15 Often-Overlooked Symptoms of OCD

Symptoms of OCD


Hand-washing, checking door locks, and needing things to be in a specific order—are some of the most common symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But there are many other less-common OCD symptoms that are often overlooked. Do you have any of the following little-known signs of OCD?



Hand-washing, checking door locks, and needing things to be in a specific order—are some of the most common symptoms associated with OCD. But there are many other less-common OCD symptoms that are often overlooked. Click To Tweet

15 Often-Overlooked Symptoms of OCD

1. Body Hyperawareness

Body hyperawareness is having obsessive thoughts about particular parts of the body or bodily functions. An OCD individual may be consumed with thoughts about blinking—how frequently they blink or how often they need to blink. Or they may be intensely focused on breathing—how often they breathe, how deep or shallow the breaths are, or some other sensation related to breath. An OCD person may get obsessed with salivation and swallowing, body positioning, pulse and heartbeat, itching, tinnitus, arms/legs and walking, urination, or visual distractions (like fixating on the profile of one’s nose in peripheral vision).

In the throes of compulsion, an OCD mind has trouble switching attention away from the body and bodily function obsession or it gets consumed seeking information about it and/or help from medical professionals. An OCD person can also ruminate on the painful fact that their obsession with their own bodies is devastating their lives.

2. Perfectionism

In OCD individuals, perfectionism is significantly elevated, research has found. Any kind of criticism, even constructive feedback, is nearly intolerable. There’s no room for making mistakes. Mistakes and criticism are received as a negative assessment of their value as a person.

An OCD individual with perfectionism may quit a lifelong dream due to one poor grade, harsh word, or failed attempt to reach it. An OCD perfectionist will painfully be driven to be extraordinary in every area of life including work, education, and personal relationship.

At work, they may arrive early, work through lunch, stay late, and work weekends to ensure they deliver the work or do the job perfectly. Underneath the compulsion to be perfect is a desperate need for control and certainty. OCD perfectionists can become afraid to do anything out of fear of failing, which dramatically limits their ability to participate in life in a meaningful way.

3. Obsession with Death

Research has shown a strong connection between OCD and fears about death and dying. Repetitive thoughts or ruminations, persistent ideas, or intrusive images all centered around one’s potential death or that of a loved one is a clear symptoms of OCD.

The uncertainty around mortality leads to a number of compulsive behaviors such as checking multiple times to see if loved ones are OK, hypervigilance about safety, writing up a will (or avoiding writing a will) or creating a death plan, researching what happens after death, or becoming intensely interested in the process of dying. Suicide attempts are associated with OCD, according to research. For an OCD individual, it may be an attempt to have certainty/control over death.

4. Fear of Harming Others

As social creatures, humans generally have a healthy fear of harming others. However, people with OCD who have this particular fear may act out in ways that are personally detrimental. For example, they may stop driving out of an obsessive fear of getting into an accident and hurting someone or to avoid potentially hitting a pedestrian. Or they may not go to the doctor, fearing they might get the office staff sick.

Even more concerning to OCD individuals, they may have intrusive thoughts about harming others in a violent way—some may involve sexual assault, physical harm, or murder. Having these alarming, repetitive thoughts can cause a great deal of stress. Someone with OCD may choose not to be around people in order to keep others safe. This can feed a pattern of fear and avoidance.

In some cases, the OCD individual’s mind will tell them they did hurt another person. Reality becomes difficult to discern. These cases are sometimes misdiagnosed as psychotic disorders, research has found.

5. Fear of Emotional Contamination

People with OCD have an irrational fear of getting “infected” by another’s differing values, beliefs, or undesirable character traits. For example, they might try to avoid a divorced person, fearing they will somehow end up getting divorced too.

In some cases, the belief can become delusional, where they think the contamination can travel over the internet, phone, television, or through others. This is called magical thinking, which is a form of superstitious thinking. Those who suffer from emotional contamination are often misdiagnosed as schizophrenic or psychotic as there’s not enough awareness that this is a symptom of OCD.

