What is OCD?

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

OCD has three main symptoms, obsessions, emotional distress, and compulsions, followed by temporary relief. OCD has many sub-types, with many people experiencing a wide array of symptoms at any one time, leading to confusion, exhaustion, and disarray. Most people with OCD symptoms also report having low self-esteem, a confused sense of self, and feelings of hopelessness.

For OCD to exist, the person must care about the subjects that their triggers have latched on to, which can make OCD feel all the more desperate. There are also several cognitive distortions that people with OCD often believe, which perpetuates feelings of anxiety, shame, and despair even further. But, no matter how long you have experienced OCD or how severe your symptoms are, we are here to show you that there is hope.

Learning to understand your OCD can often be the first step to starting your journey to successfully managing your condition. We hope that the information on this page proves a useful starting point to understanding yourself and your OCD better.

The OCD Cycle

Here is a step-by-step guide to the OCD cycle and what happens for someone with OCD.


The core belief is particularly important for people with OCD, as this is encompasses the core drivers behind almost all obsessive compulsive symptoms. It is important that for true management and recovery from OCD, a person’s core belief is both identified correctly, as well as effectively challenged.


Obsessions are reoccurring thoughts, images, impulses or worries that come into your head, which seem to intensify the more you try to push them away. These obsessions tend to only exist around areas that the sufferer cares about, which in turn make the person begin to feel extremely anxious and out of control. For example, “I really love my partner, but I am worried that I cheated on them last night” or “I would never want to harm my children, but I am worried that I may want to, or could do by accident”.

Obsessions can exist around almost anything, although common traits include those centred around feeling overly responsible for something or others, desperately wanting certainty around a particular subject or generally feeling distressed by the content that comes into person head. To control these obsessive intrusions, the sufferer begins actively performing behaviours to rid themselves of such thoughts, giving those very thoughts more meaning than if they learnt to simply ignore them.


Compulsions can be anything that the person partakes to neutralise or take away the unwanted feeling that originates form the obsession and unwanted emotion. Common examples include repeatedly checking, seeking reassurance from loved ones, self-soothing and reassuring through mental checking, washing, rumination and avoidance.

Compulsions can be broken down into two different types of compulsions, those that we can see that take place outside of the body (overt), and those that happen solely inside of the head (covert), known as rumination or mental problem solving. Compulsions give the person a false sense of control, making them feel like if they only perform the compulsion perfectly or one more time, then they will be relieved of the anxiety. However, in the longer term this only sets the person up to fail and in turn experience such intense unwanted emotions more regularly.


The emotional response for someone with OCD is a key contributing factor within the OCD cycle. Without intrusive thoughts being compounding by such overwhelming emotions, it is likely ignoring the thoughts would be considerably easier. One of the key brain areas that becomes activated during the emotional response is the amygdala, a part of the brain that becomes active when we are in danger. Although in everyday life this is an extremely helpful part of the brain, for those with OCD the amygdala begins to fire to perceived threats, rather than real ones. Due to the intensity of emotions such as anxiety, dread, guilt and shame this becomes an increasingly alarming, scary and overwhelming experience. Due to such high levels of distress, the person begins performing ‘compulsions’ or ‘rituals’ to reduce the unwanted emotions.

OCD subtypes

The OCD sub-types can be a good way of making sense of your experience. It is common to experience two or more such themes, with many people experiencing significantly more.

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive Distortions are biased perspectives that you may hold about other people, yourself, and the world around you. Although some may be subtle, others can have a very negative impact on your quality of life. It is common to experience multiple cognitive distortions if you experience OCD.

All or Nothing Thinking

All or nothing thinking will stop you from seeing all of the grey areas in a situation. You are likely to perceive a situation as perfect or utterly awful based on perfectionism, with very little in between.


Overgeneralization means that you are likely to come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. For example, if something terrible happens just once, you expect it to happen repeatedly. Although this is not reality, it feels this way to you.


If you engage in filtering (or ‘mental filtering’), you will take the negative details of a situation and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects.

Blaming and Poor Personal Responsibility

If you engage in blaming, you hold other people responsible for your emotional pain. But, unfortunately, you may take the opposite tack and blame yourself for every problem — even those clearly outside your control.

Heavens Reward (the cosmic scorekeeper)

Heaven’s reward is a false belief that a person’s sacrifice and self-denial will eventually pay off as if some global force is keeping score, sometimes compared to the concept of Karma. If you work hard and don’t experience the expected payoff will usually feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come. Heaven’s reward works both ways, and it can be upsetting for you if ‘bad’ people get away with things, as it means the world is unfair.


If you engage in catastrophizing, you expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also called magnifying and can also come out in its opposite behaviour, minimizing. When catastrophizing, you may hear about a problem and use what-if questions such as “What if tragedy strikes?” or “What if it happens to me?” and imagine the absolute worst occurring.

Should Statements and Demands

Should statements (“I should pick up after myself more…”) appear as a list of ironclad rules about you or how other people should behave. People who break the rules make a person following these ‘should’ statements angry. You may also feel guilty when you violate your laws.

Thought-Action Fusion, or Thought-Event Fusion

If you experience this distortion, you may feel confused about what is real and what is your imagination. Often, you are likely to become less trusting of your mind due to increased rumination or checking behaviors, leading to growing feelings of uncertainty and emotional distress. In addition, if the thought is about memories, you are likely to think the events through and question your actions, sometimes called ‘False Memory’ OCD.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is where you take your feelings at face value. Simply put, you believe that ‘because I feel this way, it must be true.’ This can be highly problematic if you have OCD, as your emotions are not regulating correctly, which means you will believe things simply because of what you are feeling rather than staying with facts. 


Personalization is when you take things too personally. For example, if you have OCD, you will be a sensitive person. Such heightened emotions can make you feel like you have offended others, disliked, or somehow embarrassed yourself, even though you may not be sure how these things have come about.

Neuroplasticity and forming new, healthier habits

You may have heard of the saying that our brain is made of plastic or malleable. This refers to the brain’s ability to physically change to adapt to new situations and implement newly learned skills. Our brain has the fantastic ability to learn throughout our lifetime, whereby through changing our behaviour, we can essentially reprogram the way our brain works biologically. The brain can break and reformulate new, healthier pathways, creating more consistent changes with a less anxious life consistent with newer, healthier habits.

The exact causes of OCD are unknown, including the precise neuroscience of OCD. However, we use these findings to educate clients about forming healthier lifestyle changes and habits that can support the successful management of OCD in someone’s life.

Evidence suggests that intensive therapy lends itself to the successful treatment of OCD compared to standard weekly sessions.

Dr. Saxena concluded: "Our study reinforced the efficacy of the treatment, and now we've shown how it works in the brain."


All of our treatment programs have been created by qualified therapists with a combined 35 years of experience in what it is like to live with OCD. Although we appreciate our professional training, we believe that there is no replacement for the first-hand experience of living with the disorder. 

We use the most proven, evidence-based treatments for OCD to help you regain control over your life and your suffering. Every treatment program includes:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)
  • Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
  • Compassion Focussed-Therapy (CFT)



  • Psycho-education
  • A relapse prevention program to take home
  • Premium reading materials
  • Follow up support
  • All are tailored to suit your specific needs, even when attending our group treatment.


All are delivered to you in a safe, private and comfortable environment. We also provide options for online therapy and can even send an OCD expert to work with you in your own home. 

To find out more, please see our treatment options page here, or alternatively, get in touch

Not sure you have OCD?

Check out our range of free eguides, including a more in depth look at Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)