What is Pure O?

Over the years, a theory of “Pure obsessional,” or “Pure O,” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was raised by some in the field of OCD study.  According to this theory, a person had a “different” subtype of OCD, because he or she was not observed performing overt, or visible, compulsions.  Today, this theory is not supported by most experts.

OCD is a combination of obsessions and compulsions that take up a significant amount of time each day.  While many rituals are easily seen – such as repeated hand washing, checking that locks are secured or a kitchen stove is turned off – they do not have to be observable, physical acts.

Compulsions can be mental processes or rituals (such as counting or saying prayers, words or phrases silently in one’s head to keep bad things from happening). Like overt rituals, these “invisible” acts are also done in an attempt to reduce the anxiety or discomfort caused by obsessions.

It’s easy to see how someone could be confused about compulsions if they believed they had to be the overt acts usually associated with the “typical” kind of OCD.  But mental rituals can be every bit as debilitating as those that can be observed.  The bottom line is that it is critical that a person who experiences any symptoms of OCD – observable or not – seek help.


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