Abnormal Psychology

Of all the anxiety disorders, the one I find the most compelling is the one known as obsessive compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsiveness has entered into common use to refer to individuals whose sense of perfectionism is seen as rather deviant, regardless of its underlying causes. However, when defined formally by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), obsessive-compulsive disorder manifests itself as persistent use of behavior or mental techniques used to repress unpleasant or undesirable thoughts and impulses which are not only perceived as inappropriate, but may even be recognized as irrational.

I think that is problematic for people to use ‘obsessive compulsive’ arbitrarily in a pejorative sense, because it severely trivializes what is serious problem that is an impediment to normal living. Our image of obsessive compulsive behavior has become comical, compounded by popular representations on television programs, but obsessive compulsiveness is a serious matter. In its most livable form, it is a defense mechanism to combat the thoughts one wishes to erase from his or her mind.

However, for many it is a disorder that is a serious obstacle to productive living, rather than mere laughing matter. Some are unable to manage the tasks we take for granted simply because they need to submit to their compulsions in order to feel comfortable. Others cannot adapt to specific social or spatial environments simply because they cannot maintain the control over it that permits them to engage in their compulsions.

Certainly, there is something to be said by giving too much weight to any disorder, but I am not saying that we excuse people unnecessarily for the conditions they live with. But by trivializing them, we deny them the validation necessary for them to seek the kind of assistance necessary to sublimate their effects such that normal and productive living is possible. To do otherwise is analogous to trivializing diabetics by using them to refer to the sugar avoidant.


American Psychiatric Association (2004) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR (Text Revision). American Psychiatric Association.