, Gloucester, MA

February 1, 2013

Recognize compulsive behavior in yourself

On the Mend
Joe DiVincenzo

---- — It’s OK to check and see if the iron or stove were turned off. It’s acceptable to wash your hands if you think they’re dirty. Wondering if your best is good enough, double-checking an important tally or storing something you’re likely to need in the future are all normal parts of life.

But are your habits healthy, or are you going overboard? Each year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). They have clinical signs and symptoms that interfere with their daily activities and social interactions.

There are varying levels and severity of OCD, and the truth is that all humans have at least a few idiosyncratic nuances. But the major difference between clinical and non-clinical presentations of OCD is that healthy individuals are able to suppress their behaviors enough to continue leading a life with normal overtones.

Don’t worry though – cognitive behavioral therapy has been, and will be for the foreseeable future, the gold-standard treatment for patients with OCD. Practitioners of mental health are equipped with scores of strategies to mitigate compulsory behaviors — but the first step is recognizing you need help.

There are five major sub-categories that encompass nearly all patients on the OCD spectrum. If the descriptions in the categories below are semblant of how you live, it might be time for a consultation with your doctor.

If you’re afraid of contamination, you might fall into the washer’s category. There are worse things than good hand hygiene, but excessive washing (of any part of you) can be considered a compulsory behavior. Finding excuses to run to the bathroom and scrub can quickly progress into other, more detrimental phobias.

Checking to see if the front door is locked is good practice if you want intruders to stay on the outside of it, but you should only have to check once. Similarly, the car, blowing out candles and shutting off the water should only need one verification. Checkers worry about harm or danger befalling them as a result of leaving their post. Although done in the spirit of safety, checking behavior fosters continual worry and release of adrenaline — a chemical highly associated with stress and anxiety.

Doubters and sinners comprise the next category, which is perhaps the toughest master of them all. Worried that if things aren’t done perfectly or just the right way they’ll suffer a punishment, people afflicted with this kind of OCD rarely get a good nights sleep. If superstition is intruding on your reality or if it takes exorbitant blocks of time to complete even the simplest tasks, remember that help isn’t more than a phone call away.

Constantly counting and putting things to order? OCD might be the reason you flick the light switch five times before leaving the room. Making sure you set the alarm clock properly is good advice, but doing it three times ritualistically is a sign of an underlying compulsion. If flushing the toilet repeatedly or going up and down the stairs unnecessarily while you get ready in the morning are affecting the people you live with, it’s time for some help.

Your house is cluttered, friends and family say; it may be their nice way of saying you keep things unnecessarily. Hoarding is a compulsory behavior used to satisfy the fear that something bad will happen if an item is discarded. For example, the minute an old remote control is thrown away, you’ll lose the one you have now and will be stuck without the ability to watch TV. If you’re unable to quell these feelings and recognize that almost everything in your house is easily replaceable, your loved ones may be right.


Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to