Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Characteristics and Symptoms

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The Two Main Characteristics: Obsessions and Compulsions

The two main obsessive compulsive disorder characteristics are actually part of the name of the disorder: obsessions, and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts that a person keeps on thinking. These thoughts often revolve around certain themes, such as cleanliness, violence, or sequences. Compulsions are the outgrowth of those obsessions, the rituals that the person with OCD does in order to silence the obsessions or obey them. For example, a person who has cleanliness obsessions may wash their hands obsessively until his skin becomes red and raw.

People suffering from OCD understand that their obsessions and compulsions are illogical and strange, but they feel are unable to control them anyway. They often experience anxiety about their OCD characteristics, and they may try to hide their compulsions from others so as not to seem “abnormal.” Understanding the characteristics of OCD can help people to find help for their loved ones and themselves when they see the symptoms appear.


Many OCD obsessions revolve around cleanliness or contamination. For example, some people with OCD may constantly feel dirty, and may view every surface as contaminated with germs or dirt. They obsessively worry that they may be harmed when parts of their body such as their hands come into contact with these surfaces.

Other OCD obsessions may include a hard-to-shake feeling that you haven’t locked the door, or forgot to turn off the oven or ran into someone with your car. People with OCD may also have obsessive images in their mind of hurting a child or of pornographic scenes. They may feel intense distress when unimportant objects are thrown away (especially if they are OCD hoarders), or if objects are not in exactly the right order or facing the right way.


Compulsions are the second type of OCD characteristics, or rituals that people with OCD perform in response to their obsessions. For example, they may clean their homes or their bodies excessively, including washing their hands over and over again. Or they might keep their food or drinks cans facing only one way in the pantry. They might even color code their books or count objects continuously. Other rituals include repeatedly running back to check whether a stove was turned off or whether the door was locked. They may repeat behaviors with no apparent reason to outsiders, such as going through a doorway several times before moving on. Some people with OCD may also hoard possessions.

These obsessive compulsive disorder characteristics can be extremely debilitating, taking up excessive amounts of time and energy. People with OCD may avoid places or situations that are likely to trigger their obsessions as a form of self-protection. Getting treatment for OCD is an important first step in returning life to normalcy.




This post is part of the series: Facts and Information About OCD

This series includes several articles about OCD, including famous people who had it, and various signs that can help you tell if someone has it.

  1. Understanding OCD: A Comprehensive Definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  2. Types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Characteristics
  3. What are the Best Medications for OCD?
  4. The Link Between Human Genetics and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  5. David Beckham and Donald Trump: Meet the Famous People with OCD