OCD: 5 Common Misconceptions and Why They’re Harmful


Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses in our society. Often believed to be a quirk or personality trait, it’s quite common to hear people say “I’m just OCD about that” or “that’s just my OCD” when talking about something they enjoy doing, like arranging their books in alphabetical order or by colour.

Stressed man sitting on a bench

It’s also often represented humorously in movies and television, leading people to believe it’s not something serious, and contributing to further misunderstanding. The reality is that Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not a personality trait or behavioural quirk that can be switched on and off. It’s a debilitating mental illness that can cause extreme fear and anxiety to the person experiencing it.

Debunking harmful misconceptions about OCD can help individuals to pick up on actual symptoms and warning signs and encourage someone suffering from it to get treatment.

5 Common Misconceptions About OCD

1.      Having habits or preferences means you have OCD

Everyone can get a little obsessive sometimes and act compulsively.However, having daily habits and preferences for doing things doesn’t mean you are suffering from OCD. Choosing to organise your pens by colour or washing your hands after touching an elevator button are habits formed by preferences and personality traits.

For people who have OCD, the habits and rituals they keep are not due to personal choice. The person will perform these exact habits as a means of easing their extreme fear or anxiety over what will happen if they don’t. For example, they might fear that they will get sick unless they wash their hands five times in a row.

2.    People with OCD are obsessed with cleanliness

On the topic of getting clean, another common misconception is that everyone who has OCD obsesses over hygiene and has compulsive cleaning rituals.This is not the case.

While cleanliness is a common trigger for compulsive behaviours, it’s not the only one and doesn’t affect every sufferer. Other triggers relate to fears regarding safety, making mistakes and being punished, and experiencing intrusive violent or sexual thoughts.

Being organised and tidy is another inaccurate belief. This stems from certain people with OCD tending to arrange and order items and things in a way that seems “good” or “right” to them. This is not the same as organising personal belongings for order or enjoyment. Sufferers feel compelled to arrange things a certain way, not because they enjoy it.

**3.    People suffering from OCD can get over it if they calm down

This is a particularly harmful myth about OCD that can result in sufferers feeling shame and stigma and prevents sufferers from seeking help.Rooted in the ongoing misconception that OCD is a personality trait rather than a mental illness, there is a common belief that people who suffer from it are just neurotic and could get over it if they chose to.

People who have Obsessive-compulsive disorder cannot just stop their crippling fears, anxieties, and compulsions. They require professional treatment from certified mental health professionals that will enable them to cope with and manage their symptoms.

4.   It’s easy to spot people with OCD

It may seem easy to spot people who have OCD through their actions and behaviour. This might be true for certain people who exhibit the more recognised behavioural patterns, but sufferers are also capable of showing no symptoms, depending on what triggers them and what coping mechanisms they use for these triggers.

Certain people may fear doing something wrong and being punished or may experience unwelcome thoughts or ideas, which causes them great internal anxiety, but they don’t demonstrate any visible compulsive reactions.

5.   People with OCD can never live a normal life

A prevailing idea is that anyone with OCD will never be able to live a normal life, pursue activities they enjoy, or form friendships and relationships as other people do. This is not true. Although there is no cure for OCD, it is a treatable condition.

Whether they’re an adult or child, someone living with OCD can live a happy and fulfilling life with access to the right resources. Speaking to a mental health professional about their experiences, getting therapy, taking prescribed medication, and using other coping tools can help sufferers gain control of and manage their symptoms effectively.


Dismantling these inaccurate perceptions requires all of us to play some part. If you hear someone joke about having OCD try to explain to them that it’s a real mental illness and affects millions of people around the world.

Jokes might appear innocent, but they can contribute to and perpetuate misunderstandings relating to Obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can negatively impact sufferers.

Likewise, if you know someone who has it, reassure them that their actions and behaviours are not something they should feel ashamed to talk about, and encourage them to seek professional help if they haven’t already.

Feeling ready to get control over your OCD? Sign up for our engaging, supportive course for OCD here.