Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is defined as having unwanted and intrusive thoughts, urges, or images that cause intense distress (i.e., obsessions), often with accompanying efforts to get rid of these thoughts by pushing them away or performing a ritual (i.e., compulsions). The main emotions that are typically present in OCD are high levels of fear, anxiety, disgust, guilt, and shame. OCD can cause significant impairment and distress in a person’s life, as it may take hours per day to perform all of the compulsions, or the thoughts may be present for much of the day causing severe distress. OCD is a common disorder, with a lifetime prevalence in the United States of 2.3%, meaning that it will affect about 7.6 million people in the United States at some time point in their lives.
Commonly known types of OCD include fears of contamination leading to cleaning rituals, or doubts about appliances being left on or doors being unlocked leading to checking behaviors. OCD can also take many other forms, such as doubting one’s sexuality or gender, having intrusive and unwanted thoughts about harming loved ones or vulnerable people (despite having absolutely no desire to do so), repeating tasks until they feel “just right,” or strong superstitious beliefs about having to do a certain activity in a specific way to prevent harm, just to name a few. It is important to note that compulsions are not always observable behaviors such as handwashing or checking, but often take the form of mental compulsions that are unobservable to others, such as mentally reviewing one’s past actions or repeating something in one’s mind. Another common behavior to try to manage OCD symptoms is avoidance of any potential triggers of one’s OCD, such as avoiding certain types of people, places, or objects, so as not to trigger the obsessions.
There are other difficulties that are related to but distinct from OCD, which include: