What Is The Meaning Of OCD?

Reviewed by Tanya Harrell, PhD, LPC, NCC

Published 06/24/2022

Do you feel that you obsess over certain thoughts or tasks, sometimes to the point of not being able to push the thought aside? These acts may be part of your personality. Still, in some instances, they might just be serving as pointers to a more severe issue – OCD, a condition characterized majorly by obsessive thoughts that may lead to compulsion.

It is not uncommon for many people to have concentrated thoughts or behaviors that may seem repetitive. However, these thoughts and actions may not disrupt any significant disruption in a person’s day-to-day activities. It can add more structure to their schedule and make it easier for them to carry out their tasks. On the other hand, persons with OCD tend to find these persistent thoughts and unwanted behaviors rigid in nature, and the failure to carry them out is capable of causing them a great amount of trouble.

What Is OCD Behavior?

OCD stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It can be defined as a mental health disorder involving obsession or compulsion, distressing actions, and repetitive thoughts. In simpler terms, OCD can be a condition that causes people who have it to have thoughts, sensations, or unwanted and recurring ideas. These unwanted and reoccurring thoughts, sensations, and ideas make them feel drawn to carrying out certain actions repetitively. These repetitive actions can cause significant interference in such a person’s day to day activities and the person’s social interaction.

OCD is a common condition with a prevalence of about 1.2% of adults in the United States. The condition is one that is capable of affecting persons of all ages.

What Are The Symptoms Of OCD?

Persons who have OCD tend to have symptoms that show obsession, symptoms that show compulsion, or in some cases, symptoms that show both obsession and compulsion. These symptoms can cause significant interference in any aspect of life, ranging from work to school and even interpersonal relationships.


Obsessions can be persistent and recurring thoughts, sensations, or ideas capable of causing emotions like anxiety, worry, or disgust in persons who have OCD. Many people who have OCD understand that thoughts, sensations, and ideas are products of their minds and that they may be excessive, irrational, and not logical.

Examples of symptoms of OCD that are obsessions may include:

  • Excessive fear of contamination
  • Perfectionism
  • Undesired sexual thoughts
  • Superstitious beliefs
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of causing harm to others


Compulsions can be repetitive behaviors that make persons with OCD feel drawn to carrying out certain actions as a form of response to some obsessions. The behaviors occur to reduce or avoid the distress caused by recurring thoughts, sensations, and ideas or a situation that they may have deemed fearful. In very severe instances, there is the possibility that continuous repetition of these compulsive activities may go on throughout most of the day. This may make it almost impossible for people to carry out their normal day to day routine.

Examples of symptoms of OCD that are compulsions may include:

  • Cleaning and washing
  • Repeating activities to allay anxieties
  • Mental compulsions
  • Excessive checking
  • Excessive arranging and organization

It should be understood that not all repetitive actions are symptoms of compulsion. Everyone tends to double checks some things sometimes. And some of these actions are just there to add structure to one’s day to day activities.

Generally, persons with OCD tend to express the following:

  • Inability to control their thoughts or their behaviors, despite understanding that those thoughts and behaviors are excessive.
  • Spending a minimum total of 1 hour per day in a cycle of these thoughts and behaviors
  • Inability to enjoy the recurring behaviors, as they might seem burdensome.
  • A significant disruption in the flow of daily events owing to these recurring thoughts and behaviors

These symptoms may surface and ease over a period of time, or it might go away or even get worse.

Types Of OCD

While there may be several types of OCD in existence, below are the traditional classifications that a person’s OCD may fall into, though it is possible to overlap between two or more of these types.

  • Checking

This type of OCD is characterized by the compulsive need to check something. Behind this might be an obsessive fear, a fear of causing harm, a fear of losing valuable properties that might be stolen, a fear of a fire outbreak, a fear of getting disappointed, or the fear of anything at all.

Persons with this type of OCD tend to check several times, sometimes as much dozens or even hundreds of times. This might last for hours, thereby affecting other aspects of the person’s day to day life. As a result of the compulsive checking, they may damage objects they directly interact with during their checking.

  • Symmetry And Ordering

This type of OCD is majorly characterized by the compulsive need to arrange things symmetrically. When persons with this type of OCD fail to arrange those things, they may feel a level of discomfort, or they may experience a feeling of impending harm.

They tend to spend lots of time ensuring that whatever objects they arrange to meet their mental standards. They may also avoid interaction with others around anything they have just arranged. This tends to affects their social interactions and other areas of their life.

  • Contamination

This type of OCD is based on the fear of getting dirty or getting contaminated, possibly because of the harm it may cause the person or any of their loved ones. As a result, they tend to wash and clean often or totally avoid places or surfaces they think are contaminated.

This type of OCD may manifest in the avoidance of public toilets, avoidance of shaking other people’s hands, the fear of touching door handles, and other public surfaces. This tends to cause them to clean and wash surfaces or parts of their body till they feel it is clean.

The time spent in continuous washing and cleaning may affect the rest of their schedule. The cost of cleaning products and other items that may get damaged from excessive use of those cleaning agents might also be a point of concern.

  • Ruminations And Intrusive Thoughts

Within the OCD context, rumination is used in describing obsessional intrusive thoughts, but both terms are slightly different.  Rumination refers to a chain of extended thinking about a subject matter that does not seem productive. Most ruminations tend to hover around metaphysical, religious, moral, or philosophical topics.

Most ruminations may never result in any tangible solutions, despite the amount of time put into it.

On the other hand, intrusive thoughts refer to involuntary thoughts that are obsessional and repetitive in nature and can be disturbing and unpleasant to the person having them.

Both ruminations and intrusive thoughts tend to cause a lot of distress to the person.

What Are The Causes Of OCD?

Despite the several ongoing research, there is still no evidence to support any cause as being responsible for the development of OCD in a person.

However, there is the belief amongst researchers that a contributing factor could be when certain parts of the brain tend not to respond to serotonin, a chemical used by some nerve cells for communication, properly. Genetics has also been considered as a contributing factor.

Risk Factors Of OCD

Though the causative factors of OCD are largely unknown, certain factors have been observed that tend to increase the potential risk of a person developing OCD. Most people get a diagnosis around the average age of 19, with boys tending to develop it younger than their female counterparts. Despite this, research has shown a higher percentage of women who have developed OCD than men.

These risk factors include:


study has shown that if there is a person who has developed OCD within a family, there is a 25% probability that immediate members of that family can also develop OCD and that the chances that persons who have immediate relatives that have developed OCD will also develop OCD are 4 times higher than people who have no family members with OCD.

  • Structure And Functioning Of The Brain

From imaging studies, according to the National Institute of Health, differences have been noticed in areas of the subcortical structures and frontal cortex of a person with OCD. Studies show that there might be a connection between the symptoms and these defects in parts of the brain. However, very little is known about the connection.

  • Environment

Some research has shown, though not sufficiently, that OCD can be linked with childhood trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In a number of cases, it has been shown that some children tend to develop OCD after having a streptococcal infection – PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections).


Typically, OCD may be treated using a medication, using psychotherapy, or using both.


Antidepressants may be prescribed by a certified health practitioner to help reduce the OCD symptoms the person might be experiencing.


Going through therapy with a certified mental health professional may go a long way in helping the person make changes in their thought and behavioral patterns. A licensed therapist or counselor will help a person with OCD address and cope with their symptoms.

If the symptoms mentioned above resonate with you and you think you may have OCD, reach out today. Take this test to find out more about your OCD symptoms.