Obsessive, Compulsive. Disorder?

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I’m studying obsession at the moment, and I’ve some questions:

Good or bad? Obsession describes a scientist working all hours to prove a theory. It describes a person exclusively focused on a finely defined ‘compulsive behaviour’.  It speaks of single-mindedness and eccentricity. It describes the hunter, the detective, the art collector and the painter, the perfectionist, the musician.  It describes an unbalanced person, someone who cannot stop, who is driven forward by an inability to get closure.

What is the difference between obsession and strong passion? Or between compulsion and exceptionally high motivation?

In my field, obsession is associated with the word ‘disorder’, which in and of itself has judgement attached, as if ‘order’ is good, and ‘disorder’ is not.  Yes, you’ve got it: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, a psychiatric label attached to a group of actions that constitute a ‘syndrome’ that seems to give a certain satisfaction to the bearer, who clearly loves order more than me.

Let’s deal with those words separately.

Compulsive? Compulsive behaviour includes many of the fatherly and motherly actions we associate with family life – things like picking up a crying baby or protecting the said infant from ANY sort of perceived harm. (Consider the parent compelled by love to rescue their drowning child?) It includes our own desire to conform to norms like wearing clothes and eating. Compulsion is built in to us, an unconscious Auto-Response to many of the things we experience in life.

Obsessive? Yes, obsessive behaviour, as we have already discussed, is demonstrated by every committed adventurer, explorer, inventor and scientist.  Obsession can be VERY productive.  You and I are alive because people have obsessed about our welfare. Obsession is very very important to human safety, as any obsessive Health and Safety officer will tell you.

Disorder? So when was ‘order’ such a good thing?  And who decides what that ‘order’ might be? Public ‘disorder’ has produced massive sociological changes to bring us freedom down the ages.What about the person who is so obsessive about getting the highest grades in their exams or determined to get an Olympic Gold that they willingly sacrifice their emotional health? Or maybe it is their parents and motivational coach who are obsessive, compelled and… disordered?

Perhaps we need to ask the question, ‘Who decides?’ Please don’t leave that to your GP or psychiatrists – they are some of the most compulsively and obsessively ‘ordered’ people in the world! And don’t leave it to writers, artists and others practising the creative arts. They seem to be the ones who, some would say, are obsessively and compulsively ‘disordered’.

Maybe we are using those negative-sounding words to describe someone whose world has a different focus to our own, and who we are inconvenienced by, or somehow their differentness offends our sense of what ‘order’ is, or should be?

Maybe in our obsessively prescriptive, authoritarian world where compulsion comes in the form of a soldier with a gun, and where conformity is the way to acceptance and non-conformity the way to prison, we could make a case for more disorder, not less? Just maybe the ones with the disorder are those so obsessed with their own standardised version of ‘order’ that they are compelled, by their own fear of a society out of their control, to suppress, bully, section, incarcerate, treat, drug, mock, and otherwise dis-empower those they don’t understand.

Such people, given the power, may obsessively and compulsively attempt to force their environment, perhaps even the climate, to shrink from any semblance of disorder.

OCD appears in all sorts of different guises, doesn’t it?

Join the conversation

6 Comments

  1. Yea, I hear what you are saying and thinking…..but OCD is more about something that is distressing/extreme anxiety-provoking and usually it feels as though it is against the person’s will. That is why it is a disorder. It is painful.

  2. Thank you for coming back on this, Ali. I really appreciate it.
    I’ve got some questions. If you are willing to answer them on the blog that would be great. If not, you could email me privately.

    1. You say the disorder is “…more about something…” What is the something?
    2. If it was not painful or distressing, would the person still do it?
    3. Where, very specifically, does the person feel the pain in their body – and what happens when they move the position of it in their body?
    4. What, again very specifically, does the person gain from obsessing?
    It will be very useful for me in helping others to have the answers to those questions, so thanks!

    Andrew

  3. hi, the answer to your question is yes you would still do it but if you challenge the thoughts it makes it worse it goes from thoughts to loud voices then screaming so therefore you have to do what it says from anxiety i get intrusive thoughts and images and have to phsycally stop myself from killing myself i have cronic ocd there are all different types no type is the same it may be simalar but not identical i hope this helps you and your understanding

  4. Thanks, Liane. Very helpful. You’ve probably noticed that I’m not suggesting challenging or fighting anything. Most people find that it doesn’t work. Would I be right in suggesting that a person has very good reasons for ‘obsessive behaviour’ and obeying the ‘screaming voice’? (I know some people are very afraid of the screaming voice.)
    By the way, I’m interested to know, can you answer a question please:
    What happens if you change the voice (like on satnav) – make it sound different (a man’s voice instead of a woman’s, or vice versa, or a little child’s or a mature person’s, or squeeky or very deep – or even add an accent: welsh, or french? How does that change it’s insistence? Maybe you could let me know.

  5. its interesting you say that as someone asked me if i could describe my ocd as a person how would i describe it i pictured as a little green man i really dont know why ? any ideas would be welcome actually ive been trying to build up the guts to ring you so i can see you but every time i try and pick up the phone i panic my anxiety gets worse and then thoughts come in

  6. Yes, Liane, I understand that. One thing that happens is that people get used to themselves being as they are – however uncomfortable that may be both for them and others they care about – and want to stay that way, and of course they DO! It may seem safer, in the way that being in prison is safer. It takes courage to deliberately decide that you want to be whole again, you want to be free, to be happy and have a different focus for you life, and walk out. Yet it takes courage.
    As soon as you’ve decided, call me: 01903 744399. I can speak to you on Skype if it works better. We are based in Sussex. Where do you live?

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