OCD: differences between obsessions and compulsions OCD: differences between obsessions and compulsions

OCD: differences between obsessions and compulsions

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which a person has recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel the need to do something repetitively (compulsions).

Repetitive behaviours can significantly interfere with a person’s daily routine and social interactions.

A diagnosis of OCD requires the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions that are time-consuming, cause major distress, and impair work, social or other important activities. OCD often begins in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.

What is an obsession?

An obsession is not a normal concern, but an imposed thought that doesn’t allow the person to think about anything else.

Obsessions are intrusive. They come from nowhere, without the person wishing or wanting them.

They are persistent. They stay for weeks, months, even years in some cases.

They are repetitive. The person can forget about them while being concentrated on a particular activity or distracted with an external stimulus. However, it only takes a moment of peace or introspection for the obsession to creep back.

They are accompanied by a great degree of uncertainty. The person feels that these obsessions have catastrophic consequences.

OCD: the person feels that the obsessions have catastrophic consequences


They are time-consuming: an hour or more per day.

They produce, over time, a great deal of mental exhaustion, which can lead to depression.

What is a compulsion?

A compulsion is a repetitive act that we feel obliged to perform in response to an obsessive element, to alleviate the anxiety generated by it.

The most common compulsions are:

Verification compulsions. The person feels the need to verify everything more than once (lights, doors, windows, etc.).

Washing compulsion. It’s the most common. The person feels the need to wash their hands repeatedly because they are contaminated. Some people wash them over 50 times per day.

Cleaning compulsion. It’s usually associated with the washing compulsion, but, in this case, the contamination is on the objects.

OCD. Cleaning compulsion: feeling that every object is contaminated


Repetition compulsion. The person feels the need to repeat actions to reduce stress.

Counting compulsion. It’s associated with the repetition compulsion, but it’s always with numbers (money, hours, tiles, etc.).

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