The following is a video transcript. The text has been lightly edited for clarity.
There are a few things to look out for if you think you may have OCD: are you experiencing intrusive thoughts, images or urges that you find to be really disturbing or inappropriate? Do they lead you to feel guilty, shameful, anxious, or disgusted? And when you have these, if you do something to try to neutralize them, or to decrease the anxiety or disgust or shame that you feel, that’s a sign that you might be doing compulsions.
Obsessions in OCD are these intrusive thoughts, images or urges that people experience, and compulsions are either behaviors that you can see physically or mental acts that you might be performing, like maybe counting or praying. You do those to neutralize the effect of the obsession. You find that obsession to be something that you don’t want, so you want to neutralize it.
One phrase we sometimes use for these thoughts, images, or urges is “ego dystonic,” meaning that they don’t feel like a part of us or don’t align with who we are as a person; they’re outside of who we see ourselves as. So we want to neutralize that to make it go away, because if we don’t, we fear that something bad might happen, or we might be at fault for something that could occur.
Once we neutralize it, we typically feel really good. That compulsion kind of wipes away the obsession, but the relief is only temporary. That feeling maintains us, and we continue to do those compulsions because we know it’s the way to feel better. That’s why people get stuck, why they keep having these intrusive thoughts, and they keep doing whatever they can to try to make them go away. It’s a cycle that keeps happening over and over again: sometimes I refer to it as a really unfortunate hamster wheel that we find ourselves on, and we just keep going around and around. And we don’t know how to get off.
These obsessions and compulsions can help you recognize that you or someone else may have OCD, but the only way to know for sure is to talk with a licensed mental health professional who has specialty training in OCD. Every therapist in the NOCD network is specialty-trained in OCD and uses exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold-standard treatment for OCD. If you’re interested in learning more about working with an OCD specialist at NOCD, schedule a free call with our care team.