American Psychological Association (APA), the largest scientific and professional organisation of psychologists in the United States, defines obsession as ‘a persistent thought,idea, image or impulse that is experienced as intrusive or inappropriate and results in marked anxiety, distress, or discomfort’. Though this definition has words not so easy to grasp, the fact is that obsessions are often beyond one’s normal self-control. Obsessed people want things to happen the way they perceive and the thoughts about such a ‘want’ dominate their minds perpetually.The anxiety and distress associated with obsessive thoughts tend to suppress his / her sensibilities, resulting thereby in issues like lack of sleep(insomnia) to bizarre behaviours involving high levels of violence including murders and suicides.
In an obsessive individual, the persistent thoughts, depending upon the theme of the specific obsession, could be about anything like dirt in the surroundings, a personally significant outcome from a situation, orderliness of the living or working area, trustworthiness of a closely connected person especially if intimately associated, and so on. A common obsession with some of the child-rearing parents of these days is overdoing everything on the child, from providing to expecting. Another obsession is about physique, especially among the youth.Obsessions lead to reactions to fulfill the central need, like washing the hands to avoid dirt perceived as harmful, arranging articles meticulously at home or workplace and getting upset with others if they disturbed the orderliness, doing a Sherlock Holmes (the famous fictional private detective) on the intimate one under the suspicion and jealousy generated by an overworking and obsessive mind etc. Such reactions are compulsive. Both of these(obsessions and compulsive reactions) together make the toxic combination of a mental disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD.
Common compulsive behaviours in OCD include the repeated washing of hands as mentioned above,following of rituals beyond logical levels, counting or chanting something in an unusual and often distressful way to ward off evil, returning to check the locking of the house door repeatedly, sticking to the astrologically calculated times to do anything important and blindly following the instructions of gurus and babas without operating common sense and logic in order to achieve an obsessive end. While these are observable activities coming from compulsions,the mind of the obsessed will be working overtime on ways to somehow ensure that the deep-rooted needs that are perceived as all important are met. And the manifestation of such a perpetual mental activity could be bizarre.
Obsession is single-minded. Unlike what most people would like to believe, it does not happen because of poor self-control. In fact it is the other way round – an obsession afflicted mind loses self-control and logical thinking. Like addictions, obsessions are mostly perpetual. In this, the obsessed tends to overlook the common needs of life, like wellness, social image, self-esteem,financial security, human relations etc., in order to fulfill the pressing needs.
Interestingly, obsessions are not always negative. The positive side of obsession makes people do well in areas like academics, career and personal performances (in sports, arts,physical activities, savings etc.). However, the line between the positives and the negatives of them remains where the behaviour and activities of the people concerned start affecting their own life as well as of the ones who are closely connected.
Obsession leads the life of the affected person into distress. Hence, the aim while attempting to tackle it should be to take control of the strong urges and preventing them from influencing the day-to-day life.
One thing that can help in managing the distress is gathering and assimilating information on obsessions and OCD. Internet has a lot of it. Another step could be to think or do something else that is relatively more constructive, interesting and pleasurable than the obsessive and compulsive activities.
Trying to achieve goals in a step-by-step way will help control OCD. This approach will be more practical and relaxing. Through this the intensity of obsession and compulsions can be reduced.
Another way to manage obsessions is to look out for alternatives. Asking the question “what next if I fail to achieve this?” will help in getting other available options. The moment one has options, obsession eases out. After all, wisdom is in the ability to find alternatives.
Having someone around with whom the obsessive and compulsive situations can be discussed is another way to manage the menace. It can be an understanding friend, well-wisher, spouse or a counselling psychologist. When the issues are discussed this way with sincerity, such people may be able to show the path to overcome the difficulties.