Obsessive-compulsive disorder manifests differently for individuals; in some cases intrusive thoughts and compulsions impact many facets of a person’s life. In other cases, there can be a “theme” or facet of OCD that specifically affects someone. In the case for contamination OCD – this is a specific facet of the bigger picture.

What is Contamination OCD?

Contamination OCD centers around intrusive thoughts on whether or not certain actions or surfaces are contaminated. In addition, there can be fear around getting sick or spreading the contamination to other people or surfaces. 25% of those with OCD experience contamination anxiety, making it quite common for individuals.

Compulsions include:

  • frequent or ritual hand washing 
  • throwing away “dirty” items 
  • having to clean or re-clean surfaces 
  • checking the body for signs of contamination 
  • Checking the mind for contaminate thoughts

In addition, individuals might avoid certain activities due to contamination fears. Examples include: avoiding swimming due to concerns of contamination in lake water or avoiding taking the trash out due to hands feeling dirty or germ-filled.

Stereotypes around OCD

Unfortunately stereotypes around OCD portrayed in media like TV shows and movies typically display individuals with extreme organization and cleanliness. However these stereotypes are harmful. It makes a sweeping assumption that all OCD sufferers behave the same way or have the same anxieties. An individual with contamination OCD (or any individual with OCD) isn’t inherently tidy/organized or a “good cleaner” – in fact some folks could have such severe anxiety that it actually prevents them from cleaning. It’s not fair to make assumptions around any particular experience.

ERP and Contamination OCD

Using Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) as a tool for contamination OCD can feel extremely frightening because it’s essentially asking an individual to face their obsession without acting out a compulsion or ritual around it. If a person is interested in working through ERP – it is best to do so with a licensed mental health practitioner that is both versed in ERP and OCD. The goal of ERP is to provide experience to those with OCD so they can face those triggers in person.

Support with Recovery

Recovery is not an easy process, but it helps to have support from community members. Hearing experiences of others who have OCD and fears around contamination can be both eye opening and healing. Support, acceptance, and de-stigmitization are all components of providing more awareness around these experiences and reducing shame.