Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is one of the most commonly discussed and often misunderstood mental health conditions. Due to the fast spread of myths and misconceptions around OCD, people may even wonder or question if they can have OCD symptoms without being diagnosed with it. This article aims to discuss whether it is indeed possible for us to experience OCD symptoms without having the disorder.

Understanding OCD

OCD is a mental health condition characterized by unwanted and often disturbing intrusive thoughts called ‘obsessions’ and repetitive patterns of behaviour called compulsions. An individual may experience only obsessions, only compulsions or both, depending on the severity of the condition. 

Some common symptoms of OCD are

  • Obsessive Thoughts

Obsessions are persistent, unwanted thoughts, urges, or intrusive images that cause emotional distress. Attempts to ignore or resolve them often lead to repetitive behaviours, adding to the distress. These obsessions can cause significant disturbances in concentration. Some examples of common obsessions are:

  • Fear of being contaminated
  • An excessive need for symmetry or orderliness
  • Fear of unintentionally harming yourself or others
  • Unwanted thoughts or imaginations related to sex.

  • Compulsive Behaviours

Compulsive behaviors are repetitive behaviours that people engage in, to get rid of distressing obsessions. It is important to note that, people with OCD find no pleasure in performing compulsive behaviors; rather, they feel compelled to engage in them to relieve themselves from anxiety. Despite providing temporary relief, compulsions fail to offer lasting solutions, as obsessions are likely to return. Thus, people often get stuck in a time-consuming cycle of obsessions and compulsions without any relief. Some common examples of compulsions are:

  • Repeatedly washing hands or bathing in the fear of being contaminated
  • Repeatedly seeking assurance from others
  • Repeatedly checking doors, and stoves before leaving the house

Identifying OCD

It is important to note that many people experience intrusive thoughts, in fact, intrusive thoughts are common. The difference between common intrusive thoughts and OCD is that common intrusive thoughts are less harmful, and people are unlikely to act on them as well. Some of us may even have some repetitive behaviours that help us cope. But occasionally indulging in intrusive thoughts or repetitive behaviours does not mean that someone may have OCD. 

The diagnosis of OCD depends on the severity of the symptoms and the extent to which they are causing a disturbance in someone’s life. For someone to be diagnosed with OCD, they need to engage in compulsive behaviours for at least an hour per day.

Sometimes conditions, such as anxiety disorders, can lead to OCD-like symptoms. In fact, intrusive thoughts are common in anxiety disorders. The difference between anxiety and OCD is that people with anxiety are unlikely to indulge in any compulsive behaviours

In rare cases, people may suffer from OCD symptoms such as intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, but they may be less harmful or have no significant impact on an individual’s daily functioning. Such a condition is called sub-clinical OCD. Thus, it is indeed possible to have OCD-like symptoms without actually getting diagnosed with OCD. 


Intrusive thoughts, a common symptom of OCD, are experienced by many people. However, it does not mean that one is suffering from OCD. A diagnosis of OCD requires careful consideration of the severity of the time frame of symptoms. Occasionally, OCD-like symptoms can also be an indication of an underlying anxiety disorder due to the similarities between the two conditions. Thus, it is important to consult a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist to get an accurate assessment if you see yourself or a loved one experiencing symptoms of OCD.


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Dhruva Koranne

Dhruva Koranne has completed his Masters in Applied Psychology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, BALM. He has been practicing as a counsellor since 2020 and works to create a safe space for clients where they can open up. In addition to this, Dhruva loves researching and studying about upcoming theories in the field of Psychology. Connect with him on Linkedin