Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is commonly called OCD, and is characterized by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsions that have great power over an individual. The sufferer simply can not get rid of debilitating fears and unwanted thoughts. Obsessions can be so strong that the mind is consumed with doubt. This is why OCD is sometimes called the “doubting disease.”
OCD often produces a profound fear that something terrible will happen unless the sufferer caries out certain rituals, such as washing of the hands, checking and rechecking electrical appliances or locks, hoarding objects, etc. After performing the ritual a certain number of times, the sufferer finally starts to feel that “everything is OK now.” Then the ritual can be discontinued – until the obsession occurs again.
Did You Know?
It is estimated that 3% of the population, about 5 million people, in the United States have this debilitating condition. Approximately 80% of sufferers experience both obsessions and compulsions.
What are the Symptoms of OCD?
- Obsessions are unwanted, recurrent, and persistent thoughts or images that are extremely difficult to suppress and cause overwhelming anxiety. These thoughts may be frightening, embarrassing and painful.
- Compulsions are repetitive, ritualized behaviors one feels driven to perform to alleviate anxiety or to keep something terrible from happening.
- OCD should not be confused with the term “compulsive” that is often used to describe people who tend to be “perfectionists” in their attempts manage life and increase self-esteem. In contrast, people with OCD do not want their obsessive thoughts or rituals. They realize that their unwanted thoughts and useless rituals are interfering with their lives.
- People with OCD make up their own rules that must be followed each time the ritual is carried out. The OCD sufferer knows that the compulsion does not make sense, but once the ritual is completed the person feels better for a short period of time. The compulsions are never pleasurable.
- The rituals can be very debilitating because they can consume so much time and energy, up to several hours at a time. Great energy is spent to ignore or suppress unwanted thoughts, or to block them by other thoughts or actions. But then fears return and seemingly force the person to repeat the ritual. By the end of the ritual, the person is often exhausted.
- “Something has to be placed in a certain order or arrangement.”
“I must do [something] very slowly in order to get it right.”
- “I have to do [something] over and over again to make sure that it is right.”
- “I am very concerned with [certain words, numbers, sounds or images].”
- “I am very superstitious that some numbers are lucky [or unlucky].”
- “I can’t throw out useless or old things because I might need them in the future.”
- “I am afraid of getting dirty or infected with germs.”
- “I am afraid of being violent or hurting others.”
- “I am afraid that a disaster might occur.”
- “I feel guilty about blasphemous religious thoughts.”
- “I feel guilty and ashamed of my perverse sexual thoughts.”
- “I have to [clean or wash my hands, shower, bathe, brush my teeth] over and over.”
- “I have to clean [curtains, house, car] over and over.”
- “I have to put things in a certain order over and over.”
- “I have to check [door locks, light switches, stove] to be sure they are correct.”
- “I have to [climb up and down stairs, go through doorways, or do things] over and over again.
- “I have to count up to a certain number over and over again.”
- “I just can’t throw out things, such as old newspapers, magazines, mail, or containers.”
- “I have to read the newspaper or listen to the news to make sure that I have not caused a disaster.”
- “I ask other people for reassurance that something has or has not
What Is the Cause Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Although the exact cause of OCD is unknown, the condition appears to have a physiological origin. Specifically linked to serotonin, a vital chemical in the brain, OCD sufferers have a lower level or an imbalance of this necessary ingredient. Serotonin is one of many natural chemicals that are stored in nerves. Brain nerve cells utilize serotonin to send messages (electrical impulses) to each other so that our body can function normally.
Serotonin is called a “neurotransmitter” because it helps carry the message from one nerve cell to another. It is stored inside nerve cells. When a nerve cell begins to send a message, it releases this “stored” serotonin into the space the message must cross to get to the next nerve cell. Serotonin, once outside the nerve cell, is free to work like a ferryboat, carrying messages between nerve cells. Once the message has crossed successfully to the next nerve, the serotonin returns back into the nerve cell where it is store until its services are needed again. The body requires a normal amount of serotonin that is “free” between the nerve cells in the brain. People with OCD appear to have a lower than normal level of “free” serotonin between nerve cells.
What is the OCD Sufferer’s Greatest Fear?
The greatest fear of many people with OCD is that other people will find out and think that they’re crazy. This is why OCD sufferers often attempt to hide their pain and their symptoms. They know that their symptoms don’t make sense and waste massive amounts of time, but feel helpless because they simply can’t get those thoughts out of their mind or stop doing the compulsive rituals.
What are the Treatments for OCD?
People struggling with OCD symptoms should seek treatment. Christians are just as prone to be victims of OCD as those who are not. The Christian with OCD will battle with intrusive thoughts like the Christian diabetic will battle an insulin imbalance. Help is available. Ask your physician for a referral to a specialist in the treatment of OCD. While there is no cure for OCD, new treatments are promising hope for the relief of symptoms. Both behavior therapy and the use of medication can be effective.
Behavior therapy helps people face their fears without resorting to rituals. Over a period of time, patients are exposed to the thing or idea that precipitates an OCD attack. They then learn how to stop their ritual of choice. Anxiety diminishes over time as the individual successfully resists the identified triggers. Behavior therapy takes time and effort. Improvement is dependent upon tolerating high levels of anxiety during the treatment process.
Medications are providing significant help in controlling the symptoms of OCD, by making the obsessive thoughts weaker and helping the sufferer fight off the urge to perform the rituals. A physician can prescribe specific medications that are designed to balance chemical in the brain by enhancing the amount of serotonin and other neurotransmitters to optimum levels.
How Can You Help Someone with OCD?
- Insist that they could change, if they only wanted to, or really tried
- Tell the sufferer it is a spiritual problem
- Avoid or isolate from them
- Give constant advice or make decisions for them
- Try to help with the rituals
- Shame them for their senseless thoughts and/or behaviors
- Encourage them to seek professional care
- Attend meetings to find out more about OCD
- Support them when they face the objects or events that trigger OCD attacks
- Praise them when they make even the smallest improvements
- Offer to help them take their medications correctly
- Remind them to call the pharmacy for prescription refills
- Be patient with their behavior
The Sagemont Counseling Center provides a wide range of treatment options for those struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Call 281-481-8770, ext. 2673, for a confidential assessment.