What are obsessions?
‘Obsession’ comes from the root word ‘obsess’. It would be easy to mistake the definition of obsess for the one related to, for example, a stalker becoming obsessed with a Hollywood star. That definition is to think about something unceasingly or persistently; dwell obsessively upon something. The better definition of obsess as it relates to OCD is to dominate or preoccupy the thoughts, feelings, or desires of (a person); beset, trouble, or haunt persistently or abnormally.
OCD obsessions can be recurrent thoughts, ideas, worries, images, impulses, fears or doubts or a combination of these. What they all have in common is that they are unwanted. The sufferer does not want the thought in his head and does nothing to make the thought appear. Attempts to resist the thoughts are without benefit; the thoughts come and go as they want and seem entirely uncontrollable. The thoughts are intrusive, disturbing. They interfere, sometimes significantly, with normal life. They are incredibly difficult to ignore.
Obsessions, no matter their type, cause some kind of distress in the individual. OCD sufferers have called this distress anxiety, stress, or feeling embarrassed, shamed, fearful, disgusted or other. Important is that obsessional thoughts are not voluntarily produced — they just pop into a sufferer’s head on their own.
Sufferers of OCD are able to recognize the thoughts, which can be horrible and repugnant, are their own and they are not produced by some external force or other person. This can cause even more problems for the sufferer, who will tend to become upset or despondent at the thought that they are capable of having such thoughts.
People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are probably the least likely people to act on their thoughts due to the repugnant nature of the thoughts and the extent to which they go to avoid them.
Paradoxically, OCD sufferers are aware that their fears are irrational but they feel that they are unable to control the thoughts. Additionally, the more a sufferer tries to fight obsessive thoughts the more prominent they become in his/her mind.
The word ‘obsession’ comes from the Latin ‘obsidere, which means to besiege.
OCD sufferers neither welcome nor want obsessional thoughts. They will go to extreme lengths to try and block and resist the thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts return within a short period of time. They can last for hours or even days. This leaves the sufferer drained and exhausted, mentally and physically, leading to anguish and despair.
To try and counteract the effects of obsessions, OCD sufferers perform compulsions or compulsive behaviors. This is often to try and prevent harm from happening to themselves or to a loved one.
Types of Obsessions
There are many, many obsessions experienced by individuals. Important to note is that sufferers of OCD do not choose their obsessions; rather the obsessions choose the individual. Sufferers have no control over what obsessions they end up with.
Here is a partial list of obsessions that can be experienced:
- Fear that might harm self.
- Fear that might harm others.
- Violent or horrific images.
- Fear of blurting out obscenities or insults.
- Fear will act on unwanted impulses (example: to stab friend).
- Fear will steal things.
- Fear will harm others because not careful enough.
- Fear will responsible for something terrible happening (example: fire, burglary).
- Concerns or disgust with bodily waste or secretions.
- Concern with dirt or germs.
- Excessive concern with environmental contamination (example: asbestos, radiation).
- Excessive concern with household items (example: cleansers, solvents).
- Excessive concerns with other life forms (example: insects).
- Bothered by sticky substances or residues.
- Concerned with becoming ill because of some kind of contaminant.
- Concerned with causing others to get ill by spreading a contaminant.
- Forbidden or perverse sexual thoughts, images or impulses.
- Content involves children or incest.
- Content involves same sex.
Religious Obsessions (Scrupulosity)
- Concern with sacrilege and blasphemy.
- Excess concern with morality, right/wrong.
- Accompanied with magical thinking (example: concerned that harm will come to another if things are not in the right place).
- Not accompanied with magical thinking.
- Need to know or remember.
- Fear of saying certain things.
- Fear of not saying just the right thing.
- Fear of losing something.
- Intrusive (nonviolent) images.
- Intrusive nonsense sounds, words or music.
- Lucky/unlucky numbers.
- Superstitious fears.
- Concern with illness/disease.
- Excessive concern with body part or aspect of appearance.