“I’m so OCD!” “That’s just my OCD!” These phrases probably sound familiar—people often use them as a way to describe a behavior they see as “perfectionistic” or “picky.” For example, you might hear somebody say, “I’m OCD about dishes…I can’t sleep until they are all washed and put away.” Many people see these comments are harmless, but that is usually because those people do not actually have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For those with the disorder, the frequent misuse of “OCD” can be more frustrating because it tends to glamorize OCD as a personality trait of overachievers—albeit one that can be a slight nuisance at times. This common misconception is problematic because can trivializes a serious, and sometimes debilitating, disorder.
The truth is, OCD is far more than just an “eccentric” or “quirky” part of somebody’s personality. OCD causes intrusive and unwanted thoughts that provoke such an extreme amount of anxiety that people feel compelled to engage in excessive or irrational compulsions. For some, it might be behaviors like excessive cleaning or organizing, but there are many other behaviors that only make sense to the individual with OCD. What is important to remember is that these behaviors are unwanted, distressing, and can cause emotional or physical pain.
It is important to note that many people with OCD are not bothered by this misuse of the term. For these individuals, it is easy enough to mentally “whatever” it and move on with the conversation. For others, however, the fear of being judged for these “irrational” thoughts and behaviors can cause people with OCD to face an internal struggle when they hear others misuse the term. They might remain silent because they do not want to disclose their own diagnosis or do not want to be tasked with continually educating others about the disorder. Speaking up also puts a person at risk for being brushed aside and told that “it’s not a big deal.” These remarks usually come from a place of ignorance as opposed to malice, which might be all the more reason for all of us (not just people with OCD) to try to increase awareness over the issue.
Deciding whether to address the misuse of “OCD” is a personal choice based on one’s level of comfort in any given situation. If you trust the people you are with and feel that they will put in an effort to understand where you are coming from, here are some ways you can respond:
- “I know it’s become a buzzword, but OCD is much more than organization or cleanliness. It actually causes intrusive thoughts that are hard to get rid of. For some people it can be really scary and distressing.”
- “I have OCD/know somebody who has OCD and it actually causes a ton of anxiety and stress. I know people use it as an expression but it’s definitely not something you would want to live with.”
- “Do you ever wonder how ‘OCD’ became such a buzzword? Can you imagine if people said things like ‘I’m so autistic?’ I know it’s a societal thing, but it could be offensive if you accidentally said it to someone who is struggling with their OCD.”
Whatever you decide to do, it is important to not be silenced by your OCD. Many people find that speaking up about an overwhelming feeling or fear can strip away the power it has over them. If you do not feel comfortable speaking to family or friends, you might consider seeking out mental health counseling where you can discuss these thoughts and feelings in a safe setting. Remember, you are not alone and there are many people who will work with you to understand you and your experiences without judgement.
– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC