The psychological causes of obsessive compulsive disorder

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

It's not what you think

Just like any other psychological disorder that you Google online the first response you will get when you search for OCD causes is that it's partially genetic and partially due to the environmental factors.

The psychology schools that hardly believes in psychotherapy will usually give you that answer then tell you that medication is the cure where as schools that provide real solutions , such as the Adlerian school, will always tell you that there is a psychological cause behind the disorder even if there was a slight genetic component involved.

In this article i will tell you about the various causes of OCD from a pure psychological point of view. See also An introduction to OCD.

The psychological causes of obsessive compulsive disorder

  • 1) Excessive guilt: Worrying and OCD can be one form of self punishment that can happen when the person feels an intense amount of guilt. If you have very high religious or ethical standards that you are not committing to then you might believe that you deserve a punishment. In such a case your subconscious mind might start sending you worrying thoughts that could quickly turn into serious obsessions just to punish you. See also Why worrying is one form of OCD
  • 2) A serious internal conflict: If a part of you wants something while another part of you doesn't want it then a serious conflict might happen in your mind. While a part of your mind will strongly try to stop certain thoughts another part will keep sending those thoughts to the surface. If for example a woman wants to get divorced from her husband but thinks that she should never do so then she might start getting obsessive thoughts about harming him.
  • 3) An attempt to feel superior: OCD can sometimes be an indirect attempt to help a helpless person feel superior. If a person felt that they are helpless or that they are not that worthy then their subconscious mind might play a trick in order to make them feel more worthy than others. Excessive hand washing for example can be an attempt to make the person feel cleaner than others and much better than them. see also Obsessive compulsive hand washing
  • 4) The extremely rigid way of thinking: When the person's life is too strict , when the person is overly responsible or when the person follows very strict rules in their lives then they might have a higher chance of developing OCD. In such a case this structured way of thinking promotes obsessive thoughts. Strict parenting is another reason that might lead to OCD as the person learns how to become very harsh when they judge themselves. See also How to stop obsessive worrying and obsessive compulsive checking
  • 5) Living in a constant threat: If the person always feels threatened in their lives then they might start to worry very often. As the person worries more and more their brain gets used to worrying until it becomes extremely easy for them to worry. If this situation persisted it can easily turn into OCD. The feelings of not being safe can also lead to compulsive hoarding or collecting unneeded items that can give the person a false sense of safety and abundance. See What causes obsessive checking
  • 6) The desire to avoid something: If the person is too afraid to take a certain test then their subconscious mind might force them to do obsessive checks all the time in such a way that it prevents them from ever taking that test. In such a case the goal of the subconscious mind is to prevent the person's self worth from being tested. This type of OCD happens when then person has false beliefs about failure and when they also have a low self esteem. See also Psychology of self deception

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