OCD Success- Expert Corner- Compulsions Explained

Morbid Obsessions

Compulsions- OCD Expert Corner

As an OCD expert, I am often asked the question, “What exactly is a compulsion?” To be honest, there is no simple answer.  However, the most basic explanation I give is; “a compulsion is anything and everything a person does to get rid of anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts. In general, the main features of compulsions are repetitive and purposeful physical or mental actions to counteract anxiety from obsessive thoughts. By helping people to identify what their compulsions exactly are can be a challenging task. But as a trained OCD specialist, my goal is help a person detect and to understand how compulsions only intensify their OCD.

Initial Response to Compulsion

At first, a person performing compulsions or rituals usually finds a sense of relief from their anxiety. As a result, people repeat compulsions as a way of coping with their anxiety from OCD. However, over time, a person finds themselves in a vicious cycle of having an intrusive thought and feeling the urge to reduce their anxiety through a compulsion.  The longer a person engages in a compulsive reaction to an intrusive thought, the more the ritualistic behavior becomes reinforced. As a result, a person tends to put up less and less resistance to performing a compulsion and their effort not to perform a compulsion gets overtaken by the urge to get rid of their anxiety.

Compulsion Awareness

After working over a decade and a half as an OCD specialist, I have found that being aware of compulsive/rituals is an essential key in recovery. Therefore, I have created a process called ‘Compulsion Awareness’ training that reverses the vicious cycle of intrusive thoughts, compulsions, and anxiety. The process works by helping people with OCD recognize that the compulsions have overtime only made their anxiety and OCD worse. Although, compulsions, when they are first performed, appear to lessen one’s anxiety.  The act of performing compulsion behavior over and over again can lead to anxiety in itself.

Takeaway Strategy

In order to recover from OCD effectively, a person must learn to Face their Fears and anxiety created by intrusive thoughts by learning to gain a tolerance for uncertainty, doubt, fear, and anxiety.


Dr. Robert Lancer

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