Do You Have OCD?
By Fred Penzel, Ph.D.
If you are on this website and reading this article, there’s a pretty good chance that you are thinking there is something going on that doesn’t seem okay. You must have also heard about something called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, if you found this website. So first, let’s make sure that we are all talking about the same thing. A lot of people use the term OCD or the words obsessive and compulsive in ways that aren’t always correct. You’ve probably heard your friends say they are compulsive because they have to have things a certain way, or heard someone called obsessive because they talk about the same things a lot. These things are not OCD. Some people think that people with OCD are just afraid of germs and wash their hands a lot. This is only one kind of OCD. There are actually many different kinds of OCD, and they can be about almost anything you can imagine.
So what really is OCD? As you have probably guessed, OCD is made up of two parts – obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that:
- You can’t stop thinking over and over, or get out of your head even though you try very hard
- Can seem very real, almost like your own thoughts
- Are almost always creepy, scary, nasty, or disgusting
- Give you a lot of doubt about things that are important to you
- Can keep telling you the same bad things every day, or else keep changing all the time
- Can seem so weird that you can’t understand why you would even think them
They can tell you things like:
- Something bad is going to happen to you or those you care about, such as your family members, friends, pets, etc.
- You maybe did something bad or illegal (like cheating, breaking rules, lying, or stealing) that will get you in trouble, or that you really want to do something bad
- You really want bad things to happen to other people, or want to do bad things to hurt others on purpose
- You are gay, even when you’re sure you aren’t
- Bad thoughts that have to do with sex
- Maybe you did something by accident that hurt someone or ruined something
- There are bad luck or good luck things such as numbers, words, names, or moving in special ways that you have to be very careful about doing the right way or something bad will happen to you or someone else
- Germs, dirt, or chemicals are everywhere, and you have to be very careful to stay clean and keep your things clean or you will get sick, or make other people sick
- Bad thoughts about something religious
- You have to do your schoolwork perfectly and get perfect grades, or have to do other things perfectly, like the way you arrange things in your room
- You could get disgusting things on you from other people, and that even things you own could get this stuff on them
Thoughts like these can make you feel really anxious, and they can also take up a lot of space in your head. Sometimes it can be hard to think about anything else. One other important thing to know about these thoughts is that the things they tell you aren’t true. OCD seems to like making up things that are important to you and will really bother you the most.
If you have obsessive thoughts, then you probably also do things called compulsions. What are compulsions? They are things you either do in your head, or actions you carry out to try to help yourself to not be scared by the obsessions, and to make sure the bad things they are telling you don’t happen. A lot of the time they are like habits, and habits can be very strong if you have done them many times. You feel like you just have to do them, no matter what, even if they take a lot of time or are difficult to do.
Some compulsions a person can do are things like:
- Washing your hands, showering too much, or changing your clothes too many times
- Cleaning your belongings too carefully or too many times
- Having to say special words, numbers, or names, as if you were doing a magical ritual to keep bad things from happening
- Having to do things (like getting dressed, packing you backpack, etc.) in a special order
- Checking your homework or test answers over and over to make sure they are totally correct
- Making your letters perfect when you are writing (or else having to erase them and write them over a lot)
- Saying things perfectly to make sure you didn’t lie, insult somebody, or say something that wasn’t correct
- Checking yourself to make sure you aren’t sick or that there isn’t something wrong with the way you look
- Asking your parents the same questions too many times
- Having to pray way too much to make sure God isn’t angry with you for doing or thinking bad things, and sometimes having to say these prayers perfectly
- Having to redo things many times, like putting your clothes on, writing things, getting out of chairs or beds, walking up or down stairs, or going in and out of doorways again and again, almost like a magic ritual to keep something bad from happening
- Checking too many times to make sure you really sent texts
- Apologizing too many times to other people or to God because you thought you said or did something wrong
- Having difficulty making decisions until you are sure you made the perfect one
- Arranging the things in your room to make sure they look perfect, and having to fix them right away if someone moves even one of them
Does any of this sound like you so far? If it does, then there’s a pretty good chance that OCD may have found a way to pay you a visit. How did this happen? Well, the experts think that people probably inherit it the way they inherit the color of their eyes, or how tall they are. This means it is genetic, and because of this, it doesn’t just go away by itself. But don’t get all worked up about this – the news isn’t all bad. There are things you can do that will really help you a lot. You just have to get the right kind of help from someone with special training. It takes some work, but it shouldn’t be too hard.So what is the first thing you do if you want to get that help? The first thing is to tell your parents so they can take you to see someone who knows what to do – usually a psychologist or a social worker who has been trained in how to help people with OCD. This means they know how to do a special treatment called Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If your parents still aren’t sure about what is going on, you can show them this page and the things on the two lists that sound like things you do. When you do go to see this person, you can tell them about all the unwanted thoughts you are having (like those on the list above) and all the things you do to make the worry go away (like those on the list of compulsions). The therapist will know what to do to help you learn to not fear the thoughts, and to stop doing compulsions. You will learn that the best way to stop anything that makes you afraid is to learn how to face it and to see that it wasn’t so scary after all. It always turns out that these things aren’t bad or dangerous – only that OCD was telling you fake stories about them. You may have to work on all of this for a while, but it will be worth it to get these worries out of your head. You will see that with the right kind of help, you can feel a lot better. If you want to know more about what this special help for OCD is like, take a look at the “Getting Help” section on the Kids menu on the home page of this website.