Is it Superstition or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Danna Reich Colman
4 min readSep 23, 2022

When I was a child, I had a night time routine. I would count to six in my head while looking behind my bedroom door, checking my closets, and looking underneath my bed, and then I would climb in after taking three giant steps. I would never walk under ladders because I was afraid but don’t know why, and if I broke a glass, I thought it meant promises would be broken and expectations shattered for seven years. I would also knock on wood as an insurance policy against any bad luck. And in walking back and forth to school, I would never step on a crack for fear it would break my mother’s back, nor would I step on a line and possibly break my mother’s spine. I believed these behaviors of mine to be linked with superstition.

Much later in life while discussing superstitious behavior with a friend, she told me that she would not allow a hat to be placed on a bed without immediately removing it. This was the first I’d heard of this and wondered, is this superstitious behavior or OCD?

The more I learn about superstition and OCD, they seem connected because of their similar thought processes that lead to the same compulsive action. Both those with superstitions and those with OCD live with an acute sense of self-perpetuated fear that drives their day-to-day reality. This type of mentality is what classifies both superstitious belief as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, so when viewed from this perspective, it seems likely that the two are related.

According to popular belief, obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions). Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. With OCD, a person may or may not realize that the obsessions are unreasonable and may try to ignore or prevent them. However, that only increases the anxiety and distress, eventually driving a person to perform compulsive acts in an effort to ease the disturbing feelings.

As stated by the Mayo Clinic, the categories of obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Constant checking

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Danna Reich Colman

Writer, author and copyeditor. “What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about” ~ J. Wright