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Myth Busters: Do you Actually Know About the Agony of OCD?

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

OCD is a pretty misunderstood disorder. I am constantly correcting family, friends, and even strangers that use the acronym incorrectly. What kind of an OCD specialist would I be if I didn't make people uncomfortable every now and then?! I believe this is because of a lack of awareness and education all over. Well, I'm here to set the record straight in honor of OCD Awareness week.

Even if you have OCD, I would encourage you to go through these myths to see if you have believed any yourself in the past so you can reflect on how far you have come in treatment.

Myth#1 - Only People with OCD have Intrusive thoughts

Like Captain Jack Sparrow says this is not true. In fact, the scientists say that everyone has intrusive thoughts regardless if they have OCD or not. An intrusive thought is any thought that is unwanted. If a thought has ever come into your mind randomly about driving off a highway bridge or screaming "bomb!" in an airport or even engaging in sexual activities with a family member, congratulations! You had an intrusive thought.

OCD develops when some assigns to much meaning to their intrusive thoughts (i.e. I had a bad thought so I am a bad person, if I don't change my thoughts something bad will happen, the more I think this thought the more likely it is to come true) and engage in compulsions to make the uncomfortable feeling intrusive thoughts bring go away. People with OCD have a much harder time letting go of these intrusive thoughts than others do. For example, if someone with OCD has the thought that they want to drown their friend out of nowhere they might then start to review all their thoughts to confirm they would never want to do that, then they might go through extreme lengths to make sure there is never water when this friend is around, this individual might even start asking that friend if they are feeling okay or breathing okay on a daily basis. Where as someone without OCD might just think to themselves "well that was weird".

Myth #2 - Everyone is a bit OCD.

Rubbish! Everyone is not a little bit OCD because OCD is a debilitating mental disorder that affects 1 in 4 people in the US. People who say that they "are a little OCD" usually DO NOT meet the diagnostic criteria for OCD as set by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) that is used to determine an official diagnosis.

People that have not been diagnosed with OCD can have OCD tendencies, which is described as symptoms that fall under the OCD diagnosis, but are not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis. For example, I have definitely had moments where I question if I am thinking rationally or 'going crazy' and sometimes I will go through a lot to confirm that I am such as ask others for reassurance, google about people thinking irrationally so I can do the opposite, and even avoid people so I do not have to worry about being understood. However, since this is not taking up any significant time in my life and I am able to function there is no reason for me to seek help.

If you have OCD tendencies, don't worry. This does not necessarily mean you will develop OCD later on, but it is a possibility. Like most things. Just keep an eye on your behaviors consider calling someone if the urges get harder to resist or the obsessions start to consume more of your day than you'd like.

Myth #3 - Anyone with OCD is only concerned with cleanliness.

While it is true that there are ordering/arranging compulsions and contamination OCD does exist, there are a lot of other subtypes that have nothing to do with cleanliness. Other OCD subtypes include the following:

  • Harm OCD aka HOCD: fear of harming self or others

  • sexual orientation OCD: fear of doing something inappropriate sexually

  • Magical thinking OCD: if I step on a crack I will indeed break my mothers back

  • Pedophilia OCD aka POCD: fear of being sexually inappropriate with a child

  • Immoral or Scrupulous OCD: fear from moral or religion

  • Relationship OCD aka ROCD: fear involving relationships (all kinds)

  • Perfectionism or Just Right OCD: fear of making a mistake

  • Somatic OCD: fear of bodily sensations

  • Existential OCD: fear of place in the world

Even though we have these categories of common obsessions; essentially OCD can latch onto anything. OCD typically latches onto whatever is most important to you. Guess what? There's more. OCD can also switch what it decides to latch onto at anytime! So one morning you could have contamination obsessions and then the next day, BOOM. You now have somatic OCD. As you might have guessed, this can be difficult to manage in day to day life. I hope it's easier to understand why that's not just because their space is dirty.

Myth #4 - Pedophilia OCD is the same as being a pedophile.

This is probably the question I get the most from people who do not completely understand OCD. OCD can be defined as a disorder in which people have recurring unwanted thought ides or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something competitively (compulsions). A pedophile is defined by the dictionary as someone who is sexually attracted to children. These 2 definitions are different for a reason. The scientists say that people with OCD are actually LESS LIKELY to engage in the content of their intrusive thoughts than people that do not have OCD. And we now know that everyone has intrusive thoughts.

People that struggle with POCD are assigning meaning their obsessions. These individuals find it difficult to understand that thoughts are not facts. For example, if someone is to have an unwanted thought about a child or a physiological sensation when looking at a child this does not equate to feeling sexually attracted to a child, just like having a thought about throwing your baby off a balcony does not mean you want this to happen. If thoughts were facts, I could think myself onto a private island right now. But since I am still in Houston I am going to conclude that my mental capacity is not that powerful.

Myth #5 - People with suicidal OCD want to commit suicide.

This subtype can be a little bit scary because no one likes talking about suicide. And it can be difficult to determine the difference between someone with intrusive thoughts of suicide from someone who is considering taking their life.

There are a few key factors to pay attention to when trying to determine if suicidal thoughts are OCD related or depression related. First, is the behavior something they want to engage in or is the behavior something they are afraid they will engage in? If they want to engage in suicide then these thoughts are probably related to depression and you might want to consider calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room. If they are afraid, then OCD is probably at work. Remember intrusive thoughts are UNWANTED. Second, how is their mood? If they are relatively calm or apathetic, maybe even happy, the thoughts are probably related to depression. This behaviors tend to emerge from people who have accepted they are going to take their life because they believe this will end their suffering. However, if they are anxious, fearful, and avoidant of anything that reminds them of suicide, are annoying neighbor OCD is probably home.

That's a wrap.

Wait, no it's not! There are new myths popping up about OCD everyday. Have any myths that you need busted? Comment other myths about OCD you have heard before.

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