Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the name given to a condition in which people experience repetitive and upsetting thoughts and/or behaviours. OCD has two main features:
Obsessions can come in the form of involuntary thoughts, images or impulses. Common obsessions include, but are not limited to: fears about dirt, germs and contamination. Fear of acting out violent or aggressive thoughts or impulses. Unreasonable fears of harming others, especially loved ones. Abhorrent blasphemous or sexual thoughts. Inordinate concern with order, arrangement or symmetry. Inability to discard useless or worn out possessions. Fears that things are not safe, especially household appliances. The main features of obsessions are that they are automatic, frequent, upsetting or distressing, and difficult to control or get rid of.
Just as with obsessions, there are many types of compulsions. It is common for people to carry out a compulsion in order to reduce the anxiety they feel from an obsession. Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning, checking, repetitive actions such as touching, counting, arranging and ordering, hoarding, ritualistic behaviours that lessen the chances of provoking an obsession (e.g. putting all sharp objects out of sight) and acts which reduce obsessional fears (e.g. wearing only certain colours). Compulsions can be observable actions, for example washing, but they can also be mental rituals such as repeating words or phrases, counting, or saying a prayer. Again, not all types of compulsions are listed here. The main features of compulsions are they are repetitive and stereotyped actions that the person feels forced to perform. People can have compulsions without having obsessional thoughts but, very often, these two occur together. Carrying out a compulsion reduces the person's anxiety and makes the urge to perform the compulsion again stronger each time.
** With thanks to OCD Ireland