Compulsions may be thoughts or behaviors. Whatever form they take, compulsions create a horrible burden on the sufferer of OCD. They often take an enormous amount of time to perform and frequently cause great difficulties in a person’s life.
Rechecking that a door has been locked can take an hour for someone with OCD. Returning home after work and needing to check for intruders may take several hours. Especially when you feel as though even the refrigerator must be examined to see if someone is hiding inside.
Going to sleep at night can be delayed indefinitely when your nightly prayers need to be said with a pure heart…. And you always find some way in which your heart remains impure.
Types of OCD
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder tendencies express themselves in a variety of ways, some more common than others. What the compulsion is focused upon is a helpful way to parse OCD in order to understand it better.
Below is a list of the most common types of compulsions. Although most people who suffer from OCD will generally fall into only one of these categories, it is certainly possible to have compulsions within several of these groupings.
What triggers the washing/cleaning: anything that might contain germs or give rise to feelings of being contaminated or dirty.
What sort of intrusive thoughts occur: “This is disgusting. There must be germs all over this thing. I’ll get sick if I touch it.” “I better hold my breath, that pile of trash is foul and probably letting off airborne germs that will infect me.”
What sort of compulsive behaviors occur: Avoidance of places/things where this fear arises. Relentlessly washing hands, cleaning surfaces, disinfecting objects.
What triggers the checking: anytime when a mistake might be made which could result in harm (this includes leaving home, making a fire in the fireplace, ironing clothes, etc.).
What sort of intrusive thoughts occur: “Did I check that the front door is locked? If I forgot to do that someone could sneak in and rob us.” “Did I put the fire out in the fireplace? If a little hot ash rolls out to the floor we could all die in a fire.” “Did I turn off iron? I can’t be 100% sure I did. I think I did. Hmmm. If I’m wrong the house could go up in flames. Let me go check one last time.”
These fear-laden questions create even greater anxiety that then leads the person to check ‘one more time’ that the door is locked, or the fire has been put out, the iron turned off, and so forth. Eventually, the double-checking results in just enough of a sense of relief to free the person to move on in his/her day.
Even so, it will not be long before another fear emerges and requires similar compulsive checking behavior.
When you suffer from OCD that leads to repetitious behavior it is usually due to believing that certain things must be done perfectly. No exceptions.
Moreover, what needs to be performed with perfection is not necessarily something of intrinsic importance. It might be the way one enters a room or grasps a doorknob, or sets the dinner table, and so forth.
This is what makes the compulsions particularly maddening. If one felt such a need for perfection because brain surgery was being performed it would be understandable. But over how the laundry is folded, or the garage is swept?
The thoughts that propel one to repeat this behavior focus on unrealistic but calamitous consequences if perfection is not attained. Someone may die, or fall ill, or others will decide to leave and never return.
The OCD sufferer usually recognizes that these fears make no rational sense at all. Zero. Nada.
But at a gut level, it feels as though they are pressing in from all sides. A sense of dread and urgency mix together forming a final certitude that unless perfection is acquired, horrible consequences will follow.