6. Fear of Hit-and-Run

An OCD individual with a fear of hit-and-run typically worries or doubts themselves, wondering if they accidentally harmed someone while driving and left the scene of the incident. They will worry if they hit or ran over a person or animal even when there’s no evidence. The obsessive worry may especially be triggered in situations where there is more reason to doubt, such as driving on a poorly lit street, in an area with loads of pedestrians, in a busy parking lot, or driving over debris or a bump in the road.

They then may compulsively retrace a drive over and over in hopes of gaining reassurance that they did not, in fact, hit someone while driving.

7. Doing Things Slowly

Related to perfectionism, some people with OCD do things excessively slowly to avoid making any mistakes. For example, an OCD person exhibiting this slow behavior may take 30 minutes to wash their face, 10 minutes to put on a tie, or 2 hours to decide what brand of shampoo to buy. Over time, this slow behavior may extend to other areas to the point that it may feel strange and unsafe to do anything at a normal or fast pace. This can be hugely disruptive to their life.

8. Frequent Confessing

Research shows frequent confession to be a symptom of OCD. Individuals with OCD and fears of going to hell or disappointing an all-powerful God may develop a compulsion to confess every possible sin to another human being—often a parent or life partner. They can get out of control and excessive, feeling a need to confess every time they don’t say the exact, microscopic truth, or when they forget to bless someone after they sneeze

9. Refereeing Others

Most people understand that life is not always fair. OCD individuals, perhaps out of a desire for certainty, look for absolute fairness. When life turns out not to be fair, it can be highly triggering. For example, a child with OCD may have extreme distress after a bad call during a recess game, or if someone gets a better present, or another child does not get punished for bad behavior.

This inability to handle unfairness can lead to severe and persistent problems in life, particularly in the social environment. A young person or even an adult employee with OCD feels compelled to do something about any perceived injustice, whether that means confronting the perpetrator of the injustice, or telling a teacher, parent, or boss every time something “unfair” happens.

10. Reassurance Seeking

Research has found a close link between reassurance-seeking and OCD. With so much inner distress, doubt, and uncertainty surrounding obsessive thinking, an OCD individual compulsively seeks reassurance outside of themselves. They want to be reassured that their fears are unfounded—either by appealing to individuals, directly or indirectly, or by compulsively checking things.

For example, an OCD person seeking reassurance may ask repeatedly if they look sunburned while outside with others, even if they are lathered in sunscreen. Or they may indirectly say, “I hope I said the right thing,” after a social interaction, looking for a companion to assure them they did.

An OCD individual with obsessive fears of someone breaking into their home may stay awake at night wondering if they locked all the doors, or get up several times to check.

11. Chronic Lateness

People with OCD often perform a number of rituals, especially before leaving the house. This can lead to chronic lateness. Anxiety about arriving at the wrong time or forgetting something that they may need also factors into frequently being late.

Mental health experts note that many young people with OCD experience sleep-related problems, which may lead to chronic tardiness at school. Of course, an OCD person who struggles with doing things slowly may be late as well.

12. Obsession with Specific Numbers

Magical thinking is common among people with OCD, research has found. This can play out by doing a number of rituals around specific numbers—either avoiding specific “taboo” numbers or choosing lucky or magical numbers. For example, an individual with OCD may believe 6 to be the magical number. They may pump their hand soap 6 times, and wash their hands for 6 seconds, or look for multiples of 6 for reassurance.

At first, it may relieve anxiety about uncertainty, providing an individual with OCD with the feeling of control, but it ends up generating more anxiety as the compulsive need to avoid or target certain numbers grows larger and larger.

13. Being Bothered by Certain Noises

When certain sounds like chewing, the crinkling sound of opening a package, breathing, smacking, lip smacking, tapping, swallowing, and sometimes soft-spoken sounds trigger strong feelings of irritation, it may be a sign of OCD. Research has found a significant and direct relationship between misophonia (the hatred or dislike of sound) and OCD.

The irritating sounds can be highly specific—such as a parent’s voice, or a sibling’s chewing—or more generalized, such as the bark of a dog or a clock ticking. The sounds can be highly disruptive to a person with OCD, causing emotional distress, even anger, and sometimes avoidant behavior.

