Do I really have OCD?

Updated: Mar 22

Have you found yourself wondering and asking yourself questions such as “do I really have OCD?”, “how can I be sure that this is OCD and not something else?” or “maybe I have been exaggerating my symptoms and this isn’t real OCD?” Did you maybe experience a fleeting moment of relief after your diagnosis (whether that was self-diagnosed or professionally) that is now long gone? Are you now obsessing over the fact that this can’t be what’s really going on? That, maybe, you manipulated things to come to this diagnostic conclusion?

Let’s take a deep breath. If you are an individual struggling with OCD then these kinds of intense needs for certainty and persistent doubts are nothing new to you. This particular theme, however, may be a new appearance. It can be difficult to see in ourselves new themes of OCD as they appear at first. So let’s dive into what we need to know when we are doubting our experience and/or diagnosis of OCD.

How do I know if I have OCD?

Individuals with OCD often have a diagnosis in place whether that is a formal (an assessment by a psychiatrist) or informal (opinion of a clinician or self-assessment) diagnosis. OCD consists of a pattern of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours to relieve the anxiety caused by the thoughts which then is often followed by a period of relief. There are many themes of OCD and OCD can attach itself to anything. This is why it is not uncommon to see individuals doubt their own diagnosis because it can be difficult to see these new themes appear at first and to see them for what they really are.

It is also common for individuals new to their diagnosis or treatment to not yet have a full understanding or awareness of all of their obsessive and compulsive themes. With the help of a trained therapist an individual can learn many important tools and techniques to understand their unique experience of OCD.

Coping with doubt

When experiencing OCD you inevitably deal with plenty of doubt. It is important to remember that there is no “light at the end of the tunnel” to figuring out the answer here. In reality, with OCD when we try to get certainty, this further exacerbates the obsession and need for anxiety relief.

Instead, it is important to acknowledge and accept the uncertainty of the situation. You may or may not have OCD. This may or may not be a new theme you are experiencing. The actual goal here is to become comfortable with not knowing for certain. So let’s step away from confirming our doubts and fears and step into being okay with not having all the answers.

For many individuals with OCD they are craving a freer way of living. For most of us, freedom is something we value in our lives. If we allow ourselves to be uncertain and accept uncertainty then we become closer to experiencing more freedom in our lives.

OCD signs and symptoms

Unfortunately, there are many stereotypes about OCD and what it can or should look like. It is important to understand that OCD can look very different in different individuals and rarely looks like some of the examples given on television, by peers or even online at times. Obsessions in OCD involve themes of sexuality, violence, contamination, relationships, harm, making mistakes or losing control (to name a few). Compulsions in OCD can be physical (i.e. checking), mental (i.e. getting rid of bad thoughts), avoidant and seeking reassurance.

Most people, when you say “OCD”, think of contamination, perfectionism and checking behaviours. The world of OCD can be so broad that when I work with individuals with OCD I often see their relief when I begin explaining the broadness and psychoeducation around OCD. It feels good to have someone understand what OCD really looks like for you. However, the nature of OCD causes us to have fleeting moments of relief that eventually causes us to seek more relief later on. Therefore, gaining certainty about “if I really have OCD” or not is not where we want to focus our attention. You may or may not be experiencing OCD but the important thing is that you are getting the support of a doctor and/or a therapist regardless of your level of certainty.