It’s never “cut and dry” with the causes of disorders, particularly OCD.

Types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Now that we know a little more about what OCD looks like, let’s talk about the types of both obsessions and compulsions.

Obsession types include themes around…

  • Structure (needing things done in a certain order)
  • Cleanliness (thoughts that certain things might be contaminated, excessive worry about germs)
  • Taboo thoughts (unwanted thoughts of self-harm, harming others, inappropriate sexual scenarios, etc.)
  • Hoarding (this is usually because the individual thinks they may need something related to their obsessions or compulsions in the future)

Compulsion types include themes around…

  • Structure (excessive use of numbered lists, etc.)
  • Cleaning (as a reaction to the obsessive thoughts around contamination)
  • Checking things (Locked doors, light switches, etc.)
  • Counting/Numbering things (list making, sidewalk cracks, etc. – anything really)

Symptoms of OCD

Symptoms of Obsession

  • Getting extremely stressed out if things are out of order, not perfectly lined up, etc.
  • Extreme fear of contamination from germs
  • Frequent unwanted thoughts around violence, sexual behavior or acting inappropriately in public
  • Constantly worrying that they’ll act on said unwanted behavior/thoughts
  • Mental rituals to get rid of unwanted thoughts
  • Feeling uncomfortable when things aren’t exactly as they want them to be
  • Washing something a certain number of times and a certain way

Symptoms of Compulsion

  • Having a set routine (as a response to the obsessive thought that things need to be done a certain way in a certain order)
  • Repetition of a word or phrase
  • Continuously checking something
  • Needing similar items to face a the same, certain way

While it’s helpful to understand the causes and symptoms of OCD, understanding the different subsets as is helpful too.

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Understanding the Different Subsets (types) of OCD

Now that we’ve gone over various aspects of OCD Causes, types and symptoms, let’s put it all together by type to better understand them individually.

There are commonly known to be 7 different types of OCD. As you can guess, a couple of these would refer to cleanliness or organization as these are the most common. But what about the others?

Let’s get into them…

1) Harm OCD

Harm OCD is when the main struggle with OCD comes from unwanted thoughts of harming themself or others.

People struggling with OCD symptoms do not act on these harmful thoughts, but they struggle with how terrifying they are.

what is ocd symptoms

People with harm OCD symptoms often do not trust themselves as they are afraid that they will one day act on the violent thoughts they experience.

2) Sexual Orientation OCD

Sexual Orientation OCD (SO-OCD) is basically the fear and/or confusion that one may be a different orientation from what they currently are.

For example, someone who is gay may experience intrusive thoughts which seriously make them question their sexual orientation as may someone who is straight.

This could show up in a variety of ways such as overthinking an interaction with someone.

Questioning your own feelings of attraction and confusing feelings of admiration or platonic love as sexual attraction could happen as well.

Straight people often have experiences like a “girl crush” or “bro-mance” which is usually just playful in nature and relates to extreme admiration for someone of the same sex.

Someone struggling with SO-OCD symptoms would be extremely confused by something like this and may start questioning their sexuality.

3) Pedophilia OCD

It’s important to keep in mind that OCD symptoms are intrusive in the disorder. Just because you think something does not mean that’s who you are.

Many of us have unwelcomed thoughts that pop into our heads from time to time and for someone struggling with pedophilia OCD, this is no different.

The difference between a pedophile and someone with pedophilia OCD (among many other things) is that someone struggling with P-OCD does not want to be thinking about the disgusting scenarios that obsessively take over their mind relating to acts of pedophilia.

Since this is such a strong issue, I’m not sure that one would ever think that they’d act on these thoughts as they would with harm OCD. 

4) Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD (R-OCD) can look like a variety of things. In short, someone with relationship OCD symptoms might be casually referred to as someone with “trust issues”.

While there is such a thing as having issues with trusting your partner, relationship OCD does not have to do with the other person’s actions or faithfulness at all.

Someone experiencing R-OCD is battling obsessive thoughts about whether or not they have feelings for their partner.

what is ocd symptoms

They may obsess over their partner’s physical flaws or question whether or not their partner really loves them.

Mostly people who report to be struggling with R-OCD claim that it severely effects their sex lives.

This comes as no surprise as they won’t be able to connect on that emotional level if they’re always experiencing those types of intrusive (and negative) thoughts about their partner.

5) Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD (C-OCD) is one of the more well known forms of OCD. When someone falls in the category of this subset, they will likely be known by their close family and friends as an extreme “clean freak”.

While C-OCD generally sounds helpful, it is just as intrusive as any other type of OCD.

The individual struggling with C-OCD will have obsessive thoughts about how dirty and contaminated things are.

They will be afraid that if they don’t do something about it that there could be severe health consequences.

6) Pure-O OCD

Pure-O OCD stands for “purely obsessional”. I’ve seen research that supports this as a legitimate type and research that does not but I thought I’d include it anyway.

Pure-O OCD is when people experience a bunch of different kinds of intrusive thoughts (obsessions) but do not act on them (compulsions).

Honestly, this one relates the most to me. I can’t tell if it’s “ normal” to think about random things like “someone might be standing outside the back door, better make sure I locked it” or not.

Then again “normal” is a very relative term. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am an undiagnosed case of pure-o OCD. I have so many intrusive thoughts pop in my head all the time, although they’re not usually repetitive.

On that note, I’d find it hard to believe that there are people out there that are never bothered by their own minds.

Our brains are so amazing but they often just go off and do their own thing.

I think what determines a disorder vs. “normal” amounts of intrusive thoughts would be if they are so severe that they disrupt your life every day. I have yet to meet someone who has full control of their own mind.

Anyway, onto the 7th and final subset we’ll discuss…

7) “Just Right” OCD

“Just Right” OCD is when someone needs to experience something (most things) until they get that satisfying feeling of it being “just right”.

For example, someone might one be able to eat a meal a certain way, or any other daily activity. It’s interesting that this subset revolves around the feeling of avoiding incompleteness.

The other types all have to do with intrusive and unwanted thoughts while “Just Right” OCD is all about obtaining that feeling of comfort.

Personally I can somewhat relate to this in a handful of ways. The most recent one that comes to mind is how I like to eat ice cream cones. It’s funny because this doesn’t apply when I’m eating ice cream from a bowl – it’s just the cone. I was eating an ice cream cone a month or so ago and I was finishing it up, about half way down the smaller part of the cone. My husband asked for a bite and comically popped the whole thing in his mouth! I laughed but immediately got right up and got myself another ice cream cone because I knew I wanted the satisfaction of eating the whole thing a certain way! Honestly, I can see myself not caring sometimes so it’s probably not a real sign of “Just Right” OCD. Having this disorder might be like that situation but more intense.

Aside from all of the various characteristics of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, there is a spectrum of symptoms for each that people struggling with can be diagnosed as.

It’s interesting that as common as OCD may be, there are so many combinations of severity that could vary case by case.

So what about you? Do you or someone you know struggle with OCD? It’s important to know that you’re not alone and that there is always someone willing to help if you need it.

Living with OCD can impact so many important areas of our lives. It’s important not to cover it up but to reach out and talk to someone about it! Start with someone you know and trust.

Those who care for you will want to do everything they can to make you feel understood and comforted.

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I hope you enjoyed this article on OCD! As always, feel free to email me to say hi and send any topic ideas you’d like to see featured!








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Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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