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Understanding True OCD vs. OCD-like Symptoms

Jul 1, 2024 | OCD

Imagine feeling an overwhelming need to perform certain rituals or having persistent, intrusive thoughts that disrupt daily life. For many, these experiences are signs of OCD, but similar symptoms can arise from other neurodivergent conditions, making it challenging to distinguish OCD from OCD-like symptoms.

At its core, OCD involves persistent obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily life. However, the overlap between OCD and other neurodivergent conditions can blur the lines of an effective diagnosis.l. Obsessions and compulsions may be primary symptoms of Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, be associated symptoms in another disorder, or be present as features of a personality style. Understanding the symptoms of OCD and how they overlap with similar disorders is crucial for effective diagnosis and tailored interventions for each individual.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition characterized by unwanted obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive and distressing thoughts, images, or urges that repeatedly enter a person’s mind. To alleviate the anxiety caused by these obsessions, individuals feel compelled to perform specific actions or rituals. These compulsions are often performed repetitively in an attempt to reduce the emotional impact of obsessions.

People with OCD are usually aware that their obsessions are irrational, yet they feel a strong need to act on them. Additionally, this cycle of obsessions and compulsions can consume a significant amount of their time, impacting their daily lives and overall well-being. While individuals without OCD may experience similar behaviors or thoughts, they do not typically find them as intrusive or debilitating, nor will they engage in compulsions to the same extent.

OCD shares many traits with other anxiety disorders and was previously defined as an anxiety disorder. However, it is now recognized in its own category of the DSM-5 of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. This reclassification reflects our growing understanding of the unique characteristics and treatment needs of OCD while also highlighting the importance of exploring the link between conditions with overlapping symptoms to understand the spectrum of neurodivergence better.

Obsessions and Compulsions as Associated Symptoms of Autism

Neurodivergence refers to variation in thinking, perceiving, and behaving that diverges from neurotypical or what is typically expected in society. Neurotypical behavior is not set in stone but reflects the societal average of what is expected. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that reflects the spectrum of different ways individuals think about and perceive the world that may not match a given societal norm.

Neurodivergence encompasses many psychological and behavioral conditions. While neurodivergence can present challenges, it also offers many strengths and advantages, such as unique problem-solving skills, heightened creativity, and alternative ways of perceiving and interacting with their environments. This different way of thinking can provide valuable perspectives and solutions that may not be evident to everyone.

Common signs of autism as a neurodivergent condition include repetitive behaviors, intense focus on specific interests, and sensory sensitivities. These symptoms can appear very similar to the obsessions and compulsions found in OCD. Understanding the overlap between OCD and neurodivergent conditions such as autism allows individuals to understand their own mental health better while allowing clinicians to appropriately understand, diagnose, and provide support tailored to the individual.

Other Conditions with Obsessions and Compulsions

Some individuals have a general tendency towards exactness and precision in their lives which do not reach the level of an obsession or compulsion. For example, someone may view tidiness to the extreme and become upset if their personal belongings get out of place. Another person may curb their spontaneity because they judge others harshly and want to be absolutely prim and proper at all times.

These individuals do not have the intense obsessions and compulsions of someone with OCD; however, their rigidity, emphasis on proper thinking and behavior, and their intense need for order characterizes their every waking moment. This is an example where OCD is neither a disorder nor present in another disorder. Instead, we think of obsessiveness and compulsiveness as personality traits. Should these traits significantly interfere with their personal relationships, work life, or social life, we see these individuals as having an obsessive/compulsive personality disorder.

Differentiating True OCD from Similar Conditions

Understanding that similar symptoms can arise from different conditions can make determining one’s own condition or presence of it difficult. By differentiating these similar symptoms based on early environment, interviews and observation, and the manifestation of symptoms in specific cases, clinicians can determine the support one needs while ruling out other conditions.

Key Difference in Symptoms Between Conditions

OCD is characterized by inflexible obsessions and compulsions that significantly disrupt a person’s life. The presence of both obsessions and compulsions cyclically and inflexibly differentiates OCD from other possible conditions.

While symptoms of anxiety disorders and phobias overlap with OCD, these conditions lack the consistent obsessions and compulsions seen in OCD. OCD differs from other obsessive-compulsive related disorders (such as skin-picking and body dysmorphic disorder) in that those conditions have specific criteria, whereas OCD is more general in symptomatology.

Additionally, OCD is ego-dystonic, meaning individuals consider their symptoms inconsistent with their self-image. This inconsistency can cause significant distress, as the person knows the behavior isn’t helpful but feels compelled to engage in it anyway. Conditions such as ASD are often syntonic, meaning the symptoms align with an individual’s self-image and do not cause the same degree of distress.

The difference between true OCD and OCD-like symptoms lies in the impact on life and the necessity of obsessions and compulsions. Individuals without OCD do not experience these symptoms as consistently or compulsively, nor do they require the same level of support.

The Importance of a Professional Diagnosis

Understanding OCD is the first step, and the best way to address OCD or OCD-like symptoms is by seeking professional psychotherapy. A psychotherapist offers an empathetic and understanding environment where individuals can explore their symptoms, understand their origins, and develop strategies to manage them.

A professional diagnosis paves the way for tailored interventions, crucial in navigating the complexities of OCD and finding effective ways to reduce its impact. A psychotherapist will assess your unique needs, ruling out other possible conditions and ensuring that treatment is specifically designed for you.

Get the Support You Need Today With Start My Wellness

Understanding the nuances between true OCD and OCD-like symptoms is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Recognizing the characteristics of OCD, how it overlaps with other neurodivergent conditions, and the importance of differentiating these symptoms allows for tailored support and better management of each individual’s unique needs.

At Start My Wellness, we are ready to help you navigate these complexities. Our team of professional psychotherapists provides a compassionate and understanding environment, ensuring you receive a comprehensive evaluation and a personalized treatment plan. We focus on understanding your symptoms, identifying their roots, and working with you to develop effective strategies for managing them.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of OCD or OCD-like symptoms, reach out to Start My Wellness today at (248)-514-4955 and meet our therapists. Let us support you on your journey to mental health and well-being.


  1. Start My Wellness: What is Rumination in OCD?
  2. DSM-5: OCD and Related Disorders
  3. Start My Wellness: Is OCD Neurodivergent?
  4. Start My Wellness: What’s the Difference Between OCD and ADHD?
  5. DSM Library: Neurodevelopmental Disorders
  6. Start My Wellness: ADHD vs. Anxiety: Understanding the Overlap and Differences
Dr. Anton Babushkin

Author: Anton Babushkin, PhD

Looking for a Therapist? Start My Wellness has highly experienced Licensed Therapists that are currently accepting new patients.


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