Living with OCD: A Life of Obsessions and Compulsions

Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD can be torturous, filled with recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Unfortunately, OCD isn't easy to treat.

If you saw the movie "As Good As It Gets" with Jack Nicholson you, like me, probably laughed at the antics of the lead character when he compulsively engaged in behaviors that seemed strange and thus funny at the time. In the movie it was comical, but in real life the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors suffered by those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is anything but funny. In fact, OCD is a disorder that causes severe distress and impairment.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, technically categorized as an anxiety disorder, is characterized by repetitive thoughts that the person realizes are unreasonable, but cannot stop thinking. Examples might be:

  • "I will get a disease and die, or give the disease to someone else in my family"
  • "I am contaminated in some way because I touched something"
  • "I will cause damage or harm to someone, or have already done so."
  • "My house will burn down; someone will rob me, my house will be flooded because I left the faucet on."

Although the sufferer realizes that these thoughts are unrealistic (and certainly unwanted), they feel helpless to stop thinking them. The only way to handle the obsessive thoughts, is to engage in repetitive behaviors called compulsions, that the person feels driven to perform. These compulsions are the other symptom of OCD and may include:

  • counting
  • checking
  • handwashing
  • performing the same action over and over
  • counting in certain ways
  • making sure everything is in a certain place in certain order

or other behaviors that the person feels compelled to perform --- over and over.

Obsessions and Compulsions Seem Uncontrollable

Even though the person realizes that the thoughts and behaviors don't make a lot of sense, they feel powerless to avoid them, and if they attempt to do so they experience overwhelming anxiety, which can only be controlled by re-engaging in the thoughts or behaviors.

The thoughts and behaviors of OCD take up a great deal of time and often cause the person to be late to appointments or to miss them altogether. Many OCD sufferers have learned coping techniques which may be worse than the obsessions and compulsions (for example, using drugs or alcohol to decrease the thoughts or need for behaviors). These ineffective "coping strategies" can then develop into another psychiatric condition complicating the treatment of the OCD.

The thoughts and behaviors that result from OCD are different than those in people who are just meticulous or driven to be "clean or ordered" in their lives. People with OCD may be ordered or clean, but are driven by unrealistic thoughts and will clean once, and then again and again and again.

OCD Treatments

Treatments for OCD include psychotherapy, called exposure and response prevention, as well as medications and other biologic treatments. It can be treated, but is often difficult to treat because of the extreme anxiety caused by not engaging in the thoughts or behaviors.

On the HealthyPlace TV show, we will talk specifically about the symptoms, consequences and treatments for OCD - Tuesday June 30 (5:30p PT, 7:30 CT, 8:30 ET live and on-demand on our website).

Dr. Harry Croft is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist and Medical Director of Dr. Croft is also the co-host of the HealthyPlace TV Show.

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~ other mental health articles by Dr. Croft

APA Reference
(2009, June 9). Living with OCD: A Life of Obsessions and Compulsions, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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