There’s Only One Reason For a Compulsion

What Is the True Purpose of a Compulsion?

A compulsive behavior is defined as a compelling need to persistently and repeatedly perform a visible or mental act. If you have OCD then you’ve probably explained to someone that the reason you perform compulsions is to “feel just right” and/or prevent harm.

OCD stories
OCD has quite an imagination

There is usually an elaborate story to explain the compulsion even further:

“My mind tells me to do compulsions or my son might die.” That’s quite a Marvel-ish story! Actually, you’re not a superhero and your mind tells you to do compulsions because you haven’t <<YET>> learned how to super charge your anxiety.

“I threw my phone out because my mind told me it was contaminated and I’d spread sickness to others.” Your mind gives you a very expensive way to avoid anxiety. Just throw stuff out! You’ll have