Obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms. The compulsive disorder is also called “obsessive-compulsive disorder” or “compulsive neurosis.” It can concern both compulsive thoughts (obsessions) and compulsive acts (compulsions).
Thoughts Compulsive Thoughts are thoughts or images that just pop up in consciousness and that are experienced as a nuisance by the person experiencing them. These compulsive thoughts keep coming back. If you ever have such thoughts, this does not necessarily mean that you suffer from a compulsive disorder. Compulsive thoughts occur in many people. Everyone knows the phenomenon that a certain song or sentence keeps repeating itself in the head.
Compulsory Acts are acts that someone performs, without that person wanting to do so. The person ‘must’ perform the act of himself. If the person does not perform these actions, a great deal of tension arises. The compulsions are usually performed in exactly the same way. Here too, many people are aware of this phenomenon. Common compulsions are: checking whether the door is actually locked, knowing that you have just locked the door or if you have stirred the coffee milk through the coffee, tapping the cup twice with the spoon. Children can also perform compulsive actions during certain stages of life, which then disappear automatically.
Symptoms of compulsive disorder
If you sometimes have compulsive thoughts or perform compulsive acts, that does not mean that you suffer from a compulsive disorder. We speak of a compulsive disorder (or obsessive-compulsive disorder) when the compulsive thoughts or acts of compulsion disrupt your daily life.
Some people with a compulsive disorder mainly suffer from obsessions, others especially from compulsions, but most people suffer from both. The compulsive thoughts cause a clear fear or tense.
It is also important to make a distinction between ‘normal’ worries and compulsive thoughts. For example, if you are renovating your house and you think about it very often, even when you do not want to, we do not speak of compulsive thoughts. Compulsive thoughts are often described as ‘meaningless’ thoughts that have little to do with daily concerns.
Compulsive thoughts that relate to fear of dirt and to get ‘contaminated’ are known as a fear of stains. The obsessions and compulsions are often interrelated. Many people try to get rid of their compulsion, by performing the compulsion. People with obsessions often start to avoid situations that evoke the obsessions or compulsions. For example, someone with a fear of fear wants to prevent him from having to ‘clean’ the entire house again when there has been a visit, and will, therefore, try to invite as few people as possible to his home.
How does a compulsive disorder arise?
Between two and three percent of the population will one day suffer from a compulsive disorder. This number is probably even larger, but it is unknown because these people do not apply for treatment. A compulsive disorder usually starts after the twentieth year of life. Research shows that various factors can be related to the development of a compulsive disorder.
People with a compulsive disorder are more likely to have parents, who are very critical, have high demands and are sometimes overprotective. People with a compulsive disorder have, as it were, adopted this critical attitude, so that in their eyes, good never seems to be good enough. Out of fear of making mistakes, they keep checking and brushing (for example, with fear of stains). Conversely, however, not all people with critical and overprotective parents develop compulsive complaints. Other factors must therefore also play a role in the development of a compulsive disorder.
Fear and tension
In a sense, compulsions can be seen as a kind of ‘addiction’ in which they tend to get worse. It is important to know that people with a compulsive disorder do not perform their compulsive actions because they simply like this. They often do this to get rid of an unbearable fear or tension that certain situations evoke.
For example, someone who fears that he has forgotten to turn off the gas feels tension as a result of this fear. If this person walked away just like that, he would always think ‘have I turned off the gas?’ To get rid of this harassing voltage, he checks whether the gas is indeed off. This reduces tension. This person ‘learns’ in such a way that checking helps to get rid of the tension. In the short term, monitoring helps to reduce tension, but in the long term, tension increases. As a result, they will check more and more often.
Finally, people with compulsive complaints often have difficulty in expressing their negative feelings to others. They easily raise their anger. Often people also indicate that the compulsive complaints mainly occur after they had felt angry or had been annoyed, but had not expressed these feelings.
Is it serious and what can you expect?
A compulsive disorder that lasts longer than a year in adults does not usually disappear on its own. Usually, the complaints even expand, the compulsive thoughts or compulsive actions occur in more and more situations.
People with a compulsive disorder make every effort to get rid of their compulsive thoughts, but attempts such as suppressing or avoiding this usually have the opposite effect. The harder the compulsive thoughts are suppressed or countered, the more often they turn up. Because of the tension that compulsions and compulsions evoke, new problems often arise. This makes it even more difficult to look at one’s own thoughts from a distance so that the tension increases again. In short, these people end up in a vicious circle, from which they can hardly come out without help.
People with compulsive complaints often also have other psychological complaints, usually, these are depressive in nature. Due to the compulsive complaints, people can become isolated, which makes their mood increasingly gloomy. Conversely, it is true that people suffer more from compulsive complaints when the mood is gloomy.
When to the doctor?
People with compulsive complaints usually go to the doctor when a lot of problems arise. It was said earlier that a compulsive disorder develops very gradually. In the first instance, someone just seems precise, doubtful or ‘cleaning’, until the compulsive symptoms are so strongly in the foreground that the person himself is bothered by this. This is often the time when people contact their doctor.
