Obsessive-compulsive disorder – what are obsessive thoughts

In our series on obsessive compulsive disorder, we address everything you might wonder about the topic. In this first introductory article, you can find answers to questions such as “what are obsessions”, “why do you get obsessions” and “what are the symptoms”, in addition to being able to see the connection between anxiety and obsessions.

Have you ever had obsessive thoughts that made you go into the kitchen to check that you turned off the coffee maker, even though you were just there doing it? Maybe you sneaked out of your bedroom for the first time just to make sure the exit door was locked? Or do you feel that you never wash well or often enough?

Many will recognize themselves in the descriptions above. Very often it is a question of simply not being observant at the moment of action, so that you do not remember whether you did what you were supposed to. In other cases, there may be obsessive- compulsive disorder in the form of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.

What are obsessions and compulsions?

Both obsessions and compulsions fall under the collective terms obsessive-compulsive disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is a mental disorder that is divided into two main groups:

    • Compulsivethoughts (obsessions) are thoughts that force themselves on you  and that create inner turmoil. The thoughts can often be experienced as frightening or embarrassing. Although you yourself may feel that the thoughts do not make sense, they are intrusive and demand to be heard. Examples of this could be great anxiety about getting sick from bacteria, about your child being hurt or about you hurting others .
    • Compulsionsare actions you feel strongly and constantly have to perform, regardless of whether you feel these are necessary or not. Examples of this could be that you have to check whether the oven has been switched off a certain number of times, that you have to wash your hands every time you have touched an object or that you have to step on all cobblestones when you are outdoors.

What are the symptoms of obsessions and compulsions?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can develop differently from person to person, but there are general symptoms that can signal that you have this to a mild or severe degree:

      • You feel that anxiety and inner turmoil follow you in your daily life and take over.
      • You create rituals to gain control over your obsessive thoughts and actions. This could mean, for example, that you have to check all sockets and electrical appliances in the house in order not to worry while you are at work.
      • You feel that there will be major consequences if you do not carry out rituals, for example that the house will burn down if you do not check carefully enough.
      • You know the thoughts aren’t real, but the fear still takes over.
      • You fight the thoughts, but instead find them getting worse.
      • You find that you have to set aside extra time in your everyday life to be able to carry out the rituals.
      • You spend a lot of time pondering unlikely events, such as a wave of illness infecting you and your loved ones or bacteria invading the house.
      • You avoid certain places or situations to avoid exposing yourself to anxiety and fear, for example you never use a public toilet or leave your child alone.


Why do you get obsessions and compulsions?

The reasons for obsessive thoughts and actions are compound and complex. It is difficult to generalize as it is very individual. At the same time, research shows that there may be a connection between biological, hereditary and psychological factors and the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder. There may also be milder symptoms of neurological disorders or come in the wake of illness.

How widespread is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

First of all, you should know that you are not alone. The figures vary, but it is estimated that as much as 15-30% of the Norwegian population has mild degrees of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. Around 2 – 3.5% of the population suffer from the most serious degrees. This means that the thoughts and actions have become disabling.

The incidence of obsessive-compulsive disorder is similar in men and women. The age of onset for obsessive-compulsive disorder is usually in the 20s, but can occur both earlier and later in some cases. For women, the symptoms often appear later than for men.

What can you do if you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder?

It is not certain that the obsessive thoughts and actions affect you greatly in everyday life. If they are only bothersome on the few occasions they occur, you don’t need to do anything special. If you feel that your everyday life is affected by the obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is important to explore opportunities to be able to take your life back. It may be a good idea to talk to your GP or a therapist to find possible solutions.