Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition where the person has recurring thoughts, ideas, or sensations and the compulsive desire to repeat actions (often unnecessary) over and over again. Those who suffer from the condition can seem quite strange to others. Some OCD patients have an obsessive need to perform actions a certain number of times – like always locking the door four times or washing his or her hands at least three times before eating.
Other, milder cases could include symptoms like the need to alphabetize everything in the house or organizing clothes by color or season. While that may not seem strange to some people, what makes OCD different is that the condition severely interferes with daily living. OCD sufferers cannot help themselves and often have to organize their lives around their obsessions.
These symptoms are the most common you will hear about when people discuss OCD. There are, however, some little known signs or symptoms that are also a part of dealing with OCD. These can include body hyperawareness, fear of emotional contamination, perfectionism, obsession with morality, and fear of harming others.
Most believe that these obsessions stem from anxiety. In fact, many people with anxiety do have some obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors. It’s important to recognize that many mental illnesses have “partners”, like anxiety and OCD, or bipolar disorder and ADD. But, the little known symptoms we are discussing here are rare. Scientists and psychiatric specialists are still just now becoming aware of some of these more unusual symptoms of OCD.
When an OCD patient has body hyperawareness, he or she cannot stop thinking about certain parts of the body or bodily functions, like blinking or swallowing. There is an internal conversation that takes place regarding what the patient is focused on. The patient obsessed with a body part will constantly check it over for marks, growths, and injuries. The patient will constantly wonder if, say, the arm is moving correctly and doing what it is meant to do.
For the patient who obsesses over body functions, there is a never-ending source of anxiety. Think about the things we do automatically every day: breathing, blinking, swallowing, urinating, defecating, and so much more. Now imagine that you can’t stop thinking about one of these, like swallowing.
When a patient with body hyperawareness cannot stop thinking about swallowing, they become obsessed with how they swallow, how they eat, how others see them when they eat, etc. These thoughts run continually through the mind of the afflicted and this will eventually lead to the patient wondering if this obsession is going to drive them crazy. The obsession is also so strange that sufferers are afraid to talk about it for fear they will be labeled as crazy. Patients with body hyperawareness are not the only OCD patients with strange obsessions.
Fear of Emotional Contamination
When an OCD patient has a fear of emotional contamination, they literally believe that by being in contact with someone, he or she may be “infected” by another person’s values, beliefs, or unwanted character traits. The patient fears that by being too close to a person who is known as unfaithful that he or she will become unfaithful.
And, unfortunately, the patients can also begin to believe that the contamination can travel through the air, over the phone, through the internet, or even through association with others. An example of this would be a patient who fears being contaminated by a roommate. If that roommate has undesirable character traits, say being dishonest, the person with OCD could go to the extreme of not only moving out of the apartment but also avoiding anything or any place that he or she associates with the roommate.
Another example would be when a patient worries about getting contaminated through the television. A patient could get focused on a character in a show or a participant in a reality show and believe that that person is trying to contaminate him or her through their words or actions. It could become so bad that the patient won’t watch TV anymore or avoid any social media connected with that person or television show.
Experts say that emotional contamination is a manifestation of magical thinking: the idea that thoughts, beliefs, or actions will just magically come true in real life. Those who suffer from emotional contamination are often misdiagnosed as schizophrenic or psychotic because there are thousands of mental health care practitioners who have never dealt with it or even heard of it. It is part of this rare subset of OCD diagnoses.
Perfectionism in All Areas of Life
Perfectionism is a burden for people with and without OCD or other mental health conditions. The need to reach perfection is a human condition. But, for people with OCD, perfectionism is taken to a new level.
Perfectionism in OCD is about not only feeling perfect but appearing perfect to others and maintaining perfection. A single act of imperfection can lead to significant life changes. For example, a young woman with OCD and perfectionism may never leave the house because she never feels like she looks good enough. Or, a young man who makes a mistake at a band concert (that likely no one noticed) will quit playing his instrument and drop out of the band entirely.
Perfectionists firmly believe that when and if they make a mistake, it undermines their value as a person. Each one of us links our value to how we perform or what others think of us or what acts of service we perform for the community. A student with OCD perfectionism may give up his or her plans for the future because of one assignment graded with a B instead of an A. If someone tells a perfectionist that he or she is not good at something they love (a sport or art), the perfectionist will probably quit.
