What’s The Difference Between Obsessions & Compulsions?

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You have quirky behaviors and personal habits like arranging your desk at work a certain way before leaving each day or counting numbers in a specific pattern. All these things have been going on for years and have started affecting your quality of life. You may be experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.”

It can be serious if it’s left unchecked.

What’s The Difference Between Obsessions & Compulsions?

To the casual observer, obsessions and compulsions are two components of one illness – OCD – but the key to understanding it and finding effective treatment depends on an understanding of each one separately. By doing so, you and your mental healthcare specialist can talk about a treatment plan that best fits your needs, which may include ketamine therapy. But before you get to that point, there are some questions to answer to understand the difference between the two.

What’s An Obsession?

Obsessions are recurring and constant thoughts, impulses, or mental pictures which result in distressing emotions like anxiety or disgust. Many people who suffer from OCD know their thoughts, impulses, or mental pictures are self-made, extreme, or unreasonable. But the pain caused by such intrusive thoughts can’t be solved by reasoning or logic. Most people who have OCD try to minimize the pain of the obsessions by using compulsions, ignoring or stifling the obsessions, or creating distractions for themselves with other actions. These thoughts have been known to trigger extreme anxiety.

What Are The Types Of Obsessions?

Something important to know about obsessions is they interfere with daily life, regularly impeding your ability to get things done at home, school, or work. Types of obsessions may include:

  • You’re afraid of contamination from other people or the environment around you
  • You may have disturbing erotic thoughts or mental images
  • It’s not unusual to be fearful of the chance you’ll blurt out insults or something obscene 
  • You’re extremely concerned with order, precision, or symmetry 
  • Recurring intrusive thoughts of images, numbers, sounds, or words 
  • Fear of misplacing or discarding something valuable

What’s A Compulsion?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder compulsions are repetitive actions that you feel a desire to perform. These repetitive mental acts or behaviors are supposed to lower anxiety linked to your obsessions or keep something bad from taking place. But participating in the compulsions offers no pleasure and might bring only short-term relief from anxiety.

You can dream up rituals or rules to stick to, which may help manage your anxiety as you experience obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are excessive, often have no realistic basis compared to the problem they’re meant to fix, and affect daily life.

What Are The Types Of Compulsions?

You may make up rules or rituals to follow, which could help control your anxiety when you’re having obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are excessive and often are not realistically related to the problem they’re intended to fix. Types of compulsions may include:

  • You wash your hands until the skin becomes raw
  • You check doors around your house to ensure they’re locked
  • Constantly checking the oven to make sure it’s not on
  • Counting in specific patterns
  • You silently repeat a phrase, prayer, or word 
  • You organize your canned goods to look the same way

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing OCD has three components:

  • Physical examination to see if there’s a medical reason for your condition. Your healthcare provider will record your and your family’s personal medical history.
  • Psychological assessment. This involves discussing your feelings, symptoms, thoughts, and behaviors to see if there are obsessions or compulsive behaviors that hinder your quality of life.
  • Comparing your symptoms to OCD criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Criteria in the DSM-5 are critical to assist in making a final diagnosis.

If you have any symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and they’ve begun affecting your quality of life, see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. It’s essential to ask which treatment is the best for you, and the risks and benefits of each. 

Treatment may include psychotherapy, self-help, lifestyle changes, and new options like ketamine therapy.

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