OCD Symptoms – What to watch out for
Nearly 50,000 people every month Google search terms such as “OCD symptoms” or “symptoms of OCD”. That’s a lot of people trying to figure out how to tell if they themselves or someone they know could have OCD.
Most websites paint the answer with a broad brush, talking OCD symptom generalities. It’s actually a tough subject to cover because there are simply so many possible symptoms, they can’t all fit into a few neat paragraphs.
Before delving into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms, it is essential to have a basic understanding of what OCD is.
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious mental disorder. It is typified by obsessions, which are intrusive thoughts, images, impulses, urges or fears that cause distress and lead to compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors, acts, rituals or mental rituals.
OCD is not about organizing your garage or being fussy when cleaning your home. It has about having horrible, sometimes debilitating thoughts that won’t go away and seemingly being forced to carry out weird behaviors in response.
About OCD symptoms
If you search for the symptoms of bladder cancer, you can easily come up with a list of physical symptoms to watch out for (blood in the urine being the big one). The symptoms are physical in nature and fairly easily diagnosed, by yourself or a doctor.
Half of what makes up OCD is obsessions – really, thoughts. These thoughts are hidden away in the mind and they aren’t easily translatable into symptoms and certainly aren’t picked up easily by others, because they aren’t physical symptoms and can’t be seen.
Compulsions, on the other hand, can be either overt or covert. An example of an overt compulsion would be washing hands or tapping on a doorway before entering – the compulsion can be seen by others and easily noticed by the OCD sufferer. Covert compulsions take place, again, in the mind. Others can’t see them being performed and can’t identify them and sufferers can have a hard time identifying them.
Overall, it is a challenge to list symptoms of OCD, other than overt compulsions, and that’s where many websites fail in trying to explain OCD symptoms. They list out the overt compulsions (ones that can be seen to be done) and fail to recognize the hidden, deeper symptoms.
It is important to note that, despite what some websites say, there are always compulsions present when there are OCD obsessions. The compulsions may be covert, but they’re there. So someone tapping his foot relentlessly on the floor may not have OCD, unless there is an accompanying obsession that causes distress. There are people who wash their hands many times a day who do not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because they do not have obsessions (intrusive thoughts).
What follows is a general (though not exhaustive) look at typical symptoms of OCD. It can be used by those who believe they might have OCD or by those who know someone who might have OCD. In both cases, careful consideration should be given to questioning about the symptoms.
Use this guide as a starting point. In the end, a proper diagnosis by a qualified mental healthcare professional is required. The symptoms of OCD guide below is modified by the original Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (YBOCS).
OCD Symptoms – General
- Feels like can’t turn his/her brain off. (Mind is constantly full of thoughts.)
- Generally feeling anxious a lot/all of the time.
- Feeling like, no matter what he/she does, he/she can’t get things right.
- Pursuit of perfectionism that is never achieved.
- Difficulty concentrating, focusing on what is going on.
- Uncomfortable feeling in the groin area related to intrusive thoughts of a sexual nature. (Commonly referred to as groinal response.)
OCD Symptoms – Obsessions
- Fear/thoughts he/she could harm him/herself.
- Fear/thoughts he/she could harm someone else.
- Violent or horrific images (murder, dismembered bodies, rape).
- Fear/thoughts of blurting out obscenities or insults.
- Fear/thoughts he/she will act on unwanted impulses (stab someone with a knife, push someone off a building).
- Fear/thoughts of doing something embarrassing.
- Fear/thoughts of stealing something.
- Fear/thoughts he/she will harm others because they are not careful enough.
- Fear/thoughts he/she will be responsible for something terrible happening.
- Fear/thoughts he/she has run over someone in a car.
- Concerns or disgust with bodily waste or secretions.
- Fears/thoughts of contracting AIDS or other diseases from touching people/objects.
- Concern with dirt or germs.
- Excessive concern with environmental contaminants (asbestos, radiation, dust).
- Excessive concern with household items (kitchen cleansers, solvents, bleach, battery acid).
- Excessive concern with animals or animal waste.
- Bothered by sticky substances or residues.
- Concern that he/she will get sick because of a contaminant.
- Concern that he/she will get others ill because of spreading a contaminant.
