Signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Obsessions and Compulsions

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The Two Signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The two main signs of obsessive compulsive disorder are found in the name of the disorder itself - obsessions and compulsions. While these two signs are intertwined, they have distinct differences. Obsessions are related to thoughts, and compulsions are usually putting those thoughts into actions (although they can also be distinct of obsessions, as explained below). In summary, signs of OCD are made up of intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and intrusive actions (compulsions), which often seem illogical to an outsider.


OCD obsessions tend to revolve around fear of germs or contamination, a need for neatness and order, or improper thoughts and impulses. For example, a person with OCD may have any of the following obsession-related symptoms:

  • replaying images of violence or indecency over and over again, including hurting a child, hurting yourself, or viewing pornographic material
  • constantly wondering about whether you’ve left the stove on, hit someone with a car, or committed some other crime
  • feeling intensely bothered by the fact that you are not facing the right direction, or that objects have been moved without your realizing it
  • being afraid that you have become contaminated through touching germ-laden objects, such as doorknobs or elevator buttons


Many of the main compulsion-related signs of obsessive compulsive disorder are strongly related to an obsession. Most of these signs include “checking,” or making sure that the obsessive thought is groundless over and over again. For example, if a person is afraid that he has run someone over with his car, he will feel a compulsion to check and recheck the side of the road to make sure that the corpse is not there (even if the person never even existed). If a person has a obsession regarding locking the door or turning off the stove, she may have the compulsion to return home again and again to make sure that the stove is off and the door locked. Constant handwashing and scrubbing comes from the obsession that you have touched something unclean or contaminated, and this sign of obsessive compulsive disorder can lead to contact dermatitis. Another common compulsion-related sign of OCD is picking at your skin or pulling your hair, both of which can lead to physical symptoms (e.g., skin lesions, hair loss, bald spots).

In addition to these obsession-related compulsions, people with OCD may experience completely separate compulsions. For example, a person might feel the compulsion to step on every crack in the sidewalk, or to count her steps as she walks. Alternatively, people with OCD may need all of the doors in the building to be closed in order to feel safe, or may need to organize or line up objects perfectly before beginning a project with them. Many famous people have admitted to having compulsions related to OCD, and these compulsions can be controlled and channeled correctly with the proper treatment.


This post is part of the series: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This series will discuss various aspects of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), include symptoms, complications, and treatments.

  1. Untreated OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Problems
  2. Telltale Signs: When You Suspect Someone Has an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  3. Understanding OCD in Teenagers
  4. What are the Risks for Children with Parents who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?