Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) consists of frequently recurring thoughts - obsessions - that are unwanted but persistent. These thoughts generate irrational fears and lead to anxiety that is often felt to be intolerable. In order to alleviate the anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts sufferers may feel compelled to perform certain specific behaviours – compulsions and often do so in a ritualised or repetitive manner. For some people OCD compulsions come in the form of further thoughts rather than a compulsive behaviour - this means, for example, that you might have obsessive thoughts about harming someone and then, because these thoughts feel like they must be telling you something important, you feel compelled to focus on them endlessly trying to understand if they mean you are actually capable of harming someone. In reality no-one ever carries out an act based on an intrusive thought and it's precisely because people with OCD have a heightened sense of responsibility that they worry obsessively about beliefs which seem to show that they might have caused harm. Compulsive hand-washing is often referred to as a well-known example of OCD and is based on a fear of germs or contamination. Another example is the excessive checking of doors or windows due to fears about a perceived threat to security. Because people with OCD tend to experience a drop in their anxiety levels once the compulsion has been completed this reinforces the belief that the washing or checking behaviour are useful in helping to manage the anxious feelings. In reality, the behaviour is merely acting as a maintenance factor that keeps the anxiety going and in this way the cycle of repetitive anxious thoughts and corresponding compulsions is perpetuated and the distress continues.
The meaning and importance of thoughts in OCD
The key to understanding OCD lies in the meaning that is given to the obsessive thoughts. People with OCD feel that their thoughts are occurring for a reason and that they must therefore be important. If the thoughts were to be ignored the sufferer often feels an increase in anxiety fearing that something bad will happen either to themselves or to another. The thoughts themselves may seem bizarre and irrational but despite knowing this the sufferer feels they must attend to them otherwise a catastrophe will occur. The solution is for the individual to learn that their thoughts are just thoughts and don’t necessarily provide evidence that something bad is going to happen.
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