Obsessive-compulsive condition is characterized by repeated, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts (called obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (called compulsions). Compulsions are repetitive actions or movements that individuals use in an effort to reduce their feelings of anxiety. The compulsive actions may actually be unrelated to an individual’s obsessions and are generally viewed as excessive by the individual. In spite of this, most people cannot stop the compulsions irrespective of how much they interfere with their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
Obsessions: Persistent thoughts, ideas, impulses or images that are intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress. These thoughts are often distasteful, violent, or frightening to the person and are not related to everyday issues or problems. There are several types of obsessions, including sexual obsessions, obsessions of violence, obsessions regarding symmetry, somatic obsessions, pathologic doubt, and contamination (Stein, 2004). Individuals with obsessions usually attempt to ignore or suppress such thoughts or impulses or to counteract them by other thoughts or actions (compulsions). Individuals with obsessions recognize that their thoughts are formed within their own mind and do not believe that they are caused by someone or something else.
Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors (such as hand washing, ordering or checking) or mental acts (such as praying, counting or repeating words) that occur in response to an obsession or in a ritualistic way. Compulsions include hoarding behaviours, actions related to symmetry and precision, a need to ask / confess, counting, washing, and checking behaviour (Stein, 2004). The compulsive behaviours or mental acts are used to reduce distress or to prevent something negative from happening; however, they are not directly related to what the person is trying to prevent (e.g., arranging items in a cupboard to prevent a family member from being harmed).
Individuals with obsessive-compulsive condition generally recognize that their actions and thoughts are unreasonable. In contrast, children and youth with OCD often do not recognize that their obsessions or compulsions are unwarranted. Despite this, their actions and thoughts occupy a significant amount of their time and interfere with their day-to-day activities and ability to function in their everyday roles (i.e., work, school, family).
Stein, D. (Ed.) (2004). Clinical manual of anxiety disorders. Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.