What is not OCD!

As understanding and public awareness about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has grown, so has the use of the term ‘OCD’ as a description for some kinds of behaviour that are not related in any way to the actual condition.

When people use the terms ‘obsessive’ and ‘compulsive’ incorrectly, it leads to misunderstanding about OCD and belittles and trivialises the true suffering that the disorder can bring.

As the internet and social networking websites have become more widely used, there has been an ever-increasing trend for people to refer to themselves as being a ‘bit OCD’.  However, these obsessive or compulsive quirks, that last a brief moment, and rarely cause distress or any anxiety, do not warrant the label or a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which can actually leave a person debilitated for hours at a time.

People today seem to want to find a label for every unusual behaviour, but when they define unusual ‘obsessive’ or ‘compulsive’ behaviour as ‘OCD’ they are not understanding what it actually is.  For example, being obsessed about football, shopping, sex or other enjoyable pastimes is a far cry from OCD, where a person takes no enjoyment and the obsessions are usually focussed on the more mundane.

Neither is OCD about collectors who have a special interest in a subject, such as collecting stamps, coins, books by a favourite author or even football or movie memorabilia.  Collectors derive pleasure from the hunt and acquisition of the items that they are interested in, and are happy to talk about their collections or show them to others. On the contrary, hoarders with OCD are far from happy or proud, and also differ in the respect that they usually hoard and collect worthless, seemingly junk objects for fear of causing harm if they discard them.

The word ‘obsession’ has also come to mean something sinister when used in conjunction with stalkers or ‘obsessed’ fans, such as those who are reportedly ‘obsessed’ with a specific individual or celebrity. 

Compulsive behaviour such as, compulsive liars, compulsive shoppers, compulsive gamblers or compulsive sexaholics are other examples of something that is not part of OCD, they are more likely to be addictive problems and are considered to be Impulse Control Disorders. Whilst all of these may eventually become problems, where the compulsive behaviour results in anguish and distress, it must be remembered that initially there was no obsession driving the compulsive addiction.  Additionally the person also found great pleasure from the activity to begin with.  However someone with OCD will have the compulsive behaviour initially driven by unwanted and intrusive obsessive thoughts and they are never pleasurable or enjoyable.

While many people will have problems with some of the obsessive and compulsive type behaviours described above, that may require specialist support and treatment, they can not and should not be diagnosed as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder related problems.

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)
Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) sound the same, and are often confused and mistakenly interchanged as being the same illness, but the two illnesses are quite different.  OCD is an anxiety disorder; OCPD is a personality disorder.

With OCPD, a person may be generally preoccupied with orderliness, perfectionism and control in virtually every part of his or her life.  But rather than be anxious about this, they have no interest in changing—in actual fact they see their behaviour and thoughts as desirable traits.  For example a person with OCPD may spend an extreme amount of time cleaning their home and communal areas of an apartment because they like a perfect appearance and want to consider it immaculately clean.  But while this behaviour may seem odd, or even be frustrating to others, the person performing the behaviour truly believes that others are at fault for not maintaining that same level of cleanliness.

On the face of it, this may appear to be OCD, but because of the thought and belief process in the example above, the person would be diagnosed with OCPD.  Someone with OCPD is generally happy with their behaviour and sees the cleaning as good practice and maintaining high standards.  In contrast, people who have OCD are not happy - the thought of this overwhelming need to carry out the cleaning leaves them upset, scared and disabled, due to the fear of the perceived harmful consequences that could arise by not carrying it out.

Some people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have a fear that their OCD is the beginning of a more serious mental health condition, Schizophrenia, where they fear they will lose control. However, it is important to remember that developing OCD is not a precursor to someone going on to develop any other form of illness and that someone with OCD does not have any higher risk of becoming schizophrenic than any other member of society.

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