OCD and Performing Rituals
We all have an innate connection to something more, some greater power we feel may be good to us or do
us harm; nobody wants to tempt fate. Rituals are a part of everyday life, seen in such things as:-
saying 'touch wood' not to tempt fate
throwing salt over the shoulder
saying 'bless you' after sneezing (origin: to protect from attack by the devil in a vulnerable moment)
all those pre-performance 'ceremonies' of sports stars and entertainers to enlist the help of some
higher force for support.
There are worship rituals, greeting rituals, bedroom rituals and eating rituals – all performed so that things go
Performing rituals resides deep within the human psyche and all rituals are based on an underlying
apprehension of being hurt or things going wrong.
In OCD this apprehension becomes fear, morbid fear – We will be hurt or things will go wrong if we don't carry out
Common Rituals Include: (List in no particular order)
• Blinking / staring rituals.
• Touching, tapping or rubbing certain objects for a specific number of times.
• Saying certain things a number of times.
• Counting certain objects.
• Behaviour based on superstitious beliefs eg. avoiding to step on cracks.
• Mental reciting, eg. prayers or phrases to prevent something bad happening.
• Aligning objects so they are 'just right'.
When fears involve potential threats from higher powers and unseen forces, the only thing we can do to allay anxiety involves
ordering and rituals. Rituals are basically attempts to control the uncontrollable, to gain a say in the
However, compulsions and rituals only give us the illusion of control. We cannot really control higher forces or the future
and so this behaviour often gets stronger.
Compulsions often turn into rituals. For example, in washing rituals we may go from hand washing a number of times to more detailed
sequences such as washing each finger in a certain order or a certain way before moving on to the next finger
And rituals, themselves, often become more and more complex.
OCD, Rituals and Religion
Ancient tribes, with no understanding of the natural forces that dictated their lives (eg. the sun providing light and heat
and life itself), often performed rituals to these forces in order to allay the anxiety of having no control whatsoever
over the awesome power that controlled their existence.
The sun, moon and the elements were often seen as Gods in many civilisations and today, all religions perform rituals to
God in order to feel a sense of control and gain favour with the ultimate power that can determine our future for
If God is going to punish us, what on earth can we do about it? Nothing! It is an unbearable situation, one of apprehension
and complete lack of control.
Religion, itself, can play a large part in the obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals for many people – a preoccupation
with sin and faith. The only thing that we can do to allay anxiety over the fear of punishment by God is to try and gain some
sense of control through the order and structuring inherent in rituals.
When looked at as a disorder or mental illness, OCD can seem almost insurmountable. But when we look at it through the
lens of human evolution and survival a very different picture emerges.
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"any formal act, institution or procedure that is followed consistently"
(Collins English Dictionary)
Cleaning / Washing
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