Common Obsessive Behaviors Among People With OCD

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A key symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is compulsions. Compulsions are behaviors that are done in response to an obsessive thought. You repeat these behaviors over and over again, possibly for hours on end, in order to try and relieve your anxiety.

Even though you may feel driven to engage in these behaviors, you probably don't want to. Though the behaviors do lessen the negative feelings of anxiety, guilt, or fear temporarily, they take a lot of your time and may significantly impact your quality of life.

Common Obsessive Behaviors

Common compulsions among people with OCD include:

  • Repeatedly checking to make sure that doors and windows are locked or that appliances are turned off. Some individuals with OCD have to check their neighborhood to make sure they have not hit someone with their car or assaulted someone.
  • Excessive cleaning of the house, clothes, and/or body.
  • Counting objects, letters, words, or just about anything.
  • Doing routine activities repeatedly, like standing up or going up and down the stairs.
  • Requesting or demanding reassurance from family members or health care providers, such as "My hands should be clean now, right?"
  • Repeating phrases or sequences of words either out loud or in your mind.
  • Rearranging objects to ensure a specific order and/or symmetry.
  • Doing things in multiples. For instance, turning the light on and off five times because five is a "good" number.

Obsessions: Thoughts Behind Compulsions

Obsessions are the other half of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the experience that causes compulsive behaviors. Obsessions involve thoughts, feelings, and mental images that can seem like they are taking over your mind.

They may cause you to feel a terrible lack of control, as well as significant anxiety, fear, disgust, shame, or guilt.

Common Obsessions

Common obsessions among people with OCD include:

  • A fear of contamination, such as germs, viruses, body fluids, animals, diseases, chemicals, or dirt.
  • Fear of losing control of yourself by acting on thoughts or impulses, such as harming someone, stealing, blurting out swear words, or becoming violent.
  • Fear of accidentally hurting someone else because of something you did or forgot to do, such as not cleaning up water that you spilled and causing someone to slip and fall.
  • Unwanted sexual obsessions, thoughts, or images about children, incest, and/or aggressiveness.
  • Worry about living a moral enough life.
  • Fear of losing or forgetting something important.
  • Worry about how straight or even objects are.
  • An inability to make decisions on what to keep and what to throw away.
  • A fixation on certain numbers and/or colors being good/correct or bad/incorrect.


Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors can often be dramatically reduced using behavior therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP).

Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Paxil (paroxetine hydrochloride), or Zoloft (sertraline) may also be helpful.

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