Common Misconceptions About OCD

Common Misconceptions About OCD

What comes to mind when you think of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)? 

Maybe you think of someone who can’t go to bed until they’ve flicked the lights on and off 17 times exactly, has to have all the Tupperware in their pantry perfectly lined up or washes their hands incessantly. 

Those could all be manifestations of OCD. And yet OCD is so much broader and deeper than that.  Let’s take a look at this condition and then correct some common misconceptions about it. 

What is obsessive compulsive disorder?

OCD is a mental health disorder involving: 

  • Obsessions – recurring, unwanted, irrational thoughts, ideas or sensations
  • Compulsions – an urge to repeat the same activity in exactly the same way to get rid of the obsession. 

People with OCD may experience obsessions relating to: 

  • Fear of being contaminated by people or the environment
  • Disturbing sexual thoughts or images
  • Distressing thoughts or fears regarding religious beliefs
  • Fear of perpetrating violence against self or others
  • Fear of harm
  • Extreme worry something is not complete
  • Extreme concern with order, symmetry, or precision
  • Fear of losing or discarding something important.

Compulsive behaviours help someone with OCD to ease their distress or defend themselves (or their loved ones) against a perceived threat. Compulsions may take up a great deal of time, making a normal life difficult. 

Compulsions may focus on:

  • Cleanliness – excessive personal hygiene (which may lead to sore, red skin) or repeated domestic cleaning
  • Order – a need to arrange things in a particular way
  • Safety – constantly checking the door is locked or the oven is turned off
  • Numbers – constantly counting items or avoiding certain numbers
  • Avoidance – of people, places or situations that trigger distress
  • Approval – constantly needing reassurance. 

Common misconceptions about OCD

1. Anyone can be ‘a bit OCD’

Not true. You may be someone who prefers a neat desk or organises their books alphabetically, but you can probably cope if things aren’t right at times.

Someone with OCD can’t. 

As the American Psychiatric Association notes, OCD involves intrusive thoughts and rigid behaviours that can disrupt life and relationships. If the person can’t behave as their compulsion dictates, they experience great distress, fearing that there will be dire consequences for either themselves or their loved ones. 

Perhaps we should stop saying we’re ‘a bit OCD’ when we really mean we ‘prefer things to be tidy’. 

2. OCD is all about relentless handwashing or light-switch flicking

That’s often how it’s portrayed in the movies, but there are, in fact, several categories of OCD. 

Two of the lesser-known types are: 

  • Intrusive thoughts  
    • Repetitive, disturbing and often horrific and repugnant thoughts, such as becoming violent or abusive to loved ones. The person is very unlikely to act on the thoughts because they find them so repugnant and go to great lengths to avoid them and prevent them happening.
  • Hoarding
    • The inability to discard useless, worn-out possessions.
    • Hoarding can be either a disorder in its own right or a form of OCD.

3. OCD mainly affects older people

OCD affects about 3% of Australians. It usually begins before the age of 25, often in childhood or adolescence. 

Many children and teenagers have keen, almost obsessive interests or follow certain rituals. OCD is different. It’s driven by fear, and it disrupts life. A child with OCD may face additional challenges, such as: 

  • Difficulties at school – being distracted or failing to complete homework
  • Disrupted routines – your child’s ritualistic behaviours may clash with getting to school on time
  • Stress and exhaustion
  • Social difficulties – focusing on their obsessions rather than their friends
  • Other mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. 

4. OCD is not that big a deal

It really is. OCD can have a devastating effect on a person’s life. It may disrupt or completely ruin a person’s: 

  • Education
  • Employment and career progression
  • Relationships with family and friends
  • Experience of parenting. 

Living with OCD is not easy. People may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to ease their distress. Their compulsions may also cause pain, such as raw and bleeding skin from excessive handwashing.  

5. People with OCD just need to relax a bit

People with OCD need support and treatment to help them manage their intrusive obsessions and compulsions and reclaim their lives. 

Obsessive compulsive disorder treatment often relies on a combination of therapies, including: 

  • Psychological support 
    • Cognitive behaviour therapy helps them resist compulsive behaviours and find other ways to manage anxiety.
    • Exposure and response prevention – being exposed to images, thoughts or objects that trigger anxiety and then choosing not to respond with compulsive behaviour.
  • Medication such as antidepressants
  • Social connection through support groups. 

How can Neurofit Brain Centre help?

At Neurofit, we believe that brain activity makes an active difference. The brain is immensely adaptable and capable of changing itself in response to the right stimulus.

Our programs provide physical, sensory and cognitive activities to help create stronger connections between different regions of the brain. 

If you’d like to learn more, please book an assessment.  


All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Neurofit Brain Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment approach is right for you.