Someone you know may be a clean freak. Maybe it is the girl at work who has the neatest desk. Is she just a perfectionist or an OCD sufferer?
In the television series Monk, detective Adrian Monk works on the dirty streets of San Francisco, and his fear of germs is so great that he washes his hands every time he gets in touch with someone. This is how Monk has become a symbol of a clean freak and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Following a study, patients suffering from this condition said they liked the character, who was a winner even when his affection affected his ability to work. Monk is a germaphobe, and so are those who are obsessed with microbes and dirt and who feel compelled to carry out rituals of washing and cleaning.
For example, there are verifiers, obsessed with the fear of losing control and whose anxiety can only be reduced if they check something, such as if they have closed the cooker fire. Keeping things, counting and praying are also manifestations of this behaviour.
Why are they obsessed with cleaning?
Between 30 and 50% of adults with OCD claim that their problem started in childhood or adolescence. Why do people with this affection feel the need to wash, instead of counting? Still not known …
What we know is that all types of OCD make people free their anxiety because of an intrusive, obsessive thought. For example, if a woman accidentally cuts her finger, she wipes her wound, brushes it with antibacterial cream and bandages it. That should be all, but anxiety and obsessive thoughts start to ask, “What if there are some microscopic bacteria left?”
When cleanliness becomes a problem
Any office has a clean freak. Maybe it is the girl who has the cleanest desk. Is she just a perfectionist or an OCD sufferer?
It may be the head of the department, who at first glance keeps things just nicely arranged and clean, but he could hide his cleaning rituals. If he hears that a colleague is cold, he’s afraid that he might have gotten into contact with any object the sick has touched, so he will rush to the bathroom to wash his hands.
Other signs that indicate you are dealing with a clean freak are:
- Moving things around on table/desk in order to create a neat look
- Good at hiding things to make the living space look tidy
- Creative & decorative skills
- They never have dirty dishes waiting in the kitchen
- A pile of clothes on the chair is their nightmare
- They know everything about every cleaning product
- They always carry with them at least one anti-bacterial gel or wipes
- Public transport is a living nightmare for them because there are germs everywhere
Keeping a clean environment is a great way of thinking and behaving. But when it transforms into an obsession, it can seriously affect one’s social life. Meaning that s/he will avoid contact with certain people, may experience nausea or dizziness when in places considered to be infectious or dirty.
How can family help?
Families often make the mistake of letting their dear OCD sufferers alone. A man who sees his wife doing cleaning 3-4 times a day will think at first that he has the world’s greatest wife. But, in time, she will start losing her energy, become irritable or angry when things are not in the right place.
The family can play an important role in treating a clean freak. For example, after dinner, the wife hurries to clean the table, but her husband should distract her attention and say, “Wait 30 minutes, let’s talk about our day.”
It would also be helpful to understand the cause of the anxiety or of the obsession and teach the sufferer how to relax.
Cleaning more is healthier?
You might think a clean freak or a germaphobe knows extraordinary things about colds and other infectious diseases, but you are probably wrong. Germaphobes act out of absurd fears, not knowledge.
In fact, cleaning rituals can increase the risk of getting sick. They use perhaps the strongest cleaning products and many of them spend at least 30 minutes in the shower, so their skin ends up dry.
Also, those who obsessively study information about microbes usually have a form of hypochondria and not OCD. They spend their time looking for information, while those who obsessively wash themselves are too busy with the cleaning to have time for research.
It is true that hand washing is the most important way to prevent infectious diseases such as colds, influenza, hepatitis A, meningitis and infectious diarrhea. But that does not mean we have to wash our hands “to the bone”.
The key is to have a balance and avoid going from one extreme (being dirty) to cleaning every object you touch.
What are you cleaning routines?