OCD stereotypes and Pure-O

Just like any other group, obsessive-compulsives have their own stereotype, which is quite often perpetuated by media.  When most people hear “OCD,” they think of a neat-freak.  The truth of the matter is that, for some, washing and ordering are just symptoms of the problem.  Oh, and about 2/3rds of OCs are hoarders, so … yeah, that neat-freak stereotype falls a little flat.


Personally, I identify as a pure obsessional (in our community we call it “pure-o”), which is actually a misnomer, because we pure-o’s still have compulsions.  My most common obsessions were about sin and hell, and then my primary compulsions were seeking reassurance* and internal repetitive prayer.**

* This usually centered around whether or not I was hellbound or whether or not something was “okay” and not sinful.  With some people, it would be an overt, “Do you think this was wrong?” or “Do you think I’m going to hell?” but with others, I would be more passive about it.  For example, at work, I would say something like, “I am terrible at this,” and then wait for someone to say, “No, Jackie, you’re not!  You’re great at your job!”  Both are forms of seeking reassurance, and it is a real compulsion.  I know because if I would try to keep myself from doing it, my heart would flood with terror.

** This was prompted by certain words and sounds– for me, usually curse words, words that sounded like curse words, and the sound of the letter f– and would include repeating the phrase “Father God, I love You; Father God, I love You” over and over in my head.  This was my way to combat the direction I knew my mind would go when I heard those sounds, which would be to curse at the Holy Spirit, what I believed to be unforgivable.

If you weren’t a close friend of mine, chances are you probably wouldn’t even notice my compulsions (although a roommate did notice what appeared to be a facial tic– when the repetitive prayer was cycling through my mind and someone was having a conversation with me, it would be so hard to keep both going that I would shake my head– just a little bit, like an Etch-a-Sketch– to “clear away” that repetitive prayer, et al, and focus back on what my friend was saying).  So there’s that.

And I am not a neat-freak.  Not by a long-shot.  Ask anyone who has ever lived with me, and they will tell you that I am a slob.  My friend Tracy would say I’m a “piggy”!

I know obsessive-compulsives who are washers, checkers, orderers, hoarders, but actually, most of those I talk to are pure-o.  You live with us, work with us, are friends with us– and you don’t even know it because we don’t fit the stereotype.  There is this joke that goes “I have CDO.  It’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the letters are in alphabetical order AS THEY SHOULD BE,” and I just find it so annoying because it seems to belittle OCD so much.  Even for those who are orderers and who would be upset by something like that.  People just don’t understand that there is a drive– a terror– so much fear and this feeling of disgust and wrongness if we don’t perform our compulsions.

It’s so much more than being organized or neat, even for those who are organized and neat.

What are some stereotypes you or others have of OCD?  I’d love to share the truth!

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the non-obsessive-compulsive people (those who are just straight-up clean or quirky) who then label themselves as “OCD” … grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  Yeah, maybe if it stood for “obnoxious chump disorder.”  😉




8 thoughts on “OCD stereotypes and Pure-O

  1. That neat, orderly, clean stereotype is a big one. When my son first told me he had OCD (also pure O so we never knew it) I didn’t believe him. He never washed his hands and his room was a pig sty! I’ve come a long way in my understanding of the disorder but many people just know what they have learned from the media…………which, unfortunately, is often wrong.

  2. Love this. I always find these stereotypes make it a little bit easier and a little bit harder to talk about my skirmish with OCD. Easier because then you don’t have to explain EVERYTHING, and whoever you’re talking to can just be like “okay, she went through a hard time, let’s move on with the conversation.” And harder because then sometimes the person does think you were a hand-washer — I’ve noticed the couple of people I’ve told eyeing my messy dorm room suspiciously. 🙂

    But I wish Pure O was a little more widely known. I was never properly diagnosed — I dealt with HOCD from about eleven, and some hypochondriac/fear of the devil things before that, but I always managed to be functional enough to pass for normal throughout middle and high school. Reassurance was a HUGE thing for me, though. I still have trouble going home from college sometimes, as my mother was my main reassurance-giver and occasionally I slip back into old habits.

    I had a therapist my senior year and was never diagnosed with anything at all — she said she preferred not to label people, and I suppose I was grateful for that at the time, but I feel now as if Pure O isn’t even known that well by therapists. :/ I had to figure it out on my own — kept Googling the things I felt until I had my voila! moment. I gave myself ERP, actually — did the recordings and the exposures, which is really hard to do on your own, but I was about to go to college and so wanted desperately to stop being so anxious. It worked better than anything else had, though I didn’t really get better until I learned to make friends with doubt, which took a lot longer. But if Pure O was known and understood by more people, all of this might have been caught and treated when I was much younger, and I’d have been a lot happier.

    I don’t personally mind too much when people go “my socks must match; I’m SOOO OCD!” because I just figure they don’t really understand and think they’re being charmingly self-denigrating. So I give them a half-smile and move on with my life. But yeah… it is irritating.

    Sorry this is so long! — it plunged me into a loooong train of thought!

    • Libby, thank you so much for your comment. It really resonated with me. I’ve also struggled in the past with HOCD! I am SUPER PROUD OF YOU for having done ERP yourself (I did it, but with a therapist). Wow, that must have been so, so, so hard! You are an impressive young woman!

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