About 1 in 50 people suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Among Americans ages 18 to 53, approximately 3.3 million, or 2.3%, have OCD. The initial signs of the disorder generally develop during childhood and adolescence, with diagnosis being equally common in males and females.
You may have joked about OCD after witnessing yourself or someone you know meticulously arranging the papers and pens on their desk in near-perfect symmetry and precise 90 degree angles, or after someone thoroughly washes their hands frequently throughout the day (sometimes accompanied by a favorite lotion they may swear by).
While most of us probably have a fairly good idea of what OCD actually is, it may be more complex than we think. Personally, I was not aware of the different types of OCD, and I came to realize that OCD is similar to cancer, in that many different types exist (though there are far more types of cancer than types of OCD). When we are told someone has cancer, we want to know which type they have. On the other hand, when we discover someone has OCD, we often leave it at that, but we should be asking, which type of OCD?
There are a handful of different types of OCD, depending on how they are classified.
People suffering from OCD usually suffer primarily from one to two different types, but each individual with OCD experiences a different number and severity of the different categories, and some may even experience symptoms from all categories. Most commonly, the disorder is divided into five main types, as shown below.
#1 OCD Washers and Cleaners
People with this type of OCD have an irrational fear of contamination. They are constantly worried about being exposed to contaminants and diseases spread by germs, dirt, dirty surfaces, viruses, bacteria, and foreign substances. Washing their hands, clothes, and tidying up the house excessively throughout the day is common among Washers and Cleaners.
Examples of a Washer or Cleaner: The person who politely declines to shake your hand, so as not to spread germs (or will shake your hand and immediately run to the sink, or grab their antibacterial lotion); the person you see constantly cleaning surfaces (e.g., kitchen counters, workspace)
Symptoms of this type of OCD include regularly and repeatedly checking that doors and windows are closed or locked, and checking and rechecking that appliances and lights and switches are turned off. People with this type of OCD irrationally fear that failing to check something will result in catastrophic consequences, for which they will be to blame.
Examples of a Checker: Someone who cannot fall asleep or leave the house/office until they have verified that all doors are locked, and all appliances, lights, and switches are off; often people with this form of OCD will repeat the process of checking and rechecking until they finally feel content.
This classification of OCD is characterized by the arranging, organizing, and symmetrical placing of objects, until they are placed in a way perceived as, “perfect,” to the individual. OCD sufferers with this form of the disorder cannot start or fully concentrate on tasks until they have organized their surroundings to their liking. When others rearrange or inadvertently change the carefully organized surroundings, this type of OCD sufferer undergoes great distress, and will not feel at ease until the objects are reorganized.
Examples of an Orderer: That person you may know who will not begin a task until they have methodically straightened and moved objects on their desk, (e.g., placing their pens and pencils in the “right” order) conducting a sort of organizational-ritual before accomplishing anything.
Those with this form of OCD take being a “pack rat” to the extreme. Hoarders collect and save mostly useless items, often compiling things to the point where their homes are stockpiled with a variety of different items one could never hope to use all of in their lifetime. Hoarders often create chaotic living conditions, cluttering their cars and homes with insignificant items, that most people would discard of or have very few of.
Example of a Hoarder: Someone whose home is filled with mounds of useless items, such as 100s of sugar packets, stacks of outdated magazines or newspapers, or endless piles of books.
Obsessers experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts and images they have difficulty controlling. They typically think or envision some of the following themes: harm being done to one’s self or others; Imagining situations where they say or do something socially unacceptable (e.g., suddenly yelling during a funeral service); intrusive, blasphemous thoughts concerning religion or sexual acts; constant worry and obsession over love and relationships (e.g., excessive worrying over whether or not he/she is “the one,” or frequent intrusive thoughts over what love really is and means).
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of OCD, and realize that OCD is not simply a single group of symptoms, but an anxiety disorder that can take a number of different forms.