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What is OCD? [1]

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder of the brain and behavior that causes severe anxiety in those affected. It involved both obsessions and compulsions that can get in the way of important activities a person values.


Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over and feel outside of a person's control. Sufferers of OCD do not want to have these thoughts and find them disturbing. Obsessions often lead to feelings of fear, disgust, doubt, or a feeling that things have to be done "just right." 


Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or thoughts a person uses to neutralize, counteract, or make their obsessions go away. These are only a temporary solution, and they can also include avoiding situations that trigger obsessions. Compulsions are time-consuming and get in the way of important activities the person values. 


Click here to learn more about OCD causes, treatment, and related disorders

Common Obsessions in OCD [2]


  • Body fluids (urine, feces, etc.)

  • Germs/disease (herpes, HIV, etc.)

  • Environmental contaminants (asbestos, radiation, etc.)

  • Household chemicals (cleaners, solvents, etc.)

  • Dirt

Unwanted Sexual Thoughts


  • Forbidden or perverse sexual thoughts or images

  • Forbidden or perverse sexual impulses about others

  • Obsessions about homosexuality

  • Sexual obsessions that involve children or incest

  • Obsessions about aggressive sexual behavior towards others


Losing Control


  • Fear of acting on an impulse to harm oneself

  • Fear of acting on an impulse to harm others

  • Fear of violent or horrific images in one's mind

  • Fear of blurting out obscenities or insults

  • Fear of stealing things


Religious Obsessions (Scrupulosity)


  • Concern with offending God, or concern about blasphemy

  • Excessive concern with right/wrong or morality



  • Fear of being responsible for something terrible happening (examples: fire, burglary)

  • Fear of harming others because of not being careful enough (example: dropping something on the ground that might cause someone to slip and hurt him/herself)



  • Concern about evenness or exactness

  • Concern with a need to know or remember

  • Fear of losing or forgetting important information when throwing something out

  • Inability to decide whether to keep or discard things

  • Fear of losing things


Common Compulsions in OCD [3]
Washing and Cleaning


  • Washing hands excessively or in a certain way

  • Excessive showering, bathing, tooth-brushing, grooming, or toilet routines

  • Cleaning household items or other objects excessively

  • Doing other things to prevent or remove contact with contaminants



  • Rereading or rewriting

  • Repeating routine activities (examples: going in or out of doorways, getting up or down from chairs)

  • Repeating body movements (example: tapping, touching, blinking)

  • Repeating activities in "multiples" (examples: doing a task three times because there is a "good," "right," "safe" number)

Mental Compulsions


  • Mental review of events to prevent harm/terrible consequences to oneself or others (rumination)

  • Praying to prevent harm/terrible consequences to self or others

  • Counting while performing a task to end on a "good," "right," or "safe" number

  • "Cancelling" or "undoing" (example: replacing a "bad" word with a "good" word)




  • Checking that you did not/will not harm others or yourself

  • Checking that nothing terrible happened

  • Checking that you did not make a mistake

  • Checking some parts of your physical condition or body


Other Compulsions


  • Putting things in order or arranging things until it "feels right"

  • Telling, asking, or confessing to get reassurance

  • Avoiding situations that might trigger your obsessions



[1] International OCD Foundation (IOCDF, 2016). Retrieved from


[2] Clark, David A.; & Radomsky, Adam S. (2014). Introduction: A global perspective on unwanted intrusive thoughts. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.Available online 18 February 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.jocrd.2014.02.001


[3] Reprinted with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. This is an adaptation of the OC Checklist which appears in S. Wilhelm & G. S. Steketee’s Cognitive Therapy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder A Guide for Professionals (2006).

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