The Differences Between OCD Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a complex and tiring disorder, which can quickly consume every aspect of an individual’s life. Most people know a little about OCD, but many tend to get confused about the differences between obsessions and compulsions. They’re two similar, yet different, concepts that are important to fully comprehend what OCD is.


What Are Obsessions?

Obsessions are thoughts that will not go away. They’re intrusive and often appear to be irrational to individuals not suffering from OCD, but to the OCD individual, they are unable to stop or ignore these obsessive thoughts. Obsessions can be mild, appearing only occasionally, or they can be constant, present at all times. These thoughts can greatly impact an individual’s life.


Some example of common obsessions include:

  • Fear of dirt
  • Fear of germs or becoming sick
  • Constant thoughts of a specific number
  • Having to do tasks in a certain order or way
  • Worrying about something being done “right”


While these thoughts might not seem irrational on their own, the obsessive thoughts lead to behaviors that are abnormal to people who don’t have OCD.


What Are Compulsions?

Compulsions are recurrent actions done in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety of the obsessive thoughts. For example, if someone has a fear of germs they may wash their hands multiple times, even to the point of them becoming raw. While these compulsive behaviors may make the obsessions go away for a short time they normally return.


Compulsions can interfere with people’s daily life. They may damage relationships, create strain at their workplace, or hurt themselves due to these behaviors. Some common compulsions are:

  • Washing hands/body excessively
  • Checking to see if appliances are off
  • Checking to see if doors are locked
  • Arranging objects in a certain way
  • Keeping items when they are no longer needed
  • Repeating an action a certain number of times


The Differences

The easiest way to remember the differences between the two is that obsessions are thoughts while compulsions are behaviors. Obsessions lead to compulsions, which temporarily relieve the obsessions but they ultimately return. This creates a vicious and tiring cycle that traps people with OCD within it.


Luckily, there are ways to treat OCD. If you or someone you know is looking for OCD treatment options feel free to contact us.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez