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  1. Jeanne M. Fama,
  2. Sabine Wilhelm

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0616

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Fama, J. M. and Wilhelm, S. 2010. Obsessions. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. Harvard University Medical School

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Obsessions are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) as recurrent intrusive thoughts, impulses, or images that produce marked anxiety or discomfort. The content of obsessions is ego-dystonic, meaning that they are experienced as intrusive, unwanted, and generally inconsistent with one's self-image, values, beliefs, and behaviors. Obsessions differ from ego-syntonic thoughts about everyday problems (e.g., recurrent thoughts or worries about finances, occupation, relationships, and the like) and should be distinguished from the “brooding” ruminations that are common in depression. Typical obsessions include doubts about whether one did something adequately (e.g., turned off the stove); intrusive sexual, aggressive, or religious thoughts or images (e.g., horrific image of stabbing a friend); thoughts about contamination; and excessive concerns about symmetry or exactness. Individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experience frequent obsessions that are severe enough to cause significant functioning impairment and try to suppress or neutralize their obsessions with other thoughts or compulsive actions. Unlike individuals with psychotic or delusional disorders, individuals with OCD generally recognize their obsessions as senseless and know that the obsessions originate in their own minds.


  • obsessions;
  • intrusions;
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder