Symptoms of OCD?

For those who think they, or a loved one, might be suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it is easy to go online and find a list of typical symptoms.

In some cases, people’s obsessions and compulsions may be quite obvious and they will present with a “classic case” of OCD. Sufferers who fear contamination (obsession) and wash their hands until they bleed (compulsion) are a good example.

But it is not always that easy to figure out if you or someone you care about has the disorder. Some symptoms of OCD may not seem like symptoms of anything at all. For example, at least a year before we knew Dan had OCD, he stopped choosing what clothes to wear in the morning. “Just pick out anything for me; I don’t care what,” he’d say. While I may have thought this behavior was a little odd for a teenager, it never once crossed my mind that Dan was consciously avoiding making decisions.  I now know that this is not an uncommon symptom of OCD. If Dan didn’t have to decide what to wear, or what movie to go to with friends, or give his opinion on anything, then he would not be responsible for anything bad that might happen as a result of his decision. As I’ve said before, while intellectually Dan knew his thinking made no sense, there was always doubt, another mainstay of OCD;  “What if I wear my blue shirt and then someone I love dies?”

Reassurance seeking, such as asking “Are you sure everything is okay?” is a common compulsion in OCD. As a matter of fact, when Dan entered his residential treatment program, cell phone use was discouraged because so many clients would continually call home for reassurance. I told Dan’s social worker that he never asked for reassurance, and that was true. But what he did do was routinely apologize for things most people would never apologize for.  He’d say something like,”I’m sorry I spent so much money at the supermarket,” (when he actually hadn’t) and I’d answer,”You didn’t spend that much; you have to eat.” Now it is easy for me to see that Dan’s apologies were a form of reassurance seeking and my responses to him were classic enabling.

Of course a lot of people avoid making decisions, and I’m sure just as many are always saying they’re sorry. I am in no way suggesting that they all have OCD. What I am saying is that OCD can manifest itself in countless ways; no two OCD sufferers will have exactly the same symptoms. Couple that with the knowledge that there are still lots of therapists out there who are not that familiar with OCD symptoms and treatment, and you may have the makings of a difficult diagnosis.

And so this is just one more reason to continue to advocate for OCD awareness. The more knowledgeable we all are about the signs and symptoms of OCD, the better position we will be in to fight the disorder head on.

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8 Responses to Symptoms of OCD?

  1. Lolly says:

    This is a great post. I wrote one about this a while back as well… Sorry if this is tacky, but I am linking it here for you to check out, thought it could be useful for others who might want to know more about symptoms ans such…

    Your blog is so great, btw. It is so refreshing reading from the point of view of a non sufferer. Thanks for all that you write… You are an inspiration!

  2. ocdtalk says:

    It’s definitely not tacky to link to your post (at least I hope it’s not, because I do it a lot!)…….in fact I think it is wonderful to share all of our collective thoughts and experiences. The more we share the more we can be of help to others (as well as ourselves).
    I just reread your post, and it absolutely should be “required reading” for family members who suspect something is not quite right with a loved one.
    Thanks again for sharing and commenting (especially because you say such nice things 🙂 )!

  3. I second Lolly’s comment – This is a great post.

    My OCD was quite difficult to recognise (and I did a good job of hiding my compulsions before I was ready to admit to it!) as mine is not the commonly recognised contamination kind.

    It is so true what you say about reassurance seeking – It is comforting to a suffer to know that anything that you might’ve done isn’t causing distress/anxiety to a loved one(s) or, alternatively, the sufferer could be confirming that his compulsions are working and are preventing bad things from happening.

    OCD preys on people’s fears and what may start out as a small thing (phobia, thought, repetition) could, extraordinarily quickly, become an overwhelming obsession (or multiply into many different forms) so I definitely agree that awareness of OCD is enormously important, and not just limited to psychologists and doctors!

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks so much for your comment and insight. I really like your explanation of the “rationale” behind reassurance seeking and also your reasoning why OCD awareness is so important…for all of us!

  4. Tina says:

    I’m having trouble getting a comment to go through, so I hope this one does.

    I wanted to say how much this post hit home for me. I have apologized so much throughout my life. I had never thought about it as a way to look for reassurance, so this was very enlightening. And not making decisions and, for me, procrastinating, are definitely ways to try to avoid responsibility.

    I don’t want to be tacky either, but I published a post Saturday about reassurance. If you would like to read it, the link is

    Thank you for your post!

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for the comment Tina. I’m glad the post was helpful to you. I’m going to check out your blog right now and look forward to reading your post about reassurance.

  5. Ally says:

    So the apologizing for crazy things so that I know it wasn’t me that did them (“I’m so, so sorry I [for example] dropped my pencil” and then a response of “It’s okay, it wasn’t your fault…?” is daily stuff for me) is OCD “reassurance speaking” too? Well, I guess I’m discovering more and more symptoms that I never realized were OCD but make me think “Duh!” once I’ve found out. Thank you so much!

    • Hi Ally, I just realized I never replied to your comment from over two years ago! It must have slipped past me. Wishing you all the best and sorry for the delay :). Thanks for sharing!

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