Occasional thoughts about getting sick or about the safety of loved ones are normal. After all, everyone has moments of worry. When the thoughts become overwhelming, time-consuming and interfere with important activities, they can turn into obsessions.

Definition of Obsessions

Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again and feel out of a person’s control. The person finds them disturbing and unwanted, and usually knows that they don’t make sense. They come with uncomfortable feelings, such as fear, disgust, doubt, or a feeling that things have to be done in a certain way.[1]

Types of Obsessions

People with the anxiety disorder known as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) experience obsessions that often have themes to them, such as the following:

  • Fear of contamination or dirt
  • Having things orderly and symmetrical
  • Aggressive or horrific impulses
  • Sexual images or thoughts

Signs & Symptoms of Obsessions

OCD obsessions usually come up when a person is trying to think of or do other things. Obsession symptoms and signs may include the following:[2]

  • Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects others have touched
  • Doubts that oneself has locked the door or turned off the stove
  • Thoughts that oneself has hurt someone in a traffic accident
  • Intense stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing the right way
  • Images of hurting your child
  • Impulses to shout obscenities in inappropriate situations
  • Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands
  • Replaying pornographic images in your mind
  • Dermatitis because of frequent hand washing
  • Skin lesions because of picking at your skin
  • Hair loss or bald spots because of hair pulling


  1. International OCD Foundation. Obsessions and Compulsions. Retrieved February 6, 2013, from http://www.ocfoundation.org/o_c.aspx.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms. Retrieved February 6, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/DS00189/DSECTION=risk-factors.

By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor

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