The Most Common Environmental Influences of OCD

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Symptoms of OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, often referred to as OCD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. If you’ve seen the movie “As Good As It Gets,” you’re already familiar with some of the characteristics of OCD. Jack Nicholson’s character displays behaviors that most people would consider odd or eccentric. Although it may be slightly exaggerated in the movie, his character exhibits some of the common behaviors associated with OCD, such as obsessive hand washing. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common symptom of OCD is intrusive, unwanted, unpleasant and recurring thoughts that are usually temporarily relieved by performing repetitive, ritualistic behaviors such as obsessive checking or cleaning. These rituals usually control the individual, instead of the individual controlling the rituals.


OCD is often diagnosed in late childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. It occurs in roughly equal numbers of men and women. A psychiatrist is the best person to consult if you’re concerned that you or someone you love are suffering from OCD. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor will perform a physical examination to check your overall level of health, recommend laboratory testing such as blood work and tests for alcohol or drugs and do a psychological test to determine whether you meet the criteria for OCD, as determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Generally speaking, you must meet the criteria of having either obsessions or compulsions that significantly impact your everyday functioning in order to be diagnosed with OCD.

Environmental Influences of OCD

The environment in which you live plays an influential role on the development of OCD. Common environmental influences of OCD include upbringing, family and other significant relationships and stress and traumatic external events. Having a family history of OCD may increase the likelihood that you will also suffer from this disorder.

Upbringing may play a significant role in the development of OCD, according to BBC Health. For example, when you were a child, if your parents consistently judged your actions as either all good or all bad, you may have an overdeveloped, internalized sense of right and wrong. If you did something you knew was wrong and you were harshly punished for it, you may have developed obsessions or compulsions to avoid the thought that you were “wrong” or “bad.” You may have developed obsessive thought patterns such as, “I mustn’t be bad, I must always be good,” and developed behaviors to support these thoughts.

Stress is another of the key environmental influences of OCD. If you react strongly to stressful events, you may have an increased likelihood of developing OCD. Traumatic events such as the death of a loved one or frightening events in the news can also cause an increase in OCD behaviors and thoughts in an attempt to keep your worries at bay. For example, if you have an unrealistic, unfounded worry that your house is going to go on fire if you leave the house, and you see a story on the news that someone’s house burned down, you may focus on obsessive behaviors such as constantly checking the stove to make sure you turned it off.


Mayo Clinic: OCD: Risk Factors

BBC Health: Religious “vulnerable to compulsion”

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR, 2000