- Fear/thoughts that objects, words, numbers, phrases have become contaminated.
- Fear/thoughts that bad thoughts can contaminate objects, words, numbers, phrases.
- He/she has forbidden or perverse sexual thoughts, images, impulses.
- Unwanted thoughts/images about sexually abusing children.
- Worries/fears that he/she could be homosexual when they identify as heterosexual.
- Worries/fears that he/she could be heterosexual when they identify as homosexual.
- Aggressive sexual thoughts toward others (adult strangers, friends, family members).
- Worries about throwing out seemingly unimportant things that might be needed in the future.
- Urges to pick up/collect useless things.
- Scrupulosity: Concern with sacrilege/blasphemy.
- Excessive concern with right/wrong, morality.
Symmetry and Exactness
- Things must be just right or something bad will happen (Magical thinking).
- He/she feels they must make things just right.
- Magical thinking – something must be done or not done or else something bad will happen (a compulsion must be done or my best friend will get sick).
- Need to know or remember certain things.
- Fear of saying certain things.
- Fear of not saying just the right thing.
- Fear of losing things.
- Intrusive (non-violent) images.
- Intrusive nonsense sounds, words or music (A song in the mind that can’t be stopped).
- Lucky/unlucky numbers.
- Colors with special significance.
- Superstitious fears (Fear of passing a black cat or cemetery).
- Guilt over doing something horrendous in the past, despite assurances that the incident was minor in nature.
- False Memory: Experiencing intrusive thoughts that the sufferer did something very bad in the past despite there being no proof the incident occurred.
- Concerns with illness or disease (Worried about having AIDS, cancer or a heart attack despite assurance from a doctor).
- Excessive concern with a body part of aspect of appearance.
OCD Symptoms – Covert Compulsions
- Ruminating: Going over a thought in his/her head repeatedly, trying to figure it out.
- Replacing a bad thought with a good thought.
- Negating a bad thought by thinking of a certain good word, number or phrase.
- Analyzing bad thoughts to try and figure out what they mean or what they say about him/her.
- Silent, repetitive praying.
- Trying to push bad thoughts away or force them away.
OCD Symptoms – Overt Compulsions
- Excessive or ritualized hand washing (Washing hands many times a day or for an extended length of time after touching or thinking he/she has touched a contaminated object or person).
- Excessive or ritualized showering, bathing, tooth brushing, grooming or toilet routine.
- Excessive or ritualized cleaning of household items or other inanimate objects.
- Use or abrasive or caustic cleaners or implements to clean the body, household items or pets.
- Other measures meant to prevent or remove contact with contaminants.
- Checking locks, stoves, appliances, electric plugs, etc.
- Checking that he/she did not/will not harm others.
- Checking that he/she did not/will not harm him/herself.
- Checking that nothing terrible did/will not happen.
- Checking that he/she did not make a mistake.
- Checking linked to somatic obsessions. (Seeking reassurance from friends, family, doctor that he/she is not having a heart attack or getting cancer. Or, repeatedly taking pulse, blood pressure or temperature. Or checking for body odors. Or repeatedly checking appearance in a mirror).
- Rereading to make sure what was read was properly understood or rewriting to make sure what was written was right.
- Need to repeat routine activities.
- Need to count or recount.
- Need to order, reorder, arrange and rearrange things.
- Compulsion to hoard or collect things.
- Tapping doorways in certain places or in a certain sequence before walking through.
- Ritual performed before entering a room or exiting a room.
- Excessive praying out loud.
- Need to tell, ask or confess.
- Need to touch, tap or rub.
- Avoidance of people, places, objects. (Avoiding kitchen knives out of fear he/she will stab someone).
- Ritualized eating behaviors.
- Superstitious behaviors (Not taking a bus or train if its number contains an unlucky digit).
- Reassurance seeking (Need to seek reassurance from family, friends, others that he/she is not a bad person, that he/she won’t stab someone with a knife or that he/she won’t sexually abuse a child.)
- Stopping, backing up car or turning around to a scene to see if he/she has run over someone or a pet.
- Throwing out perfectly good items because they have become ‘contaminated’.
- Washing clothes outside the house so dirty clothes don’t contaminate the inside of the home.