What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

While the exact cause or causes of OCD are still unknown, research and certain theories suggest that different factors could play a role. Genes may be partly responsible for causing the disorder, other factors may include learned behaviours, a traumatic event(s), environmental factors.

O.C.D. is the name for an anxiety disorder that results in an individual having obsessive thought patterns which are usually accompanied by compulsive urges to carry out certain rituals/compulsions or tasks. The obsessive thoughts go round and round in the sufferer’s head continually and only by carrying out specific physical rituals or tasks can these worrying thoughts be alleviated.

However, it should be stressed that the two components of O.C.D. can exist in their own right. Some people living and affected with O.C.D have obsessive thoughts only. Others have physical compulsions only.

People that live with and are affected by O.C.D. are not mad, insane, peculiar, or anything else nor will their OCD ever develop into any form of brain disorder. Their brain reacts perfectly normally but is given the wrong information, by the nervous system, on which to act. Those living with O.C.D.  are, almost without exception, very caring people and their O.C.D. is an extension of this caring nature, e.g. some will wash things hundreds of times to make sure they are safe, thus protecting, as they see it, themselves and their loved ones.

Some rituals/compulsions are overt which means they can be seen, for example checking and cleaning. But some rituals/compulsions are covert which means they cannot be seen such as counting or saying certain phrases.

The “Fear” Factor

Fear is a natural response in all of us. It keeps us safe by making sure that, most of the time; we are not in dangerous situations. However, sometimes, when we are not thinking about what we are doing, we do things that are dangerous, e.g. stepping off the pavement without looking and consequently nearly getting run over. Perhaps a vehicle is approaching and it sounds its horn. Our “Fear” response makes us jump back on to the pavement as quickly as we can. The shock to our system, when something like this happens, is enormous and very unpleasant. We sweat, shake, tremble, feel, sick and our heart pounds. Without the “Fear” response we would have just stood in the road with obvious consequences. Thus, our “Fear” response which is so necessary for the right circumstances has got us out of danger.

Fear is a skill that we learn as we grow up. How many times do we see children run on to a busy road? Their “Fear” response is still immature, not, as yet, fully learned. No matter how careful parents are, children will forget their “Fear” training – their focus is on their ball rolling onto the road and so, they rush out oblivious to the oncoming dangers. It can be clearly seen then that “Fear”, in the right place, is essential to our well-being. Without it, I doubt if most of us would survive for very long. You may say that it is just common-sense and rightly so because it is common-sense to be frightened in the right places.

Thus, having established that we need fear to survive what has this got to do with O.C.D.? The answer is quite simply, that over a long period of time, some learn too much “fear” and so they become afraid when there is nothing to be afraid of.  After all, if the fears were truly a danger, wouldn’t everyone experience the same symptoms?

They might be “afraid” that they haven’t washed their clothes, hands or work surfaces enough, that they haven’t checked the gas taps or light switches properly or that the front door is not locked securely. We are sure everyone can think of times when this has happened to them in some minor way. Who hasn’t doubted themselves? Sufferers are never 100% sure that things have been done correctly. So, what to you and me is a simple task, e.g. checking a door is locked, is a mammoth job to someone living with O.C.D. They can’t quite convince themselves that the door is fastened securely and consequently go back time and time again to check. Sometimes this can take several hours. This demonstrates clearly that the small feeling of alarm that we might experience if it occurs to us that we may have left a door unlocked, is nothing by comparison with the continual, nagging worry that blights the life of someone living with O.C.D. 

The feelings that people living with O.C.D.  experience are very real, distressing and quite often, life-destroying causing the sufferer to do, say or think something which reduces the amount of doubt they experience.

Sufferers will often get other people, usually family members, to continually reassure them that everything will be okay. This is part of the disorder and relieves their anxiety for the moment.   In this way, there is continual pressure on other members of the family to become part of the imagined solution to the problem. Thus, instead of learning to overcome the anxiety and fear, the sufferer has learned that certain “happenings” will reduce the distressing feelings. They are then on the downward, slippery slope of thinking and doing more and more things so as to make life bearable until they reach a point where their whole life is taken up with actions or thoughts which make “normal” life totally impossible.

Remember: We are not born with OCD. These fears have been learnt. Recovery is possible. Whilst no therapy guarantees success, CBT Cognitive behavioural therapy including ERP Exposure and response prevention has at the present time the highest success rate.

How can No Panic help?
No Panic specialises in self-help recovery and our services include:
Providing people with the skills they need to manage their condition and work towards recovery.
Our aim is to give you all of the necessary advice, tools and support that you will need to recover and carry out this journey. No Panic Recovery Programs

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