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7 common misconceptions about OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. However, it's also one of the most misunderstood disorders.

Misconceptions about OCD can cause confusion, perpetuate stigma, and stop people from seeking help.

Hand touching the handle on a red door

Let’s debunk the most common misconceptions about OCD together.

“OCD is just being excessively clean or tidy”

That’s one of the most common myths around OCD! Representations of OCD in pop culture are rare, and when you do see them, they’re often portraying someone who has cleaning-related compulsions.

While many people with OCD do fear germs and have compulsions related to cleanliness, such as frequent handwashing, OCD is not limited to this stereotype.

Common fears, or obsessions, in people with OCD include:

  • Fears of germs or contamination

  • Fear of committing a ‘sin’

  • Thoughts of violence or aggressive

  • Fear of causing accidental harm

  • Fear of someone dying

  • Disturbing sexual thoughts

  • The need for order or symmetry

Common compulsions in people with OCD include:

  • Cleaning, handwashing and tidying

  • Counting

  • Ordering objects

  • Checking e.g. the oven is off, the door is locked, etc.

  • Hoarding

  • Tapping or touching objects

  • Praying

  • Repeating certain movements

People with OCD carry out compulsions in response to their obsessions. They are aimed at reducing anxiety or trying to prevent something bad from happening.

OCD is a serious mental health condition and those people who do have cleaning or tidying compulsions do not enjoy them. They clean or tidy up because their anxiety would completely overwhelm them if they did not and they feel powerless to stop.

“Everyone is a bit OCD”

It's common for people to have specific preferences or routines, but these are not the same as having OCD. Saying you’re “a bit OCD” when you just like your space tidy is actually pretty offensive to people living with this condition.

OCD involves intrusive and distressing thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that significantly interfere with daily life.

Someone who likes their desk to be tidy and organized but can still function normally even when it's messy doesn’t have OCD.

On the other hand, someone with OCD can spend hours each day rearranging objects on their desk because they believe that if they don't, something terrible might happen.

“People with OCD are overthinkers and just need to relax”

Contrary to this common myth, OCD is not a matter of overthinking or a lack of relaxation. It's a serious mental health disorder that won’t be solved with just a few words of encouragement. Telling someone with OCD to "just relax" is akin to telling someone with a broken leg to "just walk it off."

For example, Makan experiences intrusive thoughts about harm coming to his family. No matter how hard he tries to relax, these thoughts persist, causing immense distress. His compulsions involve counting and tapping objects in a specific pattern to alleviate his anxiety. Telling him to “just let it go” won’t cut it!

“OCD is rare”

While some believe that every routine or preference is a type of OCD, others don’t realize how common it actually is. Both are misconceptions! Obsessive-compulsive disorder is much more common than you might think.

OCD is estimated to affect between 1% and 3% of the population, making it one of the most prevalent mental health disorders. However, many people with OCD suffer silently due to stigma and misunderstanding.

“People with OCD are just trying to be quirky”

OCD is not a choice, personality trait, or quirk. It causes high levels of anxiety and emotional distress and significantly interferes with how someone’s lives their day-to-day life.

People with OCD do not enjoy their obsessions or compulsions, and they often wish they could be free from them.

For example, Jamal’s obsessive thoughts convince him that he might have hit someone with his car and he constantly has to stop the vehicle to check if someone has been hurt. It’s become so stressful for him that he’s considering giving up on driving altogether.

“You can just outgrow OCD”

While some children with OCD may see improvements as they grow older, OCD typically persists into adulthood if left untreated. Early intervention and evidence-based treatments are essential for managing the disorder effectively.

Pauline displayed signs of OCD as a child, repeatedly checking if doors were locked. Her parents assumed it was a phase, but as an adult, she still spends hours checking doors and struggles to hold a job due to the time her OCD consumes.

“OCD is untreatable”

Fortunately, this is a misconception about OCD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help people to better cope with OCD, and research has shown that it’s one of the most effective treatments for OCD.

This misconception is one this TalkLife user would like to debunk for other people living with OCD. “[People] think that they can’t live a normal life because of their OCD. I think we can still live well as long as we are willing to understand and accept our flaws.

“When I learned about OCD, it hit me that it was actually [past trauma] that had affected me so much that in the end, the way I expressed all these feelings probably led to OCD. OCD doesn’t mean the end of the world. [Learning to] adapt [is still possible].”

Want to learn more about how to manage your symptoms? You can find more information and advice to cope with OCD in the platform’s Wellness Center.

Understanding OCD and dispelling common misconceptions is vital for promoting empathy and support for those living with this disorder. Remember that OCD is not a choice, and it can have a profound impact on a person's life.


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