Why Doing Your Compulsions Won’t Make Your OCD Better

Research shows that performing compulsions actually makes obsessions come back stronger.  The compulsions may give you temporary relief, but in the long run, they actually reinforce the obsessive thoughts.  Here’s an example:

Sarah worries obsessively that her father will be killed in an accident unless she avoids using the number four – that’s the obsession.  Whenever she’s confronted with a four, she avoids, or dodges, it – that’s the compulsion.  At breakfast in the dining hall, Sarah is served four pancakes.  She throws one away or maybe the whole meal to avoid a four.

Then she goes to her first class, where she is given a four-part assignment; she decides to finish only three parts.  That evening, three of Sarah’s friends are going to a movie and invite her to join them.  She declines because the group would be a foursome.

Each time Sarah compulsively avoids the number four, her anxiety is temporarily reduced.  Because compulsive avoidance makes her feel better, she begins to rely on it more and more.  As time goes by, this ritualistic avoidance not only persists but actually becomes excessive.  She knows it doesn’t make sense, but obsessions about her mother’s death and compulsive avoidance start to fill her waking hours, making it impossible for her to function.

It can be extremely difficult to resist the urge to perform a compulsion on your own. Treatment called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can help by teaching you how to manage your anxiety and gradually stop your compulsive behavior.  This is the treatment of choice for OCD, and many thousands of people who have completed CBT know it really works.

Read personal stories of CBT success

Read what the experts say about CBT therapy

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