You hear the word obsession or “being obsessed” probably everyday. People may say “that person is obsessed with their television” or “they are obsessed with their significant other.” However this is one of the misused words in the English language. In the case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, better known as OCD, the DSM-5 defines an obsession as “recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress.”
The key in the definition that the DSM-5 provides is that obsessions are “intrusive and unwanted.” This doesn’t mean because you love chocolate that you have an obsession. This also means that the label of “OCD” is also misused every day. You hear many people label the clean or organized person as OCD. Well we have to dig deeper before labelling a person who enjoys cleaning as OCD according to the definition.
So then what are some examples of obsessions? Here is a list of common obsessions experienced from the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (again these could be thoughts or images occurring):
Fear of harming others
Experiencing violent or horrific images
Fear of being responsible for something terrible happening (e.g. hit & run accident, burning house down, etc.)
Concerns of getting ill or getting others ill from a contaminant
Forbidden or perverse sexual thoughts, images, or impulses
Concern with sacrilege and blasphemy
Excess concern with right/wrong, morality
Things must be in the right order or something bad will happen
Having the need to know or remember certain information
Fear of not saying just the right thing
Need to experience something “just right”
Obsessions always bring anxiety and distress which are why they are usually followed by compulsions or rituals in order to reduce to reduce worry. If the thoughts or images are wanted or bring pleasure then they are not true obsessions. The person with OCD will do everything to ensure these fears do not occur! The good news is that OCD has an effective therapy known as Exposure and Response Prevention. This involves gradual exposure to the fears and reducing the rituals/compulsions that follow. If you are suffering from frequent or distressing obsessions, please seek a therapist that is familiar with OCD and trained with Exposure and Response Prevention.