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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Just a Quirk?

OCD or just a quirkAlmost everyone I know who blogs about obsessive-compulsive disorder, myself included, has written at least one post expressing frustration over the use of the phrase “I’m so OCD.” Aside from being grammatically incorrect — nobody is OCD — it trivializes the disorder and lends misunderstanding to an illness that is already often misrepresented.

I don’t believe anyone I know who actually has OCD has ever said, “I’m so OCD.” Certainly nobody who really has obsessive-compulsive disorder would ever wish to be “more OCD,” although many of these ill-informed posts suggest that would be a good thing.

Let’s face it, though. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be confusing — a tough illness to figure out. For example, some people noticeably obsess a lot. So do they have OCD? Maybe, or maybe not. A friend of yours has to line up his shoes in a particular order before he goes to sleep at night. That’s a compulsion and means he has OCD, right? Well, maybe, but not necessarily. And what about that nice lady you work with who seems calm, cool, and collected all the time, no matter what? Guess what? She has OCD!

How can we even begin to sort this all out? Understanding the definition of OCD can help. Also, it is important to be able to distinguish between what are likely our own unique habits, routines, and idiosyncrasies as opposed to what might be compulsions associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The former behaviors might even be classified as “quirks,” which would not fall under the realm of OCD.

So when is it OCD?

Well, referring back to the definition of the disorder, the behaviors (compulsions) of those with OCD are triggered by fear or anxiety. Those with OCD feel they have no choice but to engage in their compulsions. They don’t want to complete their rituals, they have to complete them.

If we don’t have OCD, our behaviors are performed freely. If we do have OCD, left untreated, we are captive; tormented by our obsessions until rituals are completed. It should be noted that those with OCD typically realize their compulsions make no sense, but they are compelled to complete them anyway. For example, someone who has to flick a light switch on and off 10 times to keep her parents safe realizes there is no connection at all between these occurrences. But just in case, just to be certain, she completes the ritual.

Ah, good ol’ uncertainty — the fuel for the fire of OCD.

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In a nutshell, those with OCD are tormented. But the torment isn’t always obvious to others. What about that nice lady you work with? You’d never know! Because most of my son’s compulsions were mental, my husband and I didn’t even know he had OCD until he told us. And we were living together! To me this is one of the cruelest aspects of the disorder. It can torture someone from the inside, and nobody else would ever know until things got really bad.

So for all those out there who still say, “I’m so OCD,” unless you are trying to tell us you are tormented, have paralyzing fear, and are living in an almost constant state of distress and anguish, please stop. Chances are you just have quirks.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Just a Quirk?

Janet Singer

Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness and wants everyone to know that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog,, has reached readers in 167 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.

APA Reference
Singer, J. (2018). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Just a Quirk?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 24 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.