Of course, most people would answer that question by saying Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…but what does that really mean? OCD manifests in different ways for each individual, but the root functioning is the same.
There is an obsessive thought, also known as an intrusive thought, which is unwanted in the fact that it causes stress and anxiety to rise. The compulsion comes in when a person carries out ‘rituals’ in order to make the obsessive/intrusive thoughts go away. Sounds simple enough, right?
So let’s say that a person with a severe phobia of germs feels that they have touched something ‘contaminated’ and must wash their hands. That is the obsessive thought. In order to make the thought go away, the person may simply use soap and water to wash their hands. If this were all it took, there would be no suffering involved in OCD. Rather than feeling satisfied with their newly ‘clean’ hands, someone with OCD will repeat the cycle constantly. Thoughts such as, “What if I missed a spot? What if there is still a germ that may make me sick? What if….? What if….? What if…?”
Others with OCD may suffer entirely differently. Some repeatedly check curling irons, ovens, stoves, etc. in fear that they will cause a house fire. Others check doors constantly to ensure that they are indeed locked. Still, others may feel the need to say certain phrases out loud or turn around a number of times before entering a door.
To the outsider, all of these actions seem strange and bizarre. For the person actually experiencing OCD, these actions are a desperate attempt at making those horrible, unwanted thoughts go away, if only for a small moment of peace.