Perfectionists are relentless people pleasers. In their mind, if they don’t please someone else through their actions, they are failures. Let’s say a young mother with OCD perfectionism cannot get her newborn baby to stop crying. She may consider herself a failure as a mother and break down crying right alongside the baby. Should her mother or mother-in-law tell her that any mother can get a baby to stop crying, this will only further feed the perfectionism. A new mom relies on her mother and/or her mother-in-law to be supportive and offer advice – and she wants them to find her perfect in her actions as a mom.
They find it necessary to excel in all areas of life – education, work, and personal relationships. The OCD perfectionist at work will come in early, stay late, work through breaks – anything to make sure that every task completed is completed perfectly, exactly to the expectations and specifications of the task. Should the perfectionist make an error that is pointed out by his or her boss, he or she will be devastated and feel unworthy to any longer be employed.
The underlying pathology of OCD perfectionism is a need for control without flexibility. While there is something to be said for the benefits of perfectionism (excellent work performance, good grades, outstanding community leaders), once it becomes pathological and obsessive, it has reached a point where the sufferer needs treatment. If a patient with OCD perfectionism does not get treatment, the behavior can spiral until the person is simply afraid to do anything for fear of failure. This disruption of a functioning lifestyle is the extreme result of OCD perfectionism.
Obsession with Morality – Good v. Evil
Some OCD patients are riddled with an obsession about morality – right and wrong, good and evil. They worry about every decision they make being the wrong one. Some may think that this obsession is rooted in religiosity. It is not. People of all religious beliefs, including those who don’t believe in religion, can become a victim of this particular OCD symptom.
Whether we are religious or not, we all still have a moral compass based on the rules and laws of a civilized society. The fear of not being a good person does not always stem from a person’s religious beliefs or upbringing. Even those without OCD can worry about being a good person. Oftentimes, we may say something wrong at a social gathering and later worry about who might have been hurt or offended by what we said. This is perfectly normal.
It becomes a symptom of OCD when that worry does not resolve. When that worry turns into thinking about the possible transgression and possible ramifications leading to the patient not being able to focus on anything else, it is a problem. OCD has this ability to latch on to whatever it is that matters most to you. If you are strong in your faith, you may fall prey to this type of worrying about being good or evil, doing right or wrong.
A patient who does have a strong belief in faith may begin worrying about being possessed or otherwise controlled by the devil or demons. They worry that every act they perform in a given day must have been influenced by evil.
Even seemingly innocent and benign actions suddenly carry the stench of evil. F
or example, let’s say the OCD patient walks by a homeless person and gives him or her $5 as an act of compassion. Devilish OCD kicks in and says, “Way to go! That bum will use the money to buy drugs! Thank you for feeding that habit!” And now the patient will worry non-stop about giving to homeless people on the off chance that they might use the money for drugs, and the patient’s act of compassion turns into an act of harm.
Obsessive Fear of Harming People
While some people might consider this a compassionate and necessary fear, it becomes a feature of OCD when it disrupts the life of the patient to the extreme. A patient who fears harming others may stop driving to avoid hitting a pedestrian or hurting someone in a car crash. They may stop going to the doctor when ill for fear of getting others sick, or may not go to school because they fear they might hurt a fellow student.
But the symptoms can become far worse in this particular OCD paradigm. Patients can literally have thoughts of being violent; they can imagine how and when they might hurt someone. For example, a young man might feel he is a danger to others because he has occasional random thoughts of hitting others. For some, the extreme thoughts can include violent assaults, sexual assault, or even murder.
This would be disturbing for anyone; but for the OCD patient, these thoughts are repetitive and alarming. While the patient may never, ever act on these violent thoughts, just the fact that the thoughts pass repeatedly through his or her mind is enough to make the person avoid being around others altogether in order to keep everyone safe.
What’s even more insidious is that the thoughts presented in the mind by OCD could include that the person has already committed a violent act – such as attacking a child or murdering a random person. And when the patient tells him or herself that this didn’t happen, OCD responds, “Yes, it did!” It takes a very good therapist to help a patient with these random, violent thoughts.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder causes many unregulated, impulsive behaviors as well as creates illusions of behavior in the mind. Body hyperawareness, emotional contamination, perfectionism, obsession with morality, and fear of harming others are all rare and unusual branches of the main disorder of OCD.
If you find yourself or someone you know in the position of dealing with these symptoms, make sure they get help from a licensed therapist as soon as possible. It is in our nature to try and help the person, especially if it is someone we love and care about. It is okay to be there to support them but leave the therapy to the professionals.
If your teenaged child is dealing with OCD and you feel as though they need professional help managing their symptoms and living well, why not reach out to Beachside Teen Treatment Center? Find out if our facility can help your family!