OCD = uptight and meticulous?
You’ve likely heard someone describe themselves at “so OCD.” You might have even said it yourself. Most people understand that this expression isn’t to be taken literally, Still, it demonstrates that there are still many myths about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What Is OCD?
OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that causes someone to have uncontrollable and pervasive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors and rituals (compulsions). Someone with OCD often feels that something terrible will happen if they don’t complete their ritual. The rituals can become so time-consuming and elaborate that they severely disrupt their daily lives.
For example, someone may worry that they are contaminated, and if they don’t frequently wash their hands, they will contaminate their loved ones or be a public health threat. Others may feel that they need to count to 10 while they walk, or repeatedly check that their door is locked. If they don’t do these things, something disproportionately catastrophic will occur.
In general, OCD is much more complex than many people realize. It’s also more serious and can have a severe impact on quality of life. Here are the most common misconceptions that lead to false stereotypes of OCD.
MYTH #1: OCD means being uptight, meticulous, organized, or neurotic.
It's a myth that OCD is simply a personality trait. You might be overly particular about how you like things, but that doesn’t mean you have OCD. It’s called a “disorder” because the symptoms cause problems in your life and get in the way of your everyday routine.
Notably, people who are simply meticulous or organized often get pleasure from arranging things “just so.” On the other hand, people who perform OCD rituals do not find pleasure in completing a compulsion. It provides relief from their anxiety, but it causes severe distress, and they often want to stop doing it.
MYTH #2: People with OCD just need to “stop” doing their rituals.
You might see someone who obsessively washes their hands due to OCD. They may have very dry hands with cracked and damaged skin. It might look painful. You may see this and think, “Why don’t you just stop washing your hands?”
The thing is, treating OCD is not that simple. Because of the overwhelming fears and obsessions that people with OCD have, it is scary to just “stop” doing the ritual. They may be terrified of what will happen if they “stop” washing their hands, counting, or checking locks. For this reason, a huge part of treatment focuses on addressing the underlying anxiety.
MYTH #3: OCD is all about cleanliness and neatness.
Hand-washing and organizing are two common OCD rituals, but there are other rituals. This includes counting steps, checking that stoves are off, or having hyper-specific and time-consuming routines for daily tasks (like getting dressed).
OCD Is Treatable
When you understand that OCD is not a personality trait, you start to see that treatment is possible. Treatment often involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. It helps people learn how to cope with the intrusive thoughts, without relieving them with destructive and lengthy rituals. This can help them live a fuller, more meaningful life.
For example, read about these two OCD success stories: