What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)? Many people do not fully understand what it means to have OCD. The usual idea is that of someone repeatedly washing their hands or perhaps locking and re-locking the door – actions that others obviously find quite strange; but there is more to being obsessive-compulsive than just that.
While many with OCD are quite aware that there is something very irrational about how they act, others are not able to determine this. In fact, they simply believe that they are just more competitive or perhaps more concerned about their work than others.
The reality, however, is that these so-called workaholics or very perfectionist people may, in fact, be suffering from OCD which causes them much more stress than usual, disrupting their personal and professional lives.
The Case of Obsession
“[Obsessives] are self-reliant and conscientious… They look constantly for ways to help people listen better, resolve conflict, and find win-win opportunities. They buy self-improvement books… and they like to focus on continuous improvement at work because it fits in with their sense of moral improvement.” (Michael Maccoby)
While it is often usual for someone to be both obsessive and compulsive, it is not always the situation. It is possible for someone simply to have the former and not the latter. This can be seen in people who are actively always thinking about something of importance. Many philosophers, scientists, lawyers or even criminal investigators may fall into this category. It is an obsession as they spend most of their waking moments contemplating or arguing their point about something – be it an unsolved case, a scientific mystery, or a philosophical quandary.
However, unlike compulsive people, obsessive people feel no need to act upon what they’re thinking. (290) So though they may think about it constantly, they are able to control their actions, especially if they may result in unwanted consequences.
Obsessive people are often described as stubborn, meticulous, very organized, punctual and inflexible. They are also usually inclined to highly intellectual discussion. Moreover, they are usually driven by an internal standard of excellence that is often impossible to reach.
Such a combination of traits, coupled with their high personal standards, often cause obsessive people to struggle with shame as they cannot live up to their own ideals. To cope, they try to rationalize, moralize, compartmentalize, or intellectualize their undesirable thoughts.
Anger is often used to combat those emotions that make them feel inadequate. Some, however, may displace anger from its original source and focus it on a “legitimate” target so they don’t have to feel ashamed about getting upset. (293) Thus, proper emotional expression is something very difficult for them.
Unfortunately, logic cannot solve everything in life. Thus, obsessives often run into problems as they deal with the people around them.
Difficulty with Decisions
Emotional expression is not the only struggle of those with obsession – they also have difficulty making decisions. The fear of failure, of not reaching their internal standards, paralyzes them. They think through the different options, yet may still end up refusing to make a choice out of fear of making the wrong one. Indecision, however, is a choice in itself with obsessives living with the consequences of not picking something.
McWilliams presents the example of a pregnant woman with two obstetricians to choose from. Her decision process took so long that she eventually went into labor and ended up being treated by a very different doctor elsewhere.
The Case of Compulsion
At some point in time, almost everyone has had some form of compulsive behavior. For athletes or entertainers, this may be some special ritual to ensure a great game or performance.
For others, this could be an action to ward off a superstitious belief. But for compulsive people, their repetitive actions do not just seem weird to those around them, they generally interfere with life.
Though they may intellectually know that there is nothing wrong (e.g. the door has been locked), they are still compelled to repeat the action over and over.
Similar to people with obsession, compulsive people also wish to avoid the embarrassment of a wrong decision. But instead of mulling over a decision for hours or days, they rush into the first option that presents itself and deal with the consequences afterward. An example is jumping into bed with a friend or a new acquaintance simply because the situation has become sexually charged.
Very compulsive people do not want to think too much about things. In fact, they often prefer activities that may require less deep thinking, opting for something quite straightforward and possibly mechanical (e.g. craftwork). What characterizes their actions as “compulsive” is not necessarily whether they are detrimental or beneficial, but that they are simply irresistible to the person. “Florence Nightingale was probably compulsively helpful; Jon Stewart may be compulsively funny. People rarely come to treatment for their compulsivity if it works on their behalf, but they do come with related problems.” (295)
Why the Two Disorders are Often Together
Though an individual may have one disorder or the other, many times they come hand in hand as the compulsive behavior is an attempt to deal with the obsessive thoughts. Though others may view their actions as very irrational, those with OCD have to do what they do for peace of mind.
Someone obsessed, for example, with ideas of being hurt by an intruder may constantly lock and re-lock the doors and windows of their home repeatedly before going to bed or even before leaving home. A person obsessed with their partner leaving for another may constantly check up on their partner’s whereabouts through frequent texts or calls.
Dealing With Such Behavior Through Christian Counseling
Illogical as such thoughts and actions may be, people with OCD cannot help but deal with their circumstances. It is a constant burden in their life, but something they are forced to deal with.
Fortunately, though you may have OCD, do not despair – you do not have to be a slave to the disorder. Though Scripture reminds us not to worry but to trust in the Lord, OCD is a medical condition and not a sign of weak faith. God would not have inspired verses such as Matt. 6:27, 31 and Phil 4:6 if He wanted you to live in fear. Something can be done about it.
If any part of this article pertains to you or someone you love, do not struggle on your own. Contact Christian Counseling San Diego, who can help you overcome this condition. By discovering the root of the problem, those suffering from OCD can learn how to manage such undesirable thoughts and compulsions through research-based treatment and God’s healing power. You or your loved one can find that freedom from fear as the Lord gives you rest. (Matt. 11:28)
Psychoanalytic Diagnosis, Second Edition: Understanding Personality Structure in the Clinical Process by Nancy McWilliamsPhotos
“Jenga,” courtesy of Michel Parzuchowski, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Frustration,” courtesy of Creative Ignition, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Stack of Books,” courtesy of Jan Mellstrom, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alone,” courtesy of Mike Wilson, unsplash.com, CC0 License