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The 12 types of obsessions (symptoms and characteristics)

The 12 types of obsessions (symptoms and characteristics)

November 16, 2022

Obsessions are intrusive, irrational and recurrent thoughts, ideas or images (appearing again and again), and they feel out of control on the part of the person who suffers them.

Usually, the obsessive person does not want to have these ideas or thoughts , which usually cause anxiety or discomfort and try to avoid them. The behaviors that are carried out to avoid obsessions are called compulsions. This obsession-compulsion routine is what is known as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Characteristics of OCD

The irrational thoughts that can lead to compulsive acts can vary depending on the individual. Some people may have superstitious thoughts that cause them anxiety, others may believe that everything is contaminated and should be cleaned to avoid illness, and others can take the order to a pathological extreme because of perfectionist thoughts .


Obsessive people have some characteristics in common. According to him Obsessive-Compulsive Cognitions Working Group (OCCWG), the most important cognitive variables that affect this condition are:

  • Perfectionism
  • Excessive responsibility
  • Beliefs of the importance of thoughts
  • Little tolerance for uncertainty
  • Overestimation of the threat
  • Little mental flexibility

Types of obsessions

Obsessions can be classified in different ways. But… What are these ways of classification?

Here is a list of different kinds of obsessions.


According to the type of triggering stimulus

According to whether the obsession feels unacceptable or realistic, there are two types.

1. Autogenous obsessions

This type of ego-dystonic obsessions, that is, they feel as disgusting, unacceptable, inconsistent with their own self-concept. They appear abruptly in consciousness without identifying evocative stimuli. They include sexual, aggressive and immoral thoughts or impulses.

2. Reactive obsessions

These thoughts are perceived as realistic and rational and the evocative stimuli are external and identifiable. For example. Catastrophic thoughts, about pollution, about asymmetry, etc.

According to the content

The contents of the obsessions may vary. These are different types of obsession depending on the content.

3. Symmetrical or orderly obsessions

One of the most frequent obsessions has its origin in the need to have everything aligned symmetrically and correctly ordered. The compulsions that are associated with this type of obsession are to ensure that everything is in order and well placed, otherwise the subject would suffer great discomfort or anxiety.


Some characteristic behaviors of this type of thoughts are:

  • Have everything neat and clean in place at all times.
  • Have hanging pictures aligned and straight.
  • Have canned food all in the same way.
  • Have the clothes in the lane all hanging perfectly and looking the same way.
  • Have everything impeccable, no marks or stains on the windows and surfaces.

People who suffer this type of OCD spend a lot of time trying to have everything perfect, so they are said to be perfectionists. In extreme cases, the person can prevent other individuals from going home so they do not leave anything disorganized or out of place.

4. Obsessions due to contamination

As the name suggests, these people think that the environment may be contaminated. For example, when they go to the bathroom, they think that when their skin comes into contact with the cloth on the door they can suffer some kind of illness. This makes them have the need to cleanse and wash themselves compulsively.

Cleaning or washing is often carried out several times a day, with rituals of repetitive washing of hands or body until the person feels that it is clean. Individuals with these types of obsessions can avoid:

  • Use public toilets
  • Get in touch with chemical products
  • Narrowing of hands (fear of getting germs from other people).
  • Touch the elevator buttons or the door handles
  • Use of public telephones (fear of contracting germs from other people).
  • Get surgery or go to the doctor to prevent medical instruments from coming in contact with your skin.

5. Obsessions due to mental contamination

This type of obsession is similar to the previous one, but it does not have to do with someone who comes into contact with potentially dirty or contaminated objects or environments, but rather thoughts of mental pollution arise when the person feels mistreated, physically or mentally , through critical or verbally abusive comments.

This causes her to feel dirty, but dirty internally.

6. Sensorimotor obsessions

Sensorimotor obsessions have to do with an exaggerated awareness of certain bodily sensations. Some examples are:

  • Breathing : obsession about whether the breath is shallow or deep, or the focus is on some other sensation of breathing.
  • Flicker : an obsessive fixation when blinking.
  • Swallowing / salivation : the person focuses on the frequency with which it is ingested, the amount of salivation produced, etc.
  • Awareness of specific parts of the body , for example, perception of the side of the nose while trying to read.

7. Sexual obsessions

These obsessions are thoughts of causing involuntary sexual harm, or about the constant questioning of one's sexuality . A person who experiences these types of intrusive thoughts will avoid public places, such as shopping centers, or schools to avoid getting in close contact with children.

Some examples are:

  • Fear being a pedophile and feeling sexually attracted to children.
  • Fear being sexually attracted by members of one's family.
  • Thoughts about touching a child inappropriately.
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts about God, saints or religious figures.

8. Homosexual obsessions

They are thoughts similar to the previous ones, but they are characterized by the fear of being attracted to members of the same sex . Both the previous point and this makes the person feel so embarrassed that he is unable to seek help.

9. Obsessions for committing violent acts

These obsessions are characterized by the fear of carrying out violent acts against loved ones or other people . That is why they will avoid situations in which certain acts such as these may occur:

  • Use of kitchen knives and other sharp objects (the compulsion would consist of hiding or avoiding sharp objects).
  • Damaging children or loved ones violently.
  • Kill innocent people
  • Thoughts about accidentally touching someone inappropriately, in order to hurt them.

10. Religious obsessions

These obsessions cause people to look at religion and religious practice . What causes a series of compulsive behaviors, for example, that some sentences must be said again and again, sentences must be omitted or recited incorrectly or it is necessary to shout blasphemous words aloud in a religious place. Obsessive thoughts can include worrying about committing sins or offending God, not praying enough, or the fear of not being forgiven, among others.

11. Obsessions of catastrophism

This type of obsession is characterized because the person thinks that something bad will happen if he does not perform the compulsion . For example, fear of committing a negligence, to the occurrence of a theft if you do not close the door or be responsible for a catastrophe.

12. Obsessions due to lack of control

The person has obsessive thoughts about losing control . For example: doubts or concerns that one may lose control of oneself, thoughts of saying racist words, thoughts of saying offensive comments or thoughts of participating in the theft.


Treatment for Children with OCD (November 2022).


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