9 Subtle Symptoms Of OCD, Because It Isn't All About Excessive Hand-Washing

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In popular media, characters with OCD are often portrayed as quirky people who just like cleaning too darn much. The truth of this condition, however, can be quite different in real life. In fact, the subtle symptoms of OCD sometimes manifest in unexpected ways.

To begin, it's helpful to understand the condition in greater depth. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that causes a person to experience recurring thoughts or behaviors repeatedly, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The obsessions may include a fear of germs, for instance, whereas the compulsions may include a desire to clean excessively, as further noted by the NIMH. These may be the most well-known ways in which the condition manifests, but OCD can also show up in some unexpected ways as well. For instance, people with OCD may develop an intense fear about accidentally hurting someone, or spend an inordinate amount of time worried about a loved one's safety.

For better or worse, OCD is a fairly common disorder. As noted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), OCD affects approximately 2.2 million people in the United States. What's more, many people first experience symptoms in childhood or early adolescence, as further noted by the ADAA. Because the symptoms can be subtle, however, it may take time to diagnose the disorder.

1Seeking Reassurance

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How am I doing, really? A persistent sense of doubt may cause people with OCD to seek reassurance regularly, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This habit can be unpleasant for all of the people involved.  

2Checking On Others

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Repeatedly checking to make sure the oven is off is a classic OCD symptom, but these checking behaviors can show up in other ways, too. It may include frequently calling loved ones to ensure their safety, as noted in HelpGuide. This puts the loved ones in a difficult position. As you might imagine, having someone contact you multiple times a day just to make sure you're alive gets pretty old.

3Compulsive Decluttering

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As someone who's newly enthralled with Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, this symptom struck fear in my heart. But as noted in the website for The Atlantic, some persons with OCD become obsessed with the task of decluttering. Basically, it's the reverse of hoarding tendencies, in which the pursuit of a home free from junk turns into its own obsession.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, $10, Amazon

4Hoarding

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Isn't it interesting how one disorder can manifest in completely opposite ways? While some people go the extreme decluttering route, other persons with OCD may have hoarding tendencies. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), people who hoard often have a difficult time parting with possessions, resulting in a huge store of papers, clothing, and other goods in their home. What's more, hoarding behaviors don't necessarily result in a home that's filled to bursting with things. Persons who hoard may simply feel embarrassed about the number of possessions in their home, and overwhelmed by the thought of organizing it, as further noted by the ADAA.

5Hit & Run OCD

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This is specific. According to the website for Dr. Steven Seay, persons who suffer from hit and run OCD have a persistent fear of running over pedestrians while driving, and they may even retrace their route to ensure no one was struck by the car. Also known as motor vehicle accident OCD, this manifestation of the condition can be intensely troubling.

6Fear Of Insanity

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This is a particularly cruel symptom. But as noted by Calm Clinic, some persons with OCD may recognize the irrationality of their impulses and fear that they're losing control. Doubting your sanity has to be one of the worst feelings imaginable.

7Inappropriate Impulses

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Sure, most everyone has had the impulse to stand up and yell in a quiet room. (Or am I alone here?) But for some persons with OCD, the intense desire to scream obscenities or otherwise behave inappropriately can become an obsession, as explained by the Mayo Clinic. Even if you never act on these impulses, the desire alone can make you feel uncomfortable around others.

8Counting

Is your brain filled with numbers? Some people with OCD develop specific rituals around counting or repeating behaviors a certain number of times, as noted in Health. Of course, counting ceiling tiles when you're bored isn't going to hurt anything, but if this focus on numbers starts to interfere with your daily life, then it may be a problem worth addressing.

9Moral Scrupulosity

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In some cases, people can take the desire to be good to an unhealthy extreme. Basically, a person with moral scrupulosity may feel seriously ashamed after, say, accidentally dropping a piece of litter on the ground, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital OCD and Related Disorders Program. Although the desire to be a good person is commendable, taking it to this level can become problematic.