You’ve probably heard the saying, “I’m a little bit OCD.” There’s a good chance you’ve said it yourself. But is it actually possible? Can you have “some” of a mental disorder – but not all of it?
Well, here’s the thing. OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental illness. It’s not a measurement or feeling, like sadness or worry. OCD is chronic, uncontrollable, and lasts a long time.
Symptoms involve repeated behaviors, thoughts, or a mix of both. They may get in the way of school, work, and personal relationships. It can also be hard to think straight.1
So, can you have some OCD? The answer is no. It’s like saying you have ‘a little’ diabetes or heart disease. Sure, the severity can differ, but you either have it or you don’t.
Here’s a rundown of what makes OCD so distinct.
We all have impulsive thoughts. It’s exactly what distracts us when we’re trying to focus! For example, you might suddenly worry that you didn’t turn off the stove.
This happens to everyone, all over the world.2 We all double (and triple) check things.
But with OCD, that impulsive thought is overwhelming. At least one hour a day is spent thinking about that specific thing.3 Most importantly, it gets in the way of doing anything else.
Humans are all about routine. Each person has their set way of doing things, whether it’s cleaning the house or cooking food. Even folding clothes is unique to each person.
If something gets thrown off, it can feel uncomfortable. So, what do we do? Adjust the situation and move on with the day.
For someone with OCD, that one “just not right” moment completely interrupts everything. It might be a while before they move onto the next task. Specific actions to make it “right” are done over, and over, and over again.4
It’s normal for people to do things seen in OCD. In fact, the general population provides a basis for OCD research. However, just because habits and thoughts are characteristic of OCD, doesn’t mean you have it.5
The big thing here is consistency. OCD is defined as continuous behaviors, impulses, and thoughts. They happen over and over again. It’s more than worrying about an issue. Instead, it engulfs you.
Granted, it’s possible for symptoms to come and go. But with their repeated return and interference in daily life, OCD is likely.6 This is the major difference.
As you can see, people without OCD can exhibit similar symptoms. But this doesn’t mean that a person has OCD.
Beyond thoughts and habits, tic disorders often affect those with OCD. This includes repeated physical movements like eye blinking, throat clearing, sniffing, head jerking, or grunting.
Again, daily life can be difficult. A behavior or ritual doesn’t help discomfort pass. It might feel OK for a second, but it’ll repeat again.
You can’t have a “little” OCD. You can, however, have habits that are similar. By realizing this, the stigma around OCD can be put to an end.
|↑1, ↑3, ↑6||Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health.|
|↑2||Radomsky, Adam S., Gillian M. Alcolado, Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Pino Alonso, Amparo Belloch, Martine Bouvard, David A. Clark et al. “Part 1—You can run but you can’t hide: Intrusive thoughts on six continents.” Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders 3, no. 3 (2014): 269-279.|
|↑4||Coles, Meredith E., Randy O. Frost, Richard G. Heimberg, and Josée Rhéaume. ““Not just right experiences”: perfectionism, obsessive–compulsive features and general psychopathology.” Behaviour research and therapy 41, no. 6 (2003): 681-700.|
|↑5||Abramowitz, Jonathan S., Laura E. Fabricant, Steven Taylor, Brett J. Deacon, Dean McKay, and Eric A. Storch. “The relevance of analogue studies for understanding obsessions and compulsions.” Clinical Psychology Review 34, no. 3 (2014): 206-217.|