Blogger: Andy Lattal, Ph.D.
“Wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing the ‘Happy birthday’ song – twice” is the mantra of 2020, and with good reason. Not only that but also spraying packages from Amazon with Lysol and using that stuff on doorknobs and everything else metallic or cardboard or other surfaces, as well as the soles of your shoes. And don’t forget to sanitize that prescription you just picked up from the drive-through window. These acts are enough to earn the most slovenly of us a label of mildly obsessive-compulsive and push those of us already on that continuum further along it. A recent article in the New York Times addressed the serious dilemmas faced by people troubled by such OCD behavior patterns during these pandemic times. As the author of the article observes:
“The cleaning and sanitizing practices that help prevent coronavirus infection are bringing people with O.C.D. into closer orbit to behaviors that are a gateway to detrimental patterns that could interfere with their ability to engage meaningfully with the world outside their homes for years to come.”
In addition to the current hygienic practices of many of us blurring the lines between normal and OCD, I imagine that it also might be disconcerting to someone suffering from OCD to see personal behavior patterns for which there were at least mild societal and social punishers become not only acceptable but also necessary.
Now, no one seriously is likely to label the present personal cleaning patterns of most of us as OCD. The reason we don’t use such a label is that we universally recognize the context in which the behavior is occurring. That is, we contextualize the behavior. It would be constructive to consider other situations in our own lives in which we create labels for other peoples’ behavior and then react to those labels and not to the individuals so labeled.
I need to stop now and go wash my hands.