Definition of Compulsions and Compulsive Behaviors
Compulsive behaviors are actions that are performed persistently and repetitively without necessarily resulting in any reward or positive effect. Compulsive behaviors are usually not pathological in and of themselves, but are characterized by the fact that they are typically not related to the purpose to which they seem to be intended. Compulsions can also refer to mental behaviors that fit the same characteristics. Compulsions have a variety of causes, including religious ritualistic behaviors, anxiety, physiological dysfunction, and mood disorders. One of the most common causes of compulsions is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This can feel similar to a skip in a record player, where the person is fraught with an irresistible urge to repeat again and again the same behavior until something releases her or him from the skip.
Types of Compulsions
Compulsions and compulsive behaviors fall into a range of categories. In OCD, compulsions can be an attempt to reduce anxiety and regain a sense of security and control over life, responding the exaggerated sense of danger and risk that often accompanies this disorder. Compulsive behaviors often occur in conjunction with obsessions, and are often an attempt to rid oneself of obsessive thoughts. There are many types of compulsions that fall into several categories.
- word, phrase, song or tune repetition
- talking and word repetition
- outwardly-focused physical behaviors (such as raising a hand in the air, picking up a foot)
- touching (often done in a ritualistic sequence, for example, needing to touch the doorknob three times and the lightswitch two times before leaving the house).
- hand washing
- picking at the hair and/or the skin, lips, scabs, etc.
- pulling out strands of hair
- pulling out eyelashes
Although this list contains some of the most characteristic and common compulsive behaviors associated with OCD, almost any behavior can be a compulsion. In OCD, compulsions often are combined together and acted out through rituals, forming the OCD component of ritualistic behavior. Oftentimes these rituals become so elaborate or numerous that they take up a great deal of the person´s time and energy, coming to dominate the person´s life. In these cases, the holding down of a job, steady relationships, studies, and housing can become exceedingly difficult as the person is unable to redirect focus away from the compulsions and is physically and mentally exhausted.
Read about help and treatment for compulsive behaviors related to OCD here.