Do you have any advice for someone who might be obsessive-compulsive? People tell me my behavior fits this condition. It's not an official or professional diagnosis, but I'm beginning to believe that it may be accurate. My mind gets "stuck" on certain ideas – for example, I'm extremely paranoid about "germs" – and my behavior has brought so much tension into my marriage that I'm afraid it may not survive. I don't know how to help myself. Can you recommend anything?
You've taken an important step in the right direction by recognizing that you have a problem. The good news is that effective treatment is available for individuals who struggle with all kinds of obsessive-compulsive issues. This includes both obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is defined primarily in terms of specific thoughts and behaviors, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), which is better understood as an expression of an individual's entire personality, philosophy and worldview.
Let's begin with a couple of simple definitions. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder, a condition of the brain characterized by intrusive, anxiety-producing thoughts. These thoughts can express themselves in repetitive or ritualistic behaviors aimed at reducing distress. Excessive hand-washing is one of the most common and best known examples of a compulsion (a behavior associated with OCD). Obsessions are the thoughts and urges associated with OCD, such as recurrent, anxious thoughts about germs. Adding a level of complication to the disorder is the fact that a person with OCD can have obsessions without compulsions, and vice versa. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a syndrome that characterizes a person's overall orientation towards life. In general, this perspective can be described as "rigid," "inflexible" and/or "perfectionistic." OCPD is more common among men than women, and most psychologists agree that it cannot be accurately diagnosed until about 18 years of age.
If you believe that your symptoms match either of these brief descriptions, we'd urge you to seek a professional evaluation from a qualified and licensed Christian psychologist or psychiatrist. Self-diagnosis is not recommended since it can be confusing and misleading. Counseling is considered a good first approach in the treatment of both OCD and OCPD, and medications (typically certain antidepressants known as SSRIs) can be an option in the treatment of OCD. Focus on the Family's Counseling Department can provide you with a list of referrals to psychologists in your area who specialize in the treatment of OCD and OCPD. Our staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. Just give us a call.
For further information, we recommend that you visit the website of the International OCD Foundation. You may also find it helpful to consult the book Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Beverly Beyette (available through Amazon.com and at many local bookstores). Both the book and the website are secular in nature, and as a result we can't guarantee that all of the perspectives they represent are fully compatible with Focus on the Family's Christian worldview. In spite of this, we believe that they contain a great deal of material that may prove useful as you seek to address your problem as effectively as possible.
The Other Side of Darkness
International OCD Foundation