Obsessive thoughts can lead to obsessive behaviors. According to psychologist Dr. Bruce Liese, obsessive compulsives typically have a recurring, persistent and unwanted thought or thoughts that won't go away. These thoughts tend to be irrational and very closely correlated with anxiety and can often cause anxiety themselves.
The situation becomes acute when the thoughts manifest themselves in behaviors. Common examples include repetitive persistent behaviors, such as frequent hand washing. Other examples include, shopping, hoarding, skin picking and even repeating phrases ritualistically, verbally or internally.
However, it isn't all bad. Many people can overcome these difficulties and use their focus on detail to their advantage in the workplace and in life.
It's estimated that only 1 to 1.5 percent of people suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. Typically OCD begins to manifest itself at about 19 years old, but about a quarter of cases demonstrate themselves by age 14. Obsessive compulsive behavior becomes problematic when they prevent a person from living their daily life, holding a job or making meaningful connections to others.
A clear example of when OCD tendencies have gone too far is when they begin to take up more than an hour of a person's day and cause significant distress. Dr. Liese gives the example of a patient who couldn't leave the house because it took him over an hour to put his pants on, eventually his tardiness caused him to loose his job.
While many people are familiar with OCD they maybe less familiar with OCPD, or Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. OCPD is one of the most prevalent disorders effecting between 2 and 8 percent of people. Like OCD it typically manifests itself in early adolescence or early adulthood. People with OCPD can be preoccupation with details, rules, lists, organization and schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost in the formulation of that order. People with OCPD can strive for perfectionism that also interferes with task completion. To others they are typically scrupulous, inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values and are reluctant to delegate tasks. Liese says OCPD doesn't have to ruin an individual's life, in fact many people with OCPD use these attributes as strengths.
If you or a loved one might be struggling with OCD consider these things:
- Understand the obsessive-compulsive mind: obsessive-compulsiveness has its roots in deep insecurity.
- Understand that obsessive-compulsiveness is a compensatory strategy designed to correct a perceived or real personal deficit.
- Seek real (rather than compensatory) solutions to personal deficits.
- Figure out what’s really important in your personal world and focus on it.
- Put relationships ahead of things, rules, etc. (understanding it from a moral development perspective).
- Unless you really know what you’re getting yourself into, don’t get too close to a person with strong OC tendencies until they've addressed their problem.
- Dr. Bruce Liese, Professor of Family Medicine at the KU Medical Center