3 August 2015

Minority report

Previously on The Reluctant Perfectionist… 

Last month I published a post that began ‘A comment you often hear from people with OCD, in response to inaccurate representations of the condition, is “It's not all about cleaning!” What they mean is that cleaning compulsions don't result from a desire to clean, but from the anxiety that is caused by not cleaning.’

This generated the following feedback from one reader: 

‘When I say it's not about cleaning I don't mean anything about cleaning compulsions actually. I mean it's not about cleaning… When most OCD sufferers correct that stupid stereotype about cleaning they are trying to say that it's not about cleanliness or order. Their cleaning habits and sense of order are the same as anyone else's.’

My previous post may not have been entirely clear on this point, but it’s true that many people with OCD don’t have issues with cleaning or ordering. It’s quite natural for them, therefore, to want to correct the assumption that the disorder revolves around these. 

For those who do, however, it can be frustrating to hear others say ‘It’s not about cleaning/ordering’ – somebody I know with cleaning compulsions has expressed this particular frustration to me. To cover both eventualities, perhaps we should say ‘It’s not always about cleaning/ordering’? 

In fact, the condition is about a whole host of different obsessions and compulsions. 

The self-help guide Overcoming Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder lists the top three most common obsessions, ie prevalence amongst sufferers, as:
Image courtesy of podpad/

1. Fear of contamination (38%)
2. Doubts about harm occurring (24%)
3. Excessive concern with exactness, order or symmetry (10%)

While the top three compulsions are:

1. Checking (29%)
2. Repeating acts (11%)
3. Mental rituals (11%)

‘Ordering or arranging acts’ trails in at fourth, with a measly 6%. 

From these statistics, I seem to be in a minority within a minority, in having ordering as my main issue. The different kinds of obsessions and compulsions are not mutually exclusive, of course; sufferers usually experience a number of each, to varying degrees.

While these figures are likely to have changed since this book first came out, the general trend does seem to reflect my own experience: I’ve only met one other person with ordering as their chief problem. As it happens, this was during an order and symmetry seminar, at one of OCD Action’s conferences, so the odds were stacked in my favour.

It was like being at a party surrounded by strangers and suddenly – and gratefully – finding somebody with whom you have a shared interest. Not, in this case, writing or adventure travel or Star Trek, but how we arranged our belongings!

As we exchanged confidences, I experienced a sense of relief that ‘It’s not just me’. Discovering that somebody else carried out the same rituals also seemed to validate them somehow, though I could still see how irrational they were.

So, if you’re like me, too, I’d love to hear from you – my particular OCD world can be a rather lonely one!

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For more information about the most common OCD obsessions and compulsions, see this page.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, Helen, which highlights how varied OCD can present itself. I'm surprised to see that mental rituals are more common than ordering. You'd never know that from the way the media depicts OCD. The bottom line, I think, is that no matter what "type" of OCD you have, it can be debilitating :(......but also treatable :).

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for the feedback, ocdtalk. I think the multitude of ways that OCD manifests itself only adds to the layman's general confusion - but, yes, they can certainly all be treated.