By Conal Morrison

Have you ever had an obsession? Felt a constant, demanding urge to do something? Or had a mental itch that only gets worse when you scratch it? For people with OCD, these feelings can be an everyday occurrence. 

OCD, also known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is a mental health disorder affecting people of any age worldwide. It causes a person to have repeated and constant impulses and compulsions that feel outside of their control. 

But what is an obsession?

Well, according to the International OCD Foundation, “Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings”, while compulsions are “behaviors an individual engages in an attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.”

Now you may be thinking, ‘Well I’ve had an obsession before and it wasn’t that bad” or “I’ve acted compulsively before, do I have OCD?’. To most people, the word obsession just implies that you might think about something you’re already interested in multiple times throughout the day. However, to people with OCD, these thoughts can be completely out of their control and tend to be more negative in nature. 

So, where people without the condition tend to be obsessed over a video game, their pet dog or a tv show, people with it might obsess over their worries: for example, how getting sick or injured would negatively affect their family and friends. 

The other big difference is that, while, yes, someone without OCD may have those same thoughts, they tend to be able to dismiss them fairly quickly. Unfortunately, someone who has the condition will have that same thought come back repeatedly, getting worse each time and increasing their anxiety.

OCD vs Pure-O: What’s The Difference?

The main difference between them is that someone who suffers from Pure-O appears to have OCD without any physical compulsions. Anxiety Specialists New Zealand put it perfectly, saying, “With Pure-O, you’re still trying to counter the obsessional thoughts with compulsive behaviours, it’s just that the behaviours are internal.” 

Imagine if you suddenly have an intrusive thought about hurting someone. A person with OCD might use a compulsive action to counter this thought, but someone with Pure-O will instead sit and analyse their thoughts and feelings towards that person. They will search for the reason that such a thought occurred in the first place. A person in this mental state will think and think, essentially forever, about whether they have any anger or negative feelings towards this person until they are absolutely sure there’s no chance of their intrusive thought becoming a reality.

What Are The Symptoms Of Pure-O?

The symptoms of Pure-O are very similar to OCD but, as mentioned before, with very few, if any, physical compulsions. Here is a list of internal compulsions experienced by many with the condition. 

  • Constantly checking if you still have a particular thought throughout the day.
  • Saying or thinking about the same numbers or words in your head, i.e. the number seven hundred and seventy-seven.
  • Seeing how you physically feel after an intrusive thought, does it make you feel anger towards a person or some other extreme emotion.
  • Someone with Pure-O may also check repeatedly whether they still feel a certain emotion, for example, if they are still in love with their partner.

People with both conditions may simply avoid situations that trigger intrusive thoughts or compulsions; however, this is more common in people suffering from OCD. Still, some people with Pure-O will also exhibit this behaviour. 

For example, if every time you leave the house, you have an intrusive thought about someone breaking in while you are away. A person with OCD may lock and relock their front door a half dozen times before leaving. In contrast, someone with Pure-O may find themselves worrying non-stop and becoming more and more anxious throughout the day. This anxiety can result in someone with Pure-O being too afraid to leave the house.

Someone I Know Has OCD Or Pure-O; How Can I Help?

The very best way to help someone with any form of OCD is to be as supportive and understanding as possible. It can be difficult for them to talk about their obsessions or compulsions as they tend to keep such things secret and worry about other people’s reactions. 


Don’t judge someone’s obsessive thoughts or compulsions, they may sound ridiculous to you, but they are very real to the person experiencing them. Be as patient as you can and reassure them that you support and love them no matter what.

People with OCD or Pure-O are still people, and a little support and help can go a long way in helping them live with their disorder.