Ask The Expert
January 28, 2013
Obsessions are repeating, intrusive, anxiety-provoking thoughts. Compulsions are hard-to-control urges to repeat certain behaviors. Many people have such thoughts and behavior. It does not necessarily mean they have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
There is no sharp line between having and not having the disorder. Doctors make a diagnosis of OCD if a person is distressed. Or symptoms may be so time-consuming; they interfere with work, social life or relationships.
OCD is common. About 2% of people fit the criteria. Even without the disorder, about 15% report having symptoms.
Common obsessions are shameful thoughts and worries about hurting someone accidentally. A common compulsion is “checking.” Did I lock the door? Is the light timer set? Is the oven off?
Often there is a story behind the symptoms. Themes like shame or interest in a loved one’s well-being are common human concerns. In every important relationship, we have to manage a variety of demands and responsibilities. Most of us have to work hard to control our impulses and desires.
Obsessions and compulsions may help us meet our goals. But symptoms can be painful whether or not you have a diagnosis. You may be like the majority of people who never seek help. In fact, most people manage their psychiatric symptoms without seeing a professional.
There are good times to overcome such reluctance. Maybe an uncomfortable idea has turned into an obsession. Or an automatic behavior has become a self-defeating compulsion. You don’t have to manage such problems alone.
Ask yourself whether or not you feel distressed. If you are uncomfortable, that’s all the reason you need to get help.