March 02, 2017

Debunking The 3 Most Common Misconceptions About OCD

Many of us are familiar with the term "OCD" yet it's still vastly misunderstood. Here you'll learn what the 3 Most Common Misconceptions about OCD are and why they're false.

For the 3rd part of this 3-part article series about OCD, I decided to take to the streets of the public. Why? To find out what people really think OCD is. Throughout my research, there appeared to be a lot of misunderstanding amongst the general public. So, I decided to find out if this was true. How? For almost 3 hours I asked people of all ages, including teenagers, millennials, and senior citizens one simple question: “What do you think Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is?” What I found wasn't rocket science, but it was certainly obvious either. Although the answers varied considerably, it was evident there were 3 common misconceptions about OCD which I share with you here.

At some point or another, we’ve all probably heard people banter statements like “You’re so OCD” or “I’m super OCD about my room.” The reality is, however, people who actually have OCD aren't likely going to be banding around such phrases. No doubt, there are some major misconceptions about OCD out there. False understandings that appear to be common amongst [too] many people. So, I hope that by sharing these we can begin to debunk these misconceptions and seek an understanding of what it really is.

Misconceptions About OCD

#1. "People with OCD are Neat Freaks"

Contrary to the way the term is often used, having OCD and being a "neat freak" do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. That's not to say, however, that it's entirely possible. There are of course people with OCD who do have certain rituals about cleanliness. Sure, some people prefer to have things neat and tidy. Perhaps even unusually so compared to those around them. But, it may be that they've been encouraged to be that way at some point growing up. And, as a result, they've decided being neat and tidy is a virtue they value. But to make the generalization that 'people with OCD are neat freaks' couldn't be further from the truth. Yet, such misconceptions about OCD seem popular amongst many people.

Remember, people with OCD have no choice over their behavior. Which makes it a question of Compulsion rather than Desire. As I mentioned in an earlier article, people clinically diagnosed with OCD don't have control over their behavior. That it's rather their behavior which controls them. By comparison, 'neat freaks' are in control of their behavior. They choose to be that way. Making the statement "People with OCD are Neat Freaks" entirely misunderstood. Finally, another point worth mentioning about this misconception is in regards to Hoarders. Or, more accurately, 'Compulsive Hoarding.' Although not directly linked, hoarding is viewed as a possible symptom of OCD. A type of OCD tendency which, obviously, has nothing to do with cleanliness.

#2. "People with OCD Need to be Calmed Down"

Simply reassuring people with OCD isn't so easy. If you've ever tried, you'll know how difficult it can be. Misconceptions about OCD such as these can do more harm than good. Many Mental Health Professionals, in fact, advocate to not try to encourage or reassure. Even when people with OCD appear to need it. For example, let's say you know someone who lives with OCD. One night you drop by to visit them. During your visit, you notice they're performing an unusual behavior. They're up and about deliberately switching lights on and off. As a concerned and caring friend, your first impulse is to calm them down. You want to say "It's okay, things are fine, you don't need to worry." The trouble is, any benefits to responding this way are very short-term. If they exist at all.

Unfortunately, in most cases, any attempts at reassuring them will make no difference. So, what's the best way to handle such situations? If you're close with the person with OCD and they're comfortable talking about their condition with you—be frank with them. Be a straight shooter and tell them you're not going encourage their doubts. Instead, tell them that their worry is their OCD controlling them. If there's ever a time to reassure them, it's to reassure them that their OCD can be treated. And, just as important, that you will be there to help them get through it—every step of the way.

#3. "People with OCD are just Obsessed"

Rituals are one of the very real hallmarks of OCD. Counting steps in order to end on an even number. Or, washing hands a certain number of times before going to bed are both typical yet real examples. But, these aren't just obsessions. If they were, the person would be 'in control' of their behavior. The fact of the matter is, people with OCD typically have both Obsessions [and] Compulsions. Two fundamental, yet powerful OCD characteristics, which make obsessions and behaviors extremely difficult to break.

What, then, is a good way to manage this? The solution is somewhat trickier than the quick-fix option of simply 'going along with it'. The best thing to do is communicate honestly about their rituals if they're frequent. Get the conversation started and really try to dial in on what's going on. Pick and time and place that will allow for an open conversation. For instance, the midst of a busy street when they're frightened and desperate probably isn't the best idea. When that opportunity does arise, however, emphasize the importance of putting an end to their behaviors. Remember, OCD isn't simply an obsession—it's a serious mental illness.

See also: The 5 Major Causes of OCD Backed by Science.

Get the Truth out there

These are just a sample of the different misconceptions about OCD. There are, of course, much more. But, these I found are the most common. While "OCD" is a widely known condition, my experience tells me it's still vastly misunderstood. I hope by sharing these, it's helped you better understand and perhaps even provide more clarity about what OCD actually is. That there's more to it than what most people think they know. Hopefully, now, the next time you hear someone tell you 'how OCD they are,' you'll know whether or not they really need help.