If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not OCD.

Let’s be real here.  Almost everyone has a quirk or two.


Some people have to organize their shirts by color.  Some need to dot their i’s a certain way.  Some have to clean their kitchen in just a certain way.  Some always double-check the front door before they go to sleep.

Quirks.  Quirks, I tell you!

Unless …

You feel that a disorganized closet is going to ruin your day, your week, or even your life (and you will panic and feel sick over it until you fix it).  You think that if you don’t dot your i’s just so it might mean that something bad will happen to your family.  You think that if you don’t follow a particular routine in cleaning, you (or people you love) are going to get really sick and probably die.  You think that if you don’t check the front door, a murderer will certainly get inside, kill your entire family, and it will actually be all your fault.

Those are just some examples off the top of my head, but my point is this: if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not OCD.  

In fact, it’s built into the very definition: OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry; by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety; or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions.

I was recently on a web forum that was asking “What minor OCD quirks do you have?” and the answers amounted primarily to superstitions and quirks:

* I feel naked without a pocketknife handy.
* I just have to snip or pull loose threads on clothes or buttons.
* I tap my pockets to make sure my keys are there.
* I fold my dollar bills face-in.
* I hate it when someone else uses my pillow.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  These may all very well be true for these people– but I didn’t get the impression from these forum users that if they didn’t do these things, they would spiral into tumultuous anxiety that makes you believe things will never be okay again.  That is OCD.

It’s fine to have quirks; they can even be funny!  But please call them quirks.

OCD is an anxiety disorder.  It ruins people’s lives.  It steals joy from them.  It gives them a sickening feeling of terror.

Please don’t feed into the misrepresentation.  You are not “so OCD” just because you organize your sock drawer.  If, on the other hand, you believe that something terrible will happen if you don’t organize it just right, and if the organization and reorganization of your drawer seems to be adding to your distress, well, that’s another story.

Be informed.  And compassionate.

Don’t label something cutesy and funny as “OCD” — OCD is anything but.

9 thoughts on “If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not OCD.

  1. Very true.

    I’ve thought about this too, and another thing that might indicate OCD is when you can’t just STOP doing / thinking about that one thing. A lot of my OCD has to do with ordering, and while most people can get something “right” and move on, no matter how long I work on it it still feels “wrong”, which fuels anxiety, and I can’t stop.

    I do think it’s odd to contemplate the relationship between quirks and OCD, especially since I have both in abundance. I count to certain numbers (mostly perfect squares) while doing a lot of things, and if I “mess up” somehow, I feel the need to count up to the next special number. But it’s just sort of a benign habit, and if I need to I can easily fill a kettle of water without counting to 16 while doing it. So even though it’s a counting ritual and sometimes I repeat it, I don’t consider it OCD because there is no anxiety involved.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment. I am loving your blog by the way! 🙂

  2. Jackie, a great post! You made a good distinction between quirks and OCD, a distinction that’s important for people to recognize. It bothers me when I see OCD portrayed as something positive, like it’s just a personality trait or a positive habit.

    • Oh my goodness, Tina, ME TOO. Or when it is belittled, such as in those jokes like, “I’m going to hold an OCD meeting at my home, not because I have it, but hopefully because they’ll clean for me.” No joke. I have seen this on a card or something on the internet. It plays into stereotypes AND belittles the suffering. Grrrrrrrrrrrr!

    • Oh gosh, that bothers me too. My OCD is debilitating, so when people make it sound like it’s some kind of positive trait that makes you excel in life…ok, so what the heck is wrong with me??

  3. Thank you for raising my consciousness about this. Since I started reading your blog, I have noticed several people saying that they are OCD when they are really just organized, perfectionistic, etc. I have taken multiple opportunities to correct them.

    Just recently, I was giving a practice talk when one of my audience members said something about being OCD because they noticed some small error on my slides (I think plots were not aligned from one slide to the next). I responded, “I have a friend with OCD and it’s actually a pretty horrible disease.” I think they got the point.

    I must admit I have probably done this in describing myself in the past, and for that I apologize. Now, when I exhibit quirks like that, I am much more likely to compare myself with Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory than someone suffering from true OCD.

  4. Jackie, I cannot thank you enough for your honesty and passion for sharing this. I know I’m not the enough one who, in the past, had NO IDEA what OCD really was and how it truly is something way more serious than most people know.

    I’m sure that I, like Luke said above, have wrongly described myself as you blogged about as a result of mere ignorance and in following with what society says OCD is. Over the past few years I have realized that the little things I do really are just perfectionist quirks and not anything comparable to a matter not to be joked about. I thank for causing me to see the seriousness in referring to quirks correctly! Everyone needs to read this post! (:

  5. Pingback: The Dreadful O of OCD | Lights All Around

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