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Understanding the Different Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The term obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often used to describe a wide variety of behaviors, thoughts, and compulsions. Some people casually throw the phrase around, even using it to make light of certain character traits such as being highly organized or exhibiting attention to detail. Because of this, there’s often confusion and speculation surrounding what OCD is and the different ways it presents itself.

We’re here to clear up some of that confusion. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is much more than just a desire to have things neat and organized. It’s a recognized mental illness that can cause significant impairment and distress in people’s lives. Individuals with OCD experience persistent obsessive thoughts that are often negative and trigger compulsive or ritualistic behaviors. But not all types of OCD are created equal or present themselves the same way.

Keep reading for a closer look at the different types of OCD, including common symptoms and subcategories.

Harm OCD

Harm OCD involves the fear of harming yourself or others but can also be categorized as extreme worry that harm will come to a loved one. This latter type of OCD involves obsessive thoughts about your friends and family getting into fatal accidents or becoming deathly ill. Compulsive behaviors to combat these fears may include not allowing your children to travel on highways or board an airplane. It can also manifest as a form of contamination OCD (more on this later), in which you become obsessed with cleanliness and avoiding germs in an effort to prevent illness.

Harm OCD that involves thoughts about harming yourself or others is sometimes referred to as aggressive or sexual OCD. People with this disorder worry they might act out violently against others. Many sufferers report intrusive, aggressive images that are violent and sexual in nature. You may also fear behaving in a sexually inappropriate or even illegal manner. These obsessions are often coupled with the need for reassurance that you’re a good person.

Contamination OCD

This common type of OCD is associated with an overwhelming fear of germs, filth, and contamination. Sufferers often wash their hands compulsively, avoid physical contact with others, and experience intrusive thoughts related to germs and illness. Most people with contamination OCD also avoid certain situations they consider “unsafe” or a breeding ground for germs, including large events or gatherings.

Excessive concern for personal hygiene isn’t the only obsession people with contamination OCD exhibit. Many sufferers are also compulsive cleaners. You might find yourself cleaning your house obsessively, including dusting, vacuuming, or washing down counters and doorknobs. To keep your home free from germs, you may ask guests to remove their shoes immediately and feel an overwhelming need to clean your furniture and other surfaces after they leave.

Order and Symmetry OCD

This type of OCD involves order and symmetry with both objects and behaviors. Order and symmetry OCD is marked by an obsessive need to have things perfect or “just so.” This is especially true when it comes to objects. You may experience an overwhelming need to place items in order by size or color to create harmony, balance, and visual symmetry. Some people spend excessive time and energy rearranging and aligning objects until they’re “just right.”

Another common characteristic of order and symmetry OCD is a preoccupation with numbers and patterns. You may avoid things associated with a certain number – for example, 13 because it’s believed to bring bad luck. It’s also common for people with this type of OCD to adopt ritualistic behaviors that involve specific numbers and compulsions such as touching doorknobs the same number of times before leaving the house or locking and unlocking the door 2, 4, or even 6 times before leaving. The inability to complete these patterns the desired number of times can cause extreme stress and anxiety.

Doubt and Incompleteness OCD

Some forms of OCD, like doubt and incompleteness, stem from a need to be accepted. Individuals with this type of OCD experience obsessive, intrusive thoughts and worry over whether or not they’ve done something correctly or completed a specific task. Checking the door locks is an example of this. You may also worry that you forgot to shut the garage door or turn off the coffee maker. These intrusive thoughts can get so bad that you may turn around and go back home to check or even leave work to ease your mind. The act of performing numerous checks or altering your behavior are the compulsions associated with doubt and completeness OCD. People with this form of OCD are also obsessed with getting reassurance and validation from others.

Self-Control OCD

This type of OCD is a subcategory of harm OCD and is characterized by the fear of losing control over one’s behavior and doing something inappropriate, offensive, or even illegal. Common fears include shouting out in public, harming yourself or others, or acting on inappropriate sexual impulses. It’s common for people with self-control OCD to isolate themselves from others, avoid public appearances, and even develop depression. The fear of acting out inappropriately or losing control is greater than the desire to socialize or interact with others. Left untreated, this type of OCD can make it difficult to function in daily life, including going to work and maintaining healthy relationships. Free online OCD tests can give you a better idea of the type of OCD you’re dealing with.

Morality, Sin, and Religion OCD

Yet another type of OCD that stems from worry over acting inappropriately, some people experience excessive worry over sinning or making immoral decisions. This is common among highly-religious individuals who consider sinning unforgivable. To cleanse themselves of wrongdoing, some people will compulsively ask for forgiveness, whether it’s from a religious figure, church members, or loved ones.

Identifying the Different Types of OCD

If you’re plagued by negative, obsessive thoughts that result in compulsive behaviors, you may be dealing with an undiagnosed case of OCD. Because OCD can manifest itself in different ways, knowing the different types can help you better deal with your specific condition.

Once you identify the type of OCD you have, you can choose a treatment plan. Most forms of OCD are treated using a combination of therapy and medication. Online OCD treatment programs are a convenient way to get the help you need from the privacy and comfort of your home. In-person group therapy is also beneficial and allows you to meet and speak with people facing the same issues as you. A medical professional can also prescribe medication if needed.

Don’t let obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors run your life anymore. Take control of your condition and learn the best techniques for treating your type of OCD.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: April Sutphen is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from Florida. She has her MFA in creative writing and over 15 years of writing experience. April enjoys writing on a variety of topics, including health and wellness, relationships, marriage, parenting, and fitness. When April isn’t writing, she spends her time exercising, at the beach, and spending time with her family and friends.

Photo by Anton on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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