You Are Not Alone
Information for Individuals

What OCD Isn’t

“OCD” is becoming part of American slang for describing “odd” behavior.  Don’t be confused by incorrect use of the terms “obsessive” and “compulsive” in everyday dialogue.

As education and public awareness about OCD have grown, so has the use of the term “OCD” as a description of some kinds of behavior that are not OCD.

When people use the terms “obsessive” and “compulsive” incorrectly, it leads to misunderstanding about OCD. You may have even heard someone say “that person must have OCD” when they are describing a person who is preoccupied with orderliness, has a strong interest in a subject or ardently performs an activity.

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is sometimes mistaken for OCD.  While the names are confusingly similar, the disorders are quite different.  OCD is an anxiety disorder; OCPD is a personality disorder.

With OCPD, a person may be generally preoccupied with orderliness, perfectionism and control in virtually every part of his or her life.  But rather than be anxious about this, they have no interest in changing—they see their behavior and thoughts as desirable traits.  A person with OCPD may spend an extreme amount of time cleaning and straightening up their home because they like a “perfect” appearance and want to consider it immaculately clean.  But while this behavior may seem “odd” or be frustrating to others, the person does not have OCD.  Someone with OCPD is happy with their behavior. In contrast, people who have OCD are not happy.  They find their obsessions and compulsions to be distressing, and they want to stop their obsessive thoughts, fears, doubts, and the associated compulsions.

Other Incorrect “Labeling” Examples

People today seem to find a “label” for every unusual behavior.  But when they define unusual behavior as “OCD”, “obsessive” or “compulsive”, they are not demonstrating an understanding what OCD actually is.

For example, OCD does not include collectors who have an avid interest in a subject, such as collecting stamps, coins, antiques, books by a favorite author or even science fiction fantasy or cartoon memorabilia.  Collectors derive pleasure from the hunt for items they are interested in, and are happy to talk about their collections or show them to others.

Sports enthusiasts may talk about their favorite sport or be able to remember sports statistics, but they don’t have OCD because of their interest.

If a person paints nearly every room in their house in shades of pink and purple, it may be “eccentric”, but they are not “obsessed”, nor do they have a true compulsion because they paint rooms pink and purple.

OCD also does not include stalkers or “obsessed” fans, such as those who are reportedly “obsessed” with celebrities.  OCD does not include workaholics, compulsive liars, compulsive shoppers, gamblers or people with phobias (such as fear of heights or flying, spiders, or leaving their home).

While many people who have those kinds of problems may suffer from treatable mental illnesses, they do not have OCD.

What are OCD symptoms?

What causes OCD?

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