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Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior: Its Etiology Essay

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder wherein a person’s life is dominated by repetitive acts or thoughts. Obsessions are persistent intrusions of unwelcome thoughts, images, or impulses that elicit anxiety while compulsions are irresistible urges to carry out certain acts or rituals that reduce anxiety. Obsessive thoughts are correlated with compulsive acts. There are times a person may experience recurring thoughts such as “did I turn off the air conditioner?” and they would check if they did turn off the air conditioner, those people without OCD may just experience this for a time or two but with people who have OCD, they may check the air conditioner for ten, twenty or even a hundred times. This action may take most of their time. Another example is a person who is afraid of being contaminated. The person may spend hours washing his hands repeatedly (Atkinson, 1993). What causes these actions then? What causes OCD and what are the factors that make people get OCD rather than any other disease? What are the two etiological theories and what are their strengths and weaknesses? This and more we’d learn as we take a closer look at obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Two theories explain the etiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder. One theory is the Behavioral Theory which proposes that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder may associate some objects with fear resulting in avoidance of those things that they fear or they do ritualistic behaviors to help reduce the fear that they feel (What Causes OCD? 2006). People who are under periods of stress may start a pattern of fear and avoidance, because once an establishment of a connection between an object and the feeling of fear, these people with OCD avoid things that they fear.

In the cognitive perspective, people develop OCD because they are entertaining intrusive thoughts and interpret them as catastrophic thus resulting in becoming more distressed and start to practice avoidance or ritual behaviors. These people who attach exaggerated danger to their thoughts do this because of the false beliefs that they have in their earlier life.

The cognitive-behavioral model suggests that behavior is done to remove anxiety-provoking intrusive thoughts but unfortunately found out to be a temporary relief. Every time a behavior occurs it is negatively reinforced thus explains the increase of the dysfunctional activity and generalizes over some time. Say for example in a person who uses a bathroom in a store. He opens the door and holds the doorknob and because he is afraid that he might be contaminated he washes his hands but then after washing his hands he may question himself if it was the proper way of washing his hands and washes his hands again. This then creates a pattern that if not followed increases the level of anxiety of the person. Then this fear may extend to the thought of contaminated chairs, contaminated tables, and other things that are used in public creating a new pattern that helps relieve the anxiety.

Some causes of Obsessive-Compulsive disorder are genetic predisposition, biochemical irregularities, stressful or traumatic life events, history of childhood anxiety, faulty beliefs, and unrealistic expectations, certain skill deficits, and family problems (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).

One cause of Obsessive-compulsive disorder is traumatic life events. It has been shown that depending on the severity of the symptoms of the person with OCD is related to the traumatic experiences of the person. This is so because when a person experiences a traumatic event in his life, he may constantly feel anxious and is always concerned about his safety. Thus he develops compulsive behaviors such as checking the doors before going to sleep and checking it over ten times already. This may make a person feel less fear, safer, and in control resulting in a reduction of anxiety. But this is not the case in the long run, because the person may feel that what he does is enough which does not answer his anxiety resulting in an increased amount of anxiety that the person feels (Tull, 2008).

Major changes in the life of a person may also cause OCD such as problems at school or work, changes in residence, changes in relationships, major transitions in life that create worries, fears, obsessions, or those which may stir up old feelings (Gill, 2006).

Psychological causes of OCD may include, strong feelings of guilt and responsibility that this person believes that thinking about harm for others is just as bad as doing the act of harming others. Some may think that they are the ones accountable for what happens around them. If a person thinks that this person will die and it happens he feels responsible for the death. As explained by Freud, obsessions, and compulsions are representations of the subconscious attempts of suppressing guilt that is associated with unwanted sexual impulses. While the Psychodynamic theory presents that obsessions and compulsions could be attempts to deal with the anxiety one feels and this anxiety comes from his subconscious mind (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, 2008).

Both Theories explained how a person came up with Obsessive-compulsive disorders. They both cited relevant phases of a person’s life that might have caused the said behavior of an individual. They linked the experiences of a person from childhood as he grows up to explain how obsessive-compulsive behavior is developed by these persons.

However, there is not much evidence that could connect the experiences of these persons directly to the development of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

There is not much evidence that one can conclude that these experiences caused the disorder and there is not much difference on obsessive-compulsive personality disorder which has a close similarity with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, 2008).


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institue. Web.

Tull, Matthew. (2008). Trauma, PSTD and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Web.

Gill, Ellen-Jaffe. (2006). Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors and Disorders: Symptoms, Treatment and Support. Web.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (2008). Web.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (2008). Web.

Atkinson, R. et.al.(1993). Introduction to Psychology. Harcourt And Brace Company. United States of America. P 626-629

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