OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is referred to in the DSM 5 as a range of related disorders. They are characterised by suffering from either Obsessions and/or compulsions. An obsession is a recurring thought whereas a compulsion is a repetitive behaviour.

Examples could include:

  • Trichotillomania – compulsive hair pulling
  • Excoriation – compulsive skin piking
  • Hoarding – gathering possessions and holding onto them regardless of their condition, value sentiments etc…

Behaviour Characteristics


A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour. Suffers of OCD feel the need to repeat this behaviour with a common example being repeatedly washing hands. Other examples could be checking locks of doors, tidying up, counting and collecting items.

This repetitive behaviour acts a coping strategy to reduce anxiety, usually from the obsessive thoughts they also suffer form. So, for a compulsive behaviour of washing hands, this is reducing the anxiety of the obsessive thought that they are dirty or covered in germs. However, it is important to note that not everyone who suffers with OCD suffer with obsessions and can solely show the compulsive behaviours due to general anxiety.


An induvial with OCD are aware of their condition and the triggers. Therefore, some may simply make all effort to avoid the situation that leads to the compulsion or obsessive thought. This could be very disruptive in daily lives and work/school. For example, an obsession over locking doors. They may have to check it multiple times, feel panic when away from the house, must return to the property to check they have in fact stayed locked, late for appoints/work or cannot concentrate due to the anxiety as they cannot check without going home etc…

Emotional Characteristics



Those with OCD will often suffer with strong anxiety due their obsessions and compulsions. These obsessions tend to be unpleasant and intrusive and cause significant distress to the individual.

There is a strong link to those who have OCD will also suffer from depression with low mood and activity levels. The compulsions do give the sufferer some sense of relief, but this is only short lived.

Cognitive Characteristics

Obsessive and Irrational

The majority of those with OCD will suffer from obsessive thoughts. They occur again and again with compulsions only leading to a short-lived sense of relief. The thoughts are unpleasant and can be intrusive but are also irrational. Suffers are aware of this irrational belief, which is the basis of a specific treatment, cognitive behavioural therapy.