Imagine that you have a loved one who spends more than an hour every day washing their hands when there seems to be no real need.
Imagine that you’re stationed in Germany, where before you left to catch a plane for the states you ironed a bunch of your uniforms. Imagine while on that flight over the Atlantic you begin to wonder whether you left your iron on. It’s a little too late now.
There are two kinds of obsessive behaviors. One is called, according to the DSM-IV, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. These folks are preoccupied with rules, lists and little details. So much so, that they may annoy their bosses with questions and take extra time in getting things done. These folks are not particularly bothered by their behavior. Everyone else is just bothered by it.
The other condition is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. These folks find that a lot of their time is taken up by rituals and they are bothered by their behavior. These are the handwashers and the double-checkers. In this condition, OCD, one can be bothered by an obsession, a compulsion or both. In the obsession, one has persistent thoughts about a certain thing. In the compulsion, the person feels the need to repeat a certain physical behavior. This could be handwashing, checking to make sure the stove is turned off or triple checking to make sure the doors are locked, and for the last one, they can’t be living in a ghetto or a war zone where such behavior could be considered normal.
That is where my brother comes in. I visit him occasionally, and as I am sitting in the lounge chair watching TV I watch him go from door to door, pulling on the door knobs, making sure they are locked. And he lives in a good neighborhood. He was the guy who wondered if he had left his iron on while over the Atlantic. As I watch him go back to the patio door again and tug on the knob and then back to the door to the garage and tug on it again, I look over and smile at him and he smiles back. He knows he has a problem.
The compulsive hand washers start small. First it’s a bar of soap and water occasionally and then it becomes more frequent and they begin to look like they are doctors preparing for surgery. These folks can be diagnostically coded as having “poor insight.” Why? Because it’s not the soap that kills the germs. It’s the chlorinated water. The soap just removes oils and when they remove the skin’s natural oils, these folks can dry out their hands so much that they actually become cracked and bleeding. It would be perfectly okay to just rinse the dirt and germs off with tap water in most day-to-day situations, unless you’ve been under the car, changing the oil…And don’t use the same knife to whack up the uncooked chicken and hamburger and then slice the fruits and vegetables without a hot soapy wash in between, but other that that…
OCD is statistically more prevalent among the wealthy. Probably because my father the psychotherapist didn’t toss a shoe at my brother to get him to cut it out.
In psychology, there is a technique known as Immersion therapy where you immerse the person in the thing that bothers him. In the case of hand washing, I’m imagining that the immersion therapy would consist of taking the person camping, miles from the nearest water spigot. I remember a Girl Scout camping trip where we first washed the potatoes in a bucket of water, and then boiled them in the same water because it was too far to walk to the water spigot. This is also used for Phobias about bugs and snakes. Nothing like a little visit to Mother Nature for a reality check.
As for my brother, he now has an iron that automatically turns itself off.