In some cases, the doctor can prescribe medication. Some antidepressants appear to be able to reduce compulsive complaints. Clomipramine, fluvoxamine, and paroxetine are registered drugs for the compulsive disorder. Although the aforementioned medicines can provide relief in the short term, a major disadvantage is that the compulsive complaints often return when the use of the medicine is stopped.
Behavioral therapy appears to be about as effective in the short term as the use of antidepressants. It is more effective in the long term because less relapse occurs; the complaints will not return to the same extent. In practice, a combination of ‘pills and talking’ is very often used. The advantage of this is that improvement occurs quickly through the use of medicine and that behavior changes through talking, which increases the effect of the therapy.
Most psychologists and mental health institutions can help you to reduce your compulsive symptoms. Some institutions also have departments that specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders, including compulsive disorder. Which treatment is best for you depends, among other things, on the severity of the symptoms. Together with your doctor, you can see which forms of assistance are available in your region and which are the most suitable for you.
What can you do about it yourself?
For many people with a compulsive disorder, daily life is so disrupted and they experience so much tension and they look for professional help. General practitioners generally refer people with compulsive complaints to professional psychological help. You can apply the advice listed below if the compulsive complaints are not very serious. You can also use these recommendations as a supplement to the therapy that you are following or are about to follow. In this case, it is advisable to discuss the advice with your therapist.
1. First, try to find out for yourself which goal you want to pursue and whether this is realistic. Many people want to be ‘relieved’ of their worrying, being checked, or of their tendency to constantly brush. It is sometimes wise to keep your goal modest, for example, worrying fifty percent less, or checking fifty percent less.
2. If you mainly suffer from compulsions such as checking and cleaning, you could try to limit these compulsions. Please note, do not try to force yourself to ‘stop’ these actions. Fighting against it only costs you energy. You must bear in mind that it is a kind of ‘addiction’ that you must gradually get rid of.
Start by noting your compulsions:
how often, when, in which situations and how. It is best to do this daily for a week. What you can then do is try to perform fewer compulsions at certain times or in certain situations. Suppose you have the habit of always checking four times whether you have switched off the gas. Now you can agree with yourself that from now on you will check the gas three times. After all, what is the difference between checking three, four or five times? At first, your tension will increase (just like someone who starts smoking less, feels more tense), but after a while, the tension will decrease.
You can also devise measures that make it more difficult for you to perform the compulsions. For example, if you take a shower several times a day to feel less ‘dirty’, you can agree with yourself that you only take a warm shower in the morning or evening and the other times a shower with lukewarm water.
3. If you have compulsive thoughts, it is important that you remain aware of a number of things. It may sound strange, but the difference between people with and without compulsive thoughts is not that people with compulsive thoughts have nasty thoughts that just pop up. The difference is that people with compulsive thoughts oppose this and are ashamed of such thoughts so that they come back more often. Try not to think about a white bear for a minute. The harder you try not to think of a white bear, the more often you will think about it.
Also, keep in mind that thoughts (fantasy) and reality are not the same. If you have the compulsion to harm someone else, this does not mean that you will actually harm the other person. On the contrary, your conscience works so well that you find the thought reprehensible. Many people sometimes think about the most horrible things. The difference is that you feel so guilty about such thoughts, that you want to “banish” such thoughts from your consciousness, so that, as mentioned before, they come back more often.
Tip: let the thoughts come over you and keep in mind that fantasy and reality are not the same.
4. People with compulsive complaints often have difficulty expressing negative feelings and standing up for themselves. Check with yourself whether that is also the case with you. If you indeed have difficulty standing up for yourself, try to identify in which situations and with whom that is especially the case. Then try to imagine that a good friend is in your shoes. What would you advise this person then? You can then follow this advice yourself.
General advice and precautions
People with compulsive complaints often end up in a vicious circle. Compulsive complaints lead to tension and often cause new problems. Due to the tension, the mood deteriorates, so that the compulsive complaints often become stronger again. In short, it goes from bad to worse. Sleep problems are also common in people with a compulsive disorder.
With a number of simple measures, you can ensure that you lose some of your physical tension and become more comfortable in your skin.
First, many people underestimate the adverse effect of stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, and medication. It is wise to limit these resources and to ensure a healthy diet. Sport and physical activity have a beneficial effect on your well-being. This way you can ‘discharge’ your voltage and you will also be distracted.
People also sleep better when they are physically active. Swallowed by stress and tension, many people do not have enough time for relaxing activities. It is good to consciously free up space on your agenda for relaxing activities.
Such measures do not provide a solution for the cause of your compulsive disorder but do ensure that the consequences remain limited, that is, that the negative spiral does not continue. In short, important advice is:
- limit the use of stimulants (such as wine, coffee, medicines)
- ensure a healthy diet
- ensure adequate exercise
- regularly provide relaxation
Obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms