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OCD: all the different types of obsessive compulsive disorder explained

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Lauren Geall
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The different types of OCD, explained

From relationship anxiety to a fear of harming loved ones, obsessive compulsive disorder can take a variety of forms. Here, we’ve broken down all the different types of OCD.

As the conversation around mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression continues to grow, it’s about time we started talking about those lesser-known disorders which continue to be misunderstood, one of which is OCD.

Described by OCD UK as “a serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts,” obsessive compulsive disorder is believed to affect around 1.2% of the population, but it is still often misunderstood by those who haven’t experienced it.

Thanks to phrases such as “I’m a bit OCD” or “stop being so OCD”, the myth that people with OCD solely focus on cleanliness and organisation continues to pervade. But underneath, OCD takes so many different forms, including a need to do things in a certain routine to avoid feeling anxiety and stress, as One Direction singer Niall Horan has previously explained.

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“I have mild obsessive compulsive disorder, that’s what doctors call it. That is, I feel like I have to do things in a certain way,” Horan told German magazine Zeit Leo.

“I have one fixed sequence. I always have to sing in the same order, move and so on. I’ll basically do everything immediately, otherwise I’ll get nervous quickly.”

Woman living with OCD
OCD is often misunderstood by those who haven't experienced it.

“Obsessions are unwanted intrusive thoughts, images or urges which cause anxiety, and the compulsions are the mental or physical rituals which someone with OCD performs in order to reduce their anxiety,” OCD Action spokesperson Olivia Bamber previously explained to Stylist.

“Intrusive thoughts can be about absolutely anything, but they typically latch onto your worst possible fears and things which you find completely abhorrent.”

Bamber gives the example that a mother with OCD might worry about accidentally harming her baby “because her child is the thing she loves the most”. As intrusive thoughts often involve unfounded fear of harming others, she adds, many sufferers are ashamed to speak up.

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Someone living with OCD may deal with a number of these different types of OCD – and the obsessions and compulsions they experience may also differ from the descriptions below.

If you believe you could be dealing with OCD, or just want to find out more about the disorder, keep reading to find out more about all the different forms this mental health condition can take.

The different types of OCD: Relationship OCD
The different types of OCD: Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD

People living with Relationship OCD (ROCD) are often plagued by obsessive doubts about their relationship, their partner, or their role in the relationship. Common ROCD compulsions include seeking reassurance from your partner, repeatedly questioning your sexuality, researching or idealising the idea of a “perfect relationship” and comparing your relationship to others.

Sexual OCD

Experiencing unwanted sexual thoughts or images is one of the less spoken-about forms of OCD. These thoughts can be anything from fears that you are a paedophile to worrying that you’re actually a different sexuality to the one you identify as.

Some sufferers may even worry that they’ve done something terrible like sexually assault someone when they haven’t. All their intrusive thoughts are unwanted and they are at no risk of acting on them, however much they fear they might.

The different types of OCD: Harm OCD
The different types of OCD: Harm OCD

Harm OCD

Individuals with Harm OCD fear that they will carry out violent acts against other people, and often lead the sufferer to believe they are a bad or evil person, because they assume that having the thoughts means they are capable of acting on them. The obsessive thoughts typical of Harm OCD include fears of losing consciousness and harming someone while unaware, or accidentally poisoning someone.

People living with OCD will sometimes engage in compulsions ranging from hiding harmful objects around the home or avoiding cooking to make sure they don’t poison their loved ones.

Religious or Scrupulosity OCD

Religious OCD or Scrupulosity OCD is a subset of OCD where people fear they are not doing the right thing or being a good person, whether that’s religiously or morally/ethically. Common compulsions associated with religious OCD include praying excessively or seeking reassurance from your loved ones that you’re doing the “right” thing.

The different types of OCD: Contamination OCD
The different types of OCD: Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD is the type people often think about when they talk about obsessive compulsive disorder. Individuals with Contamination OCD spend their day-to-day lives scared that they will become sick by contamination, and therefore will avoid potentially germy or dangerous situations and engage in rituals such as excessive handwashing and health testing.

Somatic OCD

People who have Somatic OCD are hyper-aware of their bodily functions, including blinking, breathing or swallowing, as well as sometimes being hyper-aware about the sounds around them. Their anxiety usually centres around the fear that they’ll never stop being aware of the sound, or frustration that they can’t stop listening in.

The different types of OCD: Prenatal/postnatal OCD
The different types of OCD: Prenatal/postnatal OCD

Prenatal/Antenatal OCD

Prenatal and Postnatal OCD is a form of OCD which affects new and expecting parents. Most people with this form of OCD will suffer with intrusive thoughts about hurting their baby, and fear that they’ll harm their child when unconscious or by accident. Compulsions related to this form of OCD include making sure you’re never alone with your child, and engaging in checking rituals to make sure the baby is safe.

Suicidal OCD

People with Suicidal OCD worry that thinking of or imagining suicide means they are going to act on those thoughts, and often fear falling into a state of depression where they’ll want to act on these thoughts. Suicidal OCD compulsions include excessive reflection on the nature of your thoughts to ‘check’ whether you mean them or not, and avoiding being alone to make sure you’re not able to do any harm to yourself. 

It’s important to note that people with Suicidal OCD are no more likely to act on their thoughts than anyone else.

Existential OCD

People dealing with Existential OCD will often spend excessive amounts of time ruminating about philosophical questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” or “Why do I exist?” and trying to find legitimate answers. A common worry/obsession is whether the person dealing with the Existential OCD has a purpose in life.

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If you are living with OCD, or suspect you may have OCD, please remember that you are not alone. OCD is treatable and you can learn to manage it. Visit your GP or OCD Action for more information. You can also find local therapists on Counselling Directory. 

With contributions by Georgie Young

Images: Unsplash/Getty

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