I will now discuss different types of compulsions and their role in the obsessive cycle. To recap the definition: compulsions are behaviors, both physical and mental, that a person engages in to alleviate, eliminate, and relieve themselves of the obsessions, and the anxiety or uncomfortable feelings caused by obsessions.
Here is a list of some types of Compulsive Behaviors or Rituals people often engage in:
Thought blocking – or trying to prevent a thought from entering your mind
Thought suppression – or trying to stop thinking or focusing on certain thoughts
Thought replacement – or trying to purposely think of something in order to distract your mind from a negative thought
Counting – when one counts numbers or objects in order to distract themselves from unwanted thoughts
Praying – when one engages in praying to God or any other religious figure to address unwanted thoughts. This is a tricky compulsion because one must identify why they are praying and what they are praying about. If the prayer is a reaction to a negative thought there is a good chance it is a compulsive behavior.
Doing things to “distract” yourself – When one engages in an activity for the sole purpose of distracting themselves from an unwanted thought. An example may be drinking alcohol or using drugs.
Analyzing past events – This is when one repeatedly tries to review past events to identify if certain things happened. An example would be someone thinking back to try and remember if they ever touched anything that was contaminated as a child.
Analyzing previous conversations – This is when one repeatedly replays conversations in their head to make sure they did not say anything inappropriate.
Trying to predict what people are thinking – When one repeatedly makes assumptions, usually negative, about what others are thinking.
Getting lost in thought – when one over analyzes anything in their mind. I often refer to it as getting lost-in-thought; others may refer to it as ruminating. The point being, a person may literally spend hours analyzing event after event. This is another tricky compulsion because like prayer, getting lost in thought is something a person can do and no one else will ever notice it is happening. Since analyzing past events is something everyone probably does from time to time, it may be hard to recognize as a compulsion. For a simple guideline, remember that if you are starting to analyze a past event because of an unwanted thought or because you are feeling anxious, it is likely a compulsion.
The Big 3: Avoidance, Checking, and Reassurance
Avoidance is when one avoids a specific object or participating in something due to a fear of obsessive thoughts. Some examples could include, but are not limited to:
Avoiding holding children for fear you may accidentally harm them
Avoiding changing a baby’s diaper for fear of becoming a pedophile
Avoiding watching certain shows/movies because the content may scare or trigger you
Avoiding religious institutions/Holy places for fear of judgment
Avoiding sharp objects for fear you may harm yourself or someone else
Avoiding weapons for fear you may harm yourself or someone else
Avoiding pictures of weapons for fear that they may trigger unwanted thoughts
Avoiding places or objects that you consider dirty or contaminated
Avoiding people you care about for fear you might hurt them
Avoiding people for fear of possibly being sexually attracted to them
Avoiding touching certain objects (i.e. door knobs, glasses, tables, people, pens, phones, or clothes) for fear of getting “dirty” or “contaminated”
Checking is when one repeatedly checks something as a result of fear or doubt raised by obsessive thoughts. People who engage in this compulsion will often check things over and over again. Some examples of checking include but are not limited to:
Checking to make sure something is locked for fear of someone breaking in
Checking to make sure the stove or oven is off for fear of starting a fire
Checking to make sure all electronics are unplugged
Checking to see if you were sexually aroused by a certain person or experience
Driving back to check if you hit someone with your car
Checking and rechecking your work papers for errors
Taking a test to check if you acquired a certain disease
Checking the trash to make sure you didn’t throw something important away
Reassurance is when someone seeks out some type of information to reassure them that their fear or doubt won’t happen. This is probably the ultimate compulsion, as all the compulsions described above virtually offer some type of reassurance for the person experiencing obsessions.
As Janet Singer stated in her article titled “OCD and the Need for Reassurance:”
“If reassurance were a substance, it would be considered right up there with crack cocaine. One is never enough, a few makes you want more, tolerance is constantly on the rise, and withdrawal hurts. In other words, people with OCD and related conditions who compulsively seek reassurance get a quick fix, but actually worsen their discomfort in the long term.” [i]
Some types of Reassurance include but are not limited to:
Asking someone for reassurance about a certain worry
Reading websites or books to reassure yourself of something very specific
Calling someone to make sure they are okay
Talking to priests/pastors to reassure yourself about a worry
Confessing sins and praying to reassure yourself that you are forgiven
Reading about diseases and symptoms to reassure you haven’t acquired it
Cleaning things to offer reassurance they aren’t contaminated [ii] [iii]
Key Point Regarding Compulsions
Compulsions are behaviors or actions that offer temporary relief from the negative feelings caused by obsessions.
Compulsions can take on a variety of forms and are sometimes hard to identify because they are not always outward behaviors.
Some compulsions are very subtle and can be performed silently such as analyzing the past, avoiding situations, and praying.
[i] Singer, J. (2013). OCD and the Need for Reassurance. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 6, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-the-need-for-reassurance/00015835
[ii] Hyman, B. M., & Pedrick, C. (2005). The OCD Workbook: your guide to breaking free from obsessive-compulsive disorder (2nd ed.). (pp, 19-22) Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
[iii] About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (2011). OCD Types. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from http://www.ocdtypes.com
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