What are the common signs of OCD?

Although everyone will have their own experiences, there are several common obsessions and compulsions that occur as part of OCD.

Common obsessions

The three most common themes are: unwanted thoughts about harm or aggression, unwanted sexual thoughts and unwanted blasphemous thoughts. Obsessions often appear closely linked to your individual situation. For example, if you are a loving parent, you may fear doing harm to a child and if you are religious, you may have blasphemous thoughts.

“I have OCD harming thoughts and the compulsion to carry them out, which is absolutely terrifying to say the least.”

Some examples of obsessions include:

  • A fear of failing to prevent harm – e.g. worrying that you have left the cooker on and might cause a fire
  • Imagining doing harm – e.g. thinking that you are going to push someone in front of a train
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts – e.g. worrying about abusing a child
  • Religious or blasphemous thoughts – e.g. having thoughts that are against your religious beliefs
  • Fear of contamination – e.g. from dirt and germs in a toilet
  • An excessive concern with order or symmetry – e.g. worrying if objects are not in order
  • Illness or physical symptoms – e.g. thinking that you have cancer when you have no symptoms

Common compulsions

Common compulsions include physical compulsions (e.g. washing or checking), or mental compulsions (e.g. repeating a specific word or phrase).

“I have to keep checking things three times and have to have certain items on me to help me feel safe.”

Some examples might be:

  • Repeating actions – e.g. touching every light switch in the house every time you leave or enter the house
  • Touching – e.g. only buying things in the supermarket that you have touched with both hands
  • Focusing on a number – e.g. having to buy three of everything
  • Washing or cleaning – e.g. having to wash your hands very frequently in order to feel clean
  • Checking – e.g. reading through an email ten times before sending it
  • Ordering or arranging – e.g. keeping food organised by colour in the fridge
  • Repeating a specific word or phrase – e.g. repeating someone’s name in order to prevent something bad happening to them
  • Praying – e.g. repeating a prayer again and again whenever you hear about an accident
  • Counteracting or neutralising a negative thought with a positive one – e.g. replacing a bad word with a good one


You might find that some objects or experiences make your obsessions or compulsions worse, and you try to avoid them as a result. For example, if you fear contamination, you might avoid eating and drinking anywhere except in your own home. Avoiding things can have a major impact on your life.

“OCD means that I miss out on things because I [stay in] to try to protect myself from the stress. It’s sunny outside and I want to go out, but I know I probably won’t.”

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