Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is referenced frequently in people's day-to-day conversations. However, few people truly know what it looks and feels like to have OCD.
Misinformation is rampant. I sorted through some myths and facts to help you better understand an often misunderstood disorder.
1. MYTH: "I have to have my books in alphabetical order on my shelf and my clothes are color- coded in my closet. I get bothered if someone messes it up. I also clean my house often and can't stand for anything to be dirty. I must have OCD."
FACT: A person with these difficulties likely has a problem with perfectionism. They may
even have what is known as OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), but this is
not the same disorder as OCD. With OCD, there is always an obsession and a compulsion
Sam spends hours daily rearranging the books on his shelf. He will rearrange them over and over until it feels just right. He feels a need to rearrange the books over and over because he fears if he doesn't, someone he loves may die. And it would be his fault. Intellectually, he understands this doesn't make sense. He knows arranging books has nothing to do with whether or not someone lives or dies. But that anxious feeling keeps nagging at him, telling him he is responsible, and that he must keep the books arranged in a certain way or else.
In this example, the fear that a loved one may die is the obsession. Rearranging the books until they feel just right is the compulsion.
2. MYTH: Everyone has a little OCD.
FACT: According to the International OCD Foundation, roughly 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 200 kids and teens have OCD in the USA. While this disorder isn't rare, it isn't as common as it is typically portrayed to be in our culture.
3. MYTH: OCD has to do with cleanliness and order.
FACT: There are numerous types of OCD. Cleanliness and order are only one small piece of the OCD pie. People with OCD may have obsessions and compulsions surrounding any area, including: relationships, religion/faith, morality, violent concerns, sexual concerns, past events or mistakes, symmetry, or the need for things to feel just right. The list could go on and on, but those are a few common examples.
4. MYTH: You can easily tell if someone has OCD.
FACT: It can be difficult to know if someone has OCD, even if you live with that person. Some people engage in mental compulsions rather than physical compulsions. When this is the case, a person can be performing compulsions in their head and those around them may never know it's happening.
For example, a person may be replaying a certain event in their head and scrutinizing it over and over again. Or they may be saying a certain prayer over and over in their mind.
Also, it can be difficult to tell if someone has OCD because people who suffer from OCD can be quite skilled at keeping it a secret from others. They are often secretive about their OCD because they know their obsessions and compulsions are irrational and feel embarrassed. Or because they are fearful about how others may react if they learned of their thoughts and behaviors.
Unfortunately, due to this embarrassment and fear, they far too often suffer in silence.
5. MYTH: OCD is a pretty mild disorder.
FACT: OCD is a grueling disorder that often leaves people feeling depressed and hopeless. In
fact, the risk of suicide for people among those who suffer from OCD is roughly 10 times higher than the rest of the population, according to a recent Swedish study. It's not a joke. It's not a cute Instagram post. It's painful and must be taken seriously.
If you think you might be struggling with OCD, reach out for help. Go see a counselor who specializes in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. You can get better. It just takes work and someone who knows how to guide you through that work.