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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Barsky

What Are Common Symptoms of OCD in Adults?


The term OCD is often misused. Some people like to describe themselves or other people as "OCD" if they clean a lot or like things arranged in a certain way. The actual symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are much more than that.


The symptoms of OCD can show up all at once or progressively worsen over time. Generally, the symptoms start small and escalate until they are more prominent in your everyday life and cause a great deal of distress. But what, exactly, are OCD symptoms like as an adult?


What is OCD?

OCD is a cycle of obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts. Compulsions are rituals that are intended to ward off the intrusive thoughts.


Symptoms of Obsession


Obsessions generally tend to fall into a category, or have a central theme. These obsessions, or intrusive thoughts, are what drive the compulsive actions in OCD. Often, obsessions are focused on safety - keeping oneself safe and others safe from harm. There are a handful of common types of obsessions in OCD, though obsessions don't need to fall into these categories. Four very common varieties of obsessions are:

  • Contamination/cleaning: Cleaning or contamination obsession is driven by a fear of contaminating others with different diseases, such as COVID-19 or an STI. In order to avoid this, you might clean yourself (think of hand washing or frequent showers) and your home to avoid contamination.

  • Order/symmetry or counting: Recognizable by an intense urge to categorize or arrange things in a specific manner. Sometimes you may repeat a certain phrase as well.

  • Harm: This is categorized as fear of hurting yourself or others by actions you take, either on purpose or inadvertently. Generally, this type of obsession pairs with a checking compulsion (an intense urge to check you've done something, or have a certain item, etc).

  • Hoarding: An obsession where you have a fear of throwing things away because you may need them one day. This can make your home unsafe to live in for you and others.

Symptoms of Compulsion


Compulsions are the intense urge to do something to mitigate the obsession and prevent something bad from happening, and represent the action taken against the fear. Based on your specific obsession, your compulsions will likely look different than someone with the same obsession. However, there are compulsions that are widely recognizable. These common symptoms include:

  • Washing and cleaning: This is usually associated with contamination obsessions. In order to avoid contaminating, you excessively clean yourself and your home.

  • Checking: Checking compulsions are recognized as a “check-in” with your obsession. Common “checks” are of different body parts to ensure you aren’t hurt, checking you didn’t hurt anyone else and checking nothing bad has happened. Also, checking to make sure you have specific important items on hand or have completed certain items on a checklist.

  • Repeating: Repeating compulsions are just what they sound like: repeating actions. The actions can be anything from continually flipping a light switch, repeated tapping of body parts, or repeating yourself any number of times.

  • Arranging: Arranging compulsions are when you put things in a specific order until it feels right or safe. These types of compulsions are usually associated with order or symmetry obsessions.

All of these symptoms are variable from case to case. You may feel a combination of or none of these traits. However, therapy can help you overcome and heal from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


If you feel as if your obsessions and/or compulsions are causing you distress, remember that you are not alone. Seeking professional help is a step towards freeing yourself from your OCD. Once you’re ready to receive help, I'm here to give it. Reach out to me today to get started.


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