10 Classic signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD, is an anxiety disorder that impacts on the daily life of the sufferer. It is a disorder characterised by recurrent and constant thoughts and concerns. People who develop the disorder often display repetitive and persistent behaviour which can lead to feelings of guilt and powerlessness. Many people who have friends or family with OCD mistakenly believe that the individual’s actions are voluntarily, but in reality the sufferer’s consciousness is invaded by thoughts that affect their physical and social wellbeing. Professional help is needed to overcome and control the disorder.

Compulsive washing

Compulsive washers believe that their skin has been contaminated by diseases picked up from everyday objects. In general, these objects will be ones that the sufferer will have come across outside of their homes. Sufferers feel compelled to perform washing rituals repeatedly throughout the day. Their house will generally be meticulously clean and they will wear gloves and use disinfectant while cleaning. Some people with this compulsion will also only wear items of clothing once before putting them in the wash.

Repetitive checking

This type of OCD sufferer will obsess over the need to make sure that they do not fall victim to an unfortunate accident or event. For example, they may repeatedly check doors to make sure they have been locked properly or repetitively check to see if all gas and electric appliances have been fully switched off in order to prevent fires. Such people possess an excessive and irrational fear of causing harm to themselves and others.


When a person suffers constant obsessive compulsions over the state of their health they can be categorised as a hypochondriac. Sufferers have unfounded fears that they are going to develop a serious or life-threatening illness. They live in a constant state of alert, checking for the appearance of new symptoms that affect their health. This may be manifested in them checking their heart rate or body temperature several times a day and also in meticulous inspections of their body to find small anomalies that they believe could degenerate into a terminal illness.


Perfectionists are extremely self-demanding and critical of themselves. They also worry about minute and insignificant details that are irrelevant to their daily lives and have a compulsive need to complete everyday tasks perfectly. Perfectionists possess a need to learn trivial things and their self-demanding nature often leads them to impose unsustainable restrictions on themselves that end up causing them a lot of stress.


Hoarders are people who collect large quantities of disposable objects which do not have any value and which most people would throw away. Indeed, the very thought of losing such objects causes the hoarder pain and suffering and getting them to part with their treasured collection can normally only be achieved when they seek professional psychological help. In general, hoarders surround themselves with their collection to the detriment of their personal hygiene and the cleanliness of the place where they live. This may cause them embarrassment but they will still not part with the objects with which they have established strong emotional bonds.

Purely obsessional OCD

There is a category of obsessive compulsive disorder that has no visible physical characteristics in the form of repetitive compulsions. Purely obsessional OCD occurs in the mind of the individual and has to do with mental repetitive processes. Sufferers experience repeated negative thoughts in an uncontrollable and distressing way. This obsession with negative ideas is not voluntary as such thoughts invade the consciousness of the person and they are unable to do anything to control them. People with purely obsessional OCD face an internal struggle to free themselves of these overwhelming thoughts and this can result in mental exhaustion and frustration.


Superstition is a common part of everyday life for many but for some people it can end up having an unhealthy influence over their lives. People with OCD who display superstitious compulsions will often sufferer from paranoia and base their decision making on a belief in magical forces. This distortion of reality leads them to believe that verbalising negative thoughts will cause harm to themselves and others, especially loved ones. One feature of this disorder is the performing of repetitive actions by way of ritual in order to counteract the negative thoughts and consequently reduce the damage that they could theoretically cause.

Philosophical and religious ruminations

There are OCD sufferers that are overly concerned about the possibility of committing a religious sin or an act which goes against their beliefs and philosophy of life. Individuals who have philosophical-religious obsessions will continually feel the need and impulse to confess sins that they never committed or supposed sins of a childish nature. Many sufferers will be haunted by guilt and will be overwhelmed by moral considerations. Constant praying and repenting of their sins or bad deeds is one of the most notable features of this sign of OCD.

Doubts and indecision

Some OCD sufferers will exhibit levels of doubt and indecision that effect the proper functioning of their everyday lives. They will be anguished by situations that demand forethought and will often be unable to take decisions. Ambiguous and uncertain contexts will also generate a high degree of anxiety that disturbs any possibility of them taking decisions. An excessive fear of making mistakes and a lack of confidence when attempting to take decisions paralyses such persons, leaving them in an uncomfortable and frustrating position.

Obsession with body image

Anorexia and muscle dysmorphia are two disorders that can be related to OCD. People affected by anorexia have severely distorted self-images and thus modify their diets in an attempt to eliminate all foods containing fat and excess calories to keep themselves from gaining weight. In the case of muscle dysmorphia, the person suffering from this condition excessively exercises believing their muscles will never become sufficiently well developed. In both cases, the daily routines of sufferers become centred on the appearance of their bodies.

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Sonia Gonzalez has published several articles on education, and is a story-spotter for, a global community of readers and writers.