14. Rereading or Rewriting

OCD individuals may spend an excessive amount of time rereading or rewriting what they are trying to understand or express.

In trying to perfectly understand an idea, people with OCD can read paragraphs several times making it difficult or impossible to read a long chapter or book. Similarly, an individual with OCD may feel driven to write something over and over again to get it perfect. They also may rewrite something trying to perfect the handwriting itself. Their perfectionistic standards are often so high; it makes it nearly impossible to write something to their satisfaction. Hence, hours of time are wasted causing havoc in their lives.

15. Figuring It Out

Driven by the desire to remove doubt and have certainty, an OCD individual may get stuck endlessly trying to figure things out.

This can lead to a broad array of compulsive behaviors. For example, one might become obsessed with figuring out their own mental health, questioning every feeling to the point of it completely occupying their mind. Or someone with OCD may spend hours looking up a topic on the internet, trying to come up with a certain answer on a specific topic. Or they might become obsessed with learning all the lyrics to a song.

The point is to analyze and think about a situation so meticulously that they remove all doubt. Instead, it feeds their anxiety even more.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I would like to know more about ocd personality disorder. Which I understand is a newer disorder and different from regular ocd. My husband has social inappropriate behaviors and has outbursts. Thank you

    Comment by Denice Monaco — May 8, 2023 @ 4:46 AM

  2. My son is a patient at Amen clinic and has OCD. He had many of these traits. It’s frustrating as we have spent the last 10 years trying medications and supplements and making no headway. The minute he feels some relief, he then feels worse. Can we get a Second opinion from Dr Amen?

    Comment by Annette Findling — May 8, 2023 @ 4:48 AM

  3. I feel I have OCD in very unusual areas.
    I obsess over grammatically correct emails, texts, etc.
    My furniture must be in an exact spot and whenever someone moves a chair or something, I have to put it back immediately after they use it or my stomach begins to hurt.
    And before I can put on makeup or before I can go to bed at night, I must check my face for pimples that need to be squeezed. ( I'm 72 years old and this has been going on since I was 12.

    Comment by Kathy — May 8, 2023 @ 8:03 AM

  4. Valuable information

    Comment by Natalie — May 8, 2023 @ 9:30 AM

  5. Thank you so much for more insights into my best friend of over 60 yrs. with OCD + MS. I will be more tolerant now of some of the explanations given!

    Comment by Mrs. Ferris S.Whitfield — May 8, 2023 @ 11:41 AM

  6. I've been possibly labeled as OCD at times but have to save time by keeping can labels facing forward due to energy and mobility problems. Due to a MTHFR genetic variant discovered in 2018, multiple chemical sensitivities have been an ongoing problem for years which has set me up with AM grogginess and more recently brain fog at times. Also double anxiety genetic markers perched on top of a caring personality. Trying methyl-folate and methyl-B12 presently to see what kind of improvements that I can make physically and personally. Married to a guy who doesn't like some life details so naturally I would seem OCD to him and other 'gabbing' friends. Bullying is not good for the victims so I'm sorry if refereeing is considered a OCD trait. People aren't learning good behavior traits well enough or often enough so dialing down some nastiness creates peaceful times. Too much left to solve though so I've learned routines to cut down on my 'caring' concerns when in public. Thank you for this information. I am truly OCD about MD testing and genetic testing to be improved especially if conventional doctors and psychiatrists have left people to suffer needlessly in past decades. Their work would be reduced if some of their 'profit' went to more effective testing for their various patients. EGN

    Comment by Elinor Nosker — May 8, 2023 @ 7:01 PM

  7. Excellent information!

    Comment by douglas morris — May 15, 2023 @ 9:49 AM

  8. A close relative sniffles when she is in certain stressful situations. I used to think she had sinus problems but realize that it the same action over the years when I infrequently visit.

    Comment by Beck — June 12, 2023 @ 4:17 AM

  9. I think a hatred of certain smells could be linked to OCD the same way Misophonia is. Certain smells that seem very mundane can also trigger anger or disgust just like common sounds.

    Comment by Hannah — June 17, 2023 @ 2:54 PM

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