OCD causes – obsessive-compulsive disorder causes

OCD causes. Interesting OCD facts

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder facts.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a slow developing mental disorder. Sometimes certain rituals or superstitious behaviour slowly develop into more complex and more time consuming rituals and behaviours. These rituals and behaviours become important and without being aware of it, people start feeling worse if they don’t perform them. It can take years before these behaviours (obsessions and compulsions) start to affect your life in a negative way (too time consuming, losing friends or partner and perhaps even job). Therefore, it’s important to understand the OCD causes, because by understanding where OCD comes from, professionals can prevent it from developing at an early stage and offer the right therapy type.

Someone can develop OCD after experiencing a traumatic event, due to neuro-biological issues, family genetics or environmental influences. This page discusses al of the mentioned OCD causes and explains how they can affect someone’s life in a negative way.
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At Barends Psychology Practice obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment is offered (also online). Go to contact us to schedule a first, free of charge, first session. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).


OCD causes – genetics.

If one of your direct relatives (child, sibling or parent) has OCD, you are at a higher risk for developing OCD yourself. This risk increases if your relative developed OCD during their childhood or adolescence [1]. A review study done of over 70 years’ worth of genetic research on Twin studies found: 1. Adult twins presenting with OCD symptoms had a 25-47% chance of having inherited the symptoms [1]. 2. Child twins presenting with OCD symptoms had a much higher rate of 45-65% chance of having inherited their symptoms [1].

In other words, OCD can run in the family. Having a relative with OCD doesn’t mean you will develop OCD yourself, but there is a higher chance of developing it. In combination with the below mentioned other OCD causes, the chance of developing OCD (symptoms) increases even more.

OCD causes – brain.

The development of the brain and damage done to the brain are strong predictors for OCD (symptoms) later on in life:
Research studying images of the brain have found that people who suffer OCD show different and often excessive activity in the front parts of their brain, in comparison to non-OCD sufferers [3].
The presence of one perinatal insult (brain damage right before or right after being born) is related to developing OCD-symptoms that are linked to either symmetry/ordering or shameful thoughts [5]. Poor motor skills, on the other hand, were significantly linked to harm/checking OCD-symptoms [5], and a lower intelligence is linked to an increase all the OCD symptoms except for ordering/symmetry [5]. Please note that damage to the brain does not mean someone will develop OCD, it only increases the chance that someone may develop OCD later in life.
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In short: scientific evidence shows that damage to the brain is one of the OCD causes to take into account when reaching out for help.

OCD causes – traumatic experiences.

The risk of developing OCD increases when people experience more undesirable life-events and less desirable life-events [2]. Also, OCD develops more often in people who became victim of something traumatic, such as a situation in which they feared serious injury or death. Especially rape [2] and physical and sexual abuse in childhood [5] are a strong predictors of OCD. Sexual abuse is significantly linked to an increased chance of developing all OCD-symptoms except for contamination/washing. And physical abuse is significantly linked to shameful thoughts. Losing parents is linked to harm/checking and shameful thoughts [5].

In short: traumatic experiences increase the chance of developing OCD later in life. Fortunately, traumatic experiences can be treated effectively with (online) eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (online EMDR). By treating these traumatic events the OCD symptoms reduce significantly or disappear completely.
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OCD causes – environment.

One of the OCD causes that play a huge role in the development of this mental disorder is environment. Social isolation, for instance, is significantly linked to an increased chance of developing the OCD-symptoms related to contamination/washing and harm/checking [5]. Not only social isolation, but also upbringing has been linked to the development of OCD. If (one of) your parents is preoccupied with cleaning and hygiene or with symmetry, it is likely that you will take over these behaviours. If (one of) your parents is preoccupied with harm prevention, then it’s likely that you will develop the same behaviours as well. Of course, the question remains: “is this due to environment or is this due to genetics?.
Contrary to findings in older literature, more recent studies found no link between the development of OCD and firstborn or only children [2].


  • [1] van Grootheest, D. S., Cath, D. C., Beekman, A. T., & Boomsma, D. I. (2005). Twin studies on obsessive–compulsive disorder: a review. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 8, 450-458.
  • [2] Fontenelle, L. F., & Hasler, G. (2008). The analytical epidemiology of obsessive–compulsive
    disorder: risk factors and correlates. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 32, 1-15.
  • [3] Veale, D. M., Sahakian, B. J., Owen, A. M., & Marks, I. M., 1996. Specific cognitive deficits in tests sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction in obsessive–compulsive disorder. Psychological medicine, 26, 1261-1269.
  • [4] de Silva, P., & Marks, M. (1999). The role of traumatic experiences in the genesis of obsessive–compulsive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 37, 941-951.
  • [5] Grisham, J. R., Fullana, M. A., Mataix-Cols, D., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., & Poulton, R. (2011). Risk factors prospectively associated with adult obsessive-compulsive symptom dimensions and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychological medicine, 41(12), 2495.