Compulsive behaviour lies outside our rational thought processes. It is beyond our control for it is driven by something far
more powerful than logic ... fear.
Compulsions are often related to obsessions in which possible threats that exist for everyone become exaggerated.
A switch left on may cause a fire, as could an iron or oven, a door left open may result in burglary and attack, unseen
germs may give us a disease.
Taking action against the threat eases our anxiety to some extent. For example, contamination fears (over ourselves or
others) leads to cleaning and washing since cleanliness does prevent infection and disease.
Common compulsions involve: (List in no particular order)
• Extreme washing and cleaning.
• Repeatedly checking that switches are off and doors are locked.
• Having to say things or touch things a certain number of times.
• Hair pulling (Trichotillomania).
• Incessant tidying and ordering.
• Compulsive buying.
For compulsive behaviours to be diagnosed as a problem a number of criteria are considered. These include:-
They must be present on most days for at least 2
They must be a source of distress or interference
They must be recognized as the individual's
There must be at least one act that
is still resisted unsuccessfully, even though others may be present which the sufferer no longer resists.
The thought of carrying out the act must not
in itself be pleasurable.
So what causes the compulsive behaviour in OCD?
Until recently, nothing had really answered what is happening when we have to check things incessantly or perform rituals over and over
again. All we knew was that the person thought or believed something.
Then, in the excellent book on OCD: Brain Lock by Jeffrey M Schwartz, MD, the reason was taken a step further:-
~ The example is given about a woman who has to repeatedly check that her electric kettle is switched off.
Despite checking many times and knowing that she had switched it off, she had to repeatedly check it again and
'Brain Lock' offers one of the best explanations so far – that the woman doesn't only think or believe that the kettle is
left on but that she FEELS that it is left on.
Now we are getting somewhere; it's feelings that lie at the heart of all these
behaviours. This answer in 'Brain Lock' is very good – but it is not quite correct, there's more to it than this.
The woman doesn't feel that the kettle is left on, she feels something else (and it has nothing to do with the
It's something that she feels about herself.