OCD — also known as the “doubting disorder” — can make you question things that you were sure of just 5 minutes ago.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition where you experience obsessive often uncontrollable anxious thoughts with frequent compulsions in response to those thoughts.
If you have OCD, you may find yourself fixated on a single thing, like making sure the dishes are clean. Even after confirming the dishes have been washed, you might start to doubt your memory of having checked the dishes or doubt that you washed them properly. You might go back out and rewash the dishes — just to be sure.
“OCD is also known as the ‘doubting disorder,’” says Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Connecticut.
“One of the driving forces of compulsions in OCD is chronic doubt. Your brain tricks you into thinking that something has been overlooked, and this fear drives the individual into repeating the action again,” Schiff explains. “Doubt is a hallmark of the disorder, and it overrides any sense of logic or intelligence an individual might have.”
At the core of OCD is doubt of your own memory. Trying to remember if something happened or if you did something correctly can quickly become an obsession. This level of obsession can interfere with your life and quickly consume your focus.
“Memory is a tricky thing,” explains Dr. Amy Marschall, a licensed psychologist.
“With OCD, the person has more doubt and uncertainty about their memory than is typical or helpful, and they have a fear of what will happen if they are misremembering,” she says.
This leads to the compulsive element of OCD, where you feel compelled to verify and double-check something as a way to relieve stress and anxiety temporarily.
The doubt that comes with OCD can really start to influence your home and work lives over time, too.
For example, if you’re trying to get a work task done but are obsessively thinking about your safety and doubting if you locked the front door, you might stop working while you think through all the possible negative consequences of leaving the door unlocked.
You might lose more work time as you act on the compulsion, leave your computer, and check on the door.
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of OCD, you may benefit from talking with a mental health professional who specializes in OCD and other related disorders. They can help set up an effective treatment plan.
Talk with a therapist
After talking with a mental health professional about your experiences, they can provide a professional diagnosis and set up treatment options for you.
“OCD can be diagnosed by a mental health professional through a thorough diagnostic interview where you answer questions about your history and symptoms,” explains Marschall.
It is also important to talk with a professional because OCD symptoms can be shared with other disorders, meaning that while your symptoms may present as OCD, they may be stemming from a different or comorbid disorder.
“OCD can be present if someone also has another disorder, such as anxiety or depression, and it can be present in individuals with neurodevelopmental differences such as ADHD and autism,” says Marschall.
There are several ways that a therapist can help you manage your OCD symptoms. One of the most commonly used methods of OCD therapy is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This therapy aims to address and help you rethink negative behaviors so that they have less control of your life.
“[With ERP], you create a stimulus that triggers the desire to engage in the compulsive behavior but prevents the client from doing the compulsion,” explains Marschall. “This reduces the stress and anxiety by showing the brain that the compulsion is not needed.”
While CBT can’t fully cure OCD, it can make the symptoms of OCD more manageable.
“People with OCD can also benefit from traditional talk therapy from orientations other than cognitive behavioral therapy,” says Marschall. “There are medication options for OCD as well.”
Therapy costs can often be out of reach for some people, which means you may need to consider lower-cost alternatives. One of the best alternatives to therapy, when you are on a tight budget, is to attend a support group.
While it isn’t a substitute for one-on-one therapy, you can find a lot of comfort in hearing other people’s stories and sharing your own.
In addition, the more you can connect with people also dealing with OCD, the less likely you will feel alone in facing its challenges.
The International OCD Foundation provides a list of support groups that you can filter to find meetings closest to you. Also, there are options to attend meetings online.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the causes of OCD are unknown, but common risk factors are genetics, brain structure, brain function, and the presence of childhood trauma.
In other words, the factors that put you at risk for OCD are all things outside your control today.
OCD is a very real disorder and can’t be easily “fixed” by talking yourself out of it or deciding to stop doubting yourself.
It is important to remember that OCD is a complex mental health disorder and shouldn’t be ignored if it begins to take hours away from your day. Know that you don’t have to struggle with OCD alone, and there is help available if you choose it.