Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a complicated mental health condition. No two people with the same illness are going to have an equal experience and, with that, it’s very important for you to communicate your experience to others.
However, that isn’t always easy. People who struggle with OCD often find it difficult to move past the stigmas surrounding this disease. More often than not, they’ll labeled as nothing more than a neat freak. But, as you already know, there’s so much more to OCD than that.
It’s important to try and help others understand that more in order to help build your support system. A support system is key when handling mental health as it will provide you with a source for whenever times get truly tough.
We invite you to read along as we help to uncover the secrets to healthy conversations surrounding OCD. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is OCD?
While it’s impossible to describe the scope of this illness in just a few paragraphs, OCD can be summed up as a mental health condition that causes immoderate orderliness, perfectionism, and a lot of attention to detail. ¹
OCD tends to work in a cycle that can defined by four specific points:
- A person develops an obsession over something.
- This obsession fuels them with anxiety.
- Through the anxiety, this person will act out compulsively.
- Compulsive behaviors bring relief.
The biggest issue of OCD is it leaves those who struggle with it in a mental loop. While their obsessions fuel anxiety, they feel a need to act out compulsively to find temporary relief. The more this temporary relief is obtained, the more they feel as though they’re helping the illness.
However, quite the opposite is happening. By working your mind towards these quick reliefs, you’re actually only fueling your obsession.
What Type of OCD Do You Struggle With?
Before you begin to try to explain your struggles with OCD to others, it can greatly benefit you to understand what type of OCD you’re facing. Though there’s no official classification in terms of OCD’s sub-types, people with the disorder tend to experience one of the following: ²
1.) Cleaning and Contamination
The best-known sub-type of OCD is in those who feel they need to wash away any dirty links they can conceive. Whether it’s their hands or a food-stained surface, people with this sub-type of OCD will compulsively clean anything and everything.
There are two big difficulties with this sub-type. The first is that you hold an anxiety for germs that is difficult to get out of your mind. This anxiety is prone to give you behaviors that aren’t common in others – for example, you may avoid touching public amenities at all costs.
Secondly, such behaviors are very time consuming. When you’re constantly thinking about cleaning and washing your hands, you’re taking a lot of time to make sure everything is perfect.
2.) Symmetry and Ordering
Do you find yourself feeling anxious when material objects aren’t in an orderly fashion? This sub-type of OCD is often categorized by people who need everything to be arranged and fidgeted to be in perfect symmetry.
The biggest difficulty with this sub-type is there is no temporary relief. You’ll often find that there is always something that isn’t perfect – even when you’ve taken the time out to perfect it.
3.) Forbidden, Harmful, or Taboo Impulses
This sub-type of OCD is known to cause intrusive thoughts in individuals who struggle with it. These thoughts can appear in a variety of ways, but are often linked to things that are socially forbidden, harmful, or taboo.
The biggest difficulty with intrusive thoughts is that they lead to compulsive behaviors. For example, if you struggle with sexual obsession, you’re more vulnerable to practicing risky sexual behavior.
Do you feel the need to hold onto everything you own? This sub-type of OCD is often characterized by people who hold onto objects they are no longer in need of.
More often than not, people struggling with the hoarding sub-type will find themselves overvaluing what they have. For example, they may find an old laptop that’s no longer usable, but attach it to memories of a previous time. Through these memories, this useless laptop suddenly has value and must be kept. ³
While nostalgia is often the biggest inhibitor of people who hoard, you may also feel that it’s better to hold onto an object for you’ll never know if you need it in the future. The fear of not knowing what you’ll need makes you feel as though these objects are protecting you.
Understand Your Story
With the knowledge of which sub-type of OCD you struggle with, it will be easier for you to understand exactly how you’re struggling. However, it’s important to ask yourself how much do you understand your own story?
If you can’t explain your OCD to yourself, you’re going to have a very difficult time explaining it to others.
In many cases, it helps greatly to use examples of how OCD has affected you. For example, if you struggle with hoarding, you may be able to recall moments when you’ve held onto objects you don’t need. Or, if you have the symmetry and ordering sub-type, you house may an example in and of itself.
These examples are perfect to help you better understand the mental health condition and to explain to others what you’re going through.
The biggest difficulty with these examples is we may feel shame for some of them. This is common among people with OCD – especially those aware of their struggles. The thing about guilt is it may prevent us from sharing information with others. And, for this reason, it’s important to remain open about these issues.
The Anxiety of Speaking Out
We’ve already talked about how anxiety triggers compulsions and, in turn, fuels obsessions. However, anxiety – in regards to OCD – can manifest itself in other ways as well.
Many times, anxiety prevents us from thinking clearly. From having the ability to comprehend our thoughts and then sharing them with others. Sometimes, we may even find ourselves panicking in moments why we try to speak out. ⁴
For this reason, anxiety only hinders our ability to talk to others about our OCD. It gets us wrapped up in the “what ifs” and prevents us from progressing. Most importantly, it makes us act out compulsively in order to feel moments of temporary relief.
So, is there anyway around this?
It can help to be open about our anxiety when we try to explain OCD to others. Of course, this is easier said than done. But you may notice yourself experiencing a lot of relief when you come out and admit that anxiety has been burdening you and your ability to communicate.
Not to mention, it’s another great way for others to understand OCD. If you can explain the cycle mentioned above – and how anxiety fuels compulsions – it can greatly benefit those who are trying to comprehend your condition.
While communication we often associate communication as an in-person conversation, it can actually take many forms – especially in our digital age. You may find it beneficial to write out how you feel or make a video about what’s going on and share this rather than outwardly telling someone.
That’s okay and you find it helps, we definitely suggest you continue.
But don’t let these alternatives deny you from having in-person conversations. By talking to someone face-to-face, you’re revealing your vulnerabilities in a way that allows trust to prevail. You’re showing someone you have confidence in their presence.
Still have questions about how to talk to others about your OCD?
We invite you to ask these questions in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health: Obessive-Compulsive Disorder
² Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: Symptom dimensions and subtypes of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a developmental perspective
³ Depression and Anxiety (HHS Public Access): Comorbidity in Hoarding Disorder
⁴ The Psychiatric Clinics of North America (HHS Public Access): The Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders: Brain Imaging, Genetics, and Psychoneuroendrocinology