Quirky, clean, and organized. These are three words that people tend to think when they hear the word “OCD.” Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is different from other mental illnesses in that it is associated with more “positive” traits than “negative” traits (Loving, 2013). For example, people with depression are sometimes seen as antisocial, dangerous, and weak while people with OCD are seen as humorous, meticulous, and perfectionist. However, there is a hidden side to OCD that many people are unaware of; the extent to which OCD affects a person’s life is often underestimated.
OCD is divided into two components: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts, while compulsions are the mental acts performed in response to the obsession. The focus of obsessions and compulsions vary among individuals. Common types include cleaning, symmetry, taboo thoughts, and harm (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These obsessions and compulsions can take up several hours of a person’s day and inhibit their ability to function properly. When it comes to taboo classified obsessions, people often feel distressed because they see it as a flaw in their character; they interpret these thoughts as something which may come to fruition. The alarming nature of these thoughts causes a person to perform whatever mental acts possible to prevent it from coming true (Cormier, 2016). OCD can take the things that a person cares about the most and turn it into their worst enemy.
For example, let’s look at the case of John (a pseudonym). John is a devout Christian and family man with a young daughter. Imagine hearing a call that went something like this: “I have an inpatient that worries he might be a pedophile. I think it’s OCD, but he has a young daughter and our social worker wonders if we should make a report to child protective services.”
John had OCD since he was 12. At that age, his obsession was focused around religious and spiritual topics, such as where he would go after he dies. However, as he grew older, his obsession shifted into different areas. He began to fear he was attracted to his sister, that he was gay, and that he was a pedophile. It’s important to understand that John was none of these things. People with this form of OCD are actually the least likely to harm children (Williams, 2012).
Yet, these thoughts made John a disaster waiting to happen. He would avoid his children at any cost out of fear that he may hurt them. John frequently read the Bible, thought of children to affirm the fact that he wasn’t attracted to them, and asked his family and friends to constantly reassure him that he was a good person. John had become so distracted that he was demoted at work and would falsely call in sick. He eventually became so concerned for his children, he attempted suicide.
John’s form of OCD was misunderstood by authorities, who questioned his ability to parent. This is a reasonable assumption. However, this misdirects people with OCD into the disciplinary system instead of the office of a medical professional. People with pedophilic OCD are afraid to talk about their feelings to the community because they may believe they will be misunderstood or that people will see them as malicious.
John managed to slowly heal through cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of talk therapy that focuses on changing a way a person reacts to a situation. Although he had to accept that his obsessions may never completely go away, the therapist provided him with guidance on resisting his compulsions, the driving force of OCD (Thoughts, 2013).
The image of OCD being a cleaning disorder takes away from the suffering that people with OCD actually face. In John’s case, it took away from his peace of mind, his ability to spend time with his daughter, and almost directed him to the legal system instead of the mental health system. Educating ourselves about the realities of OCD is key to extending help to those who may suffer from it.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Cormier, Z. (2016, March 26). The Mental lllness Cursing People With Pedophile Illusions. Retrieved March 26, 2017, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/26/the-mental-lllness-cursing-people-with-pedophile-illusions.html
Loving, O. (2013, November 08). Obsessive Thoughts: A Darker Side of OCD. Retrieved March 26, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/obsessive-thoughts-a-darker-side-of-ocd/281260/
Thoughts, I. (2016, July 28). Am I a Monster? An Overview of Features and Treatment for POCD. Retrieved March 26, 2017, from https://www.intrusivethoughts.org/monster-overview-common-features-treatment-pocd/
Williams, M. (2012, December 15). Could I Be a Pedophile? The Worst Kind of OCD. Retrieved March 26, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culturally-speaking/201212/could-i-be-pedophile-the-worst-kind-ocd