What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Some people joke and say, "I'm so OCD." If you think about it, a lot of people believe they have some form of ritualistic behavior. Some call it a habit, a compulsion or a superstition. Even Dr. Phil has a ritual he does before every show! He has to touch a large electrical outlet on the way to the studio for good luck. But for some, OCD can become debilitating. They feel trapped inside their own minds.

The following definitions are provided for informational purposes. If you believe any of these might apply to you, please see a physician.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

Characterized by the presence of obsessive (persistent/intrusive) thoughts and compulsive, repetitive behaviors that are time-consuming or cause significant distress/impairment. May involve dysfunctional beliefs; an inflated sense of responsibility; overestimating threat; perfectionism; intolerance; and over-importance of thoughts.

Obsessions: Recurrent, persistent, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that cause marked anxiety or distress. The individual attempts to ignore, suppress, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action (compulsion).

Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. They are aimed at preventing/reducing anxiety or distress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation.

Common Themes/Dimensions:
  • Cleaning (contamination obsessions and cleaning compulsions)
  • Symmetry (symmetry obsessions and repeating, ordering, and counting compulsions)
  • Forbidden/taboo thoughts (aggressive, sexual, or religious obsessions and related compulsions)
  • Harm (fears of harm to oneself or others and checking compulsions)

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD):

A preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental/interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency. The perfectionism and self-imposed high standards of performance cause significant dysfunction and distress.

  • Preoccupied with details, rules, lists, etc.
  • Perfectionism that interferes with task completion
  • Devoted to work to the exclusion of leisure and friendships
  • Overconscientious and inflexible about morality, ethics, values
  • Unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects
  • Reluctant to delegate tasks or work with others
  • Miserly spending style
  • Rigidity and stubbornness


OCD is distinguished from obsessive-compulsive personality disorder by the presence of true obsessions and compulsions in OCD. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is not characterized by intrusive thoughts, images, or urges or by repetitive behaviors that are performed in response to these intrusions; instead, it involves an enduring and pervasive maladaptive pattern of excessive perfectionism and rigid control. (Source: DSM-5)

Additional Definitions:

Anxiety Disorders:
Anxiety disorders develop when anxiety is persistent over time and causes significant distress or impairment in functioning. They are distinguished by the types of objects or situations that induce the anxiety.

The apprehensive anticipation of future danger or misfortune accompanied by a feeling of worry, distress, and/or somatic symptoms of tension. The focus of anticipated danger may be internal or external.

Characteristics of Anxiety:
  • Feeling apprehensive
  • Feeling powerless
  • Having sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired

    (Source: Mayo Clinic)
Persistent fear, anxiety, and avoidance of a specific object or situation that is out of proportion to the actual danger that the object or situation poses. (Source: DSM-5)

Panic Disorder:
Panic disorder refers to recurrent unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. Followed by concern about additional attacks, and a maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks.

Characteristics of Panic Attack:
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  •  Nausea
  •  Feeling dizzy/light-headed
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality)
  • Depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying

    (Source: DSM-5)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
Excessive anxiety about a number of events or activities occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, and causes significant distress or impairment in functioning.

  • Difficulty controlling the worry
  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance

    (Source: DSM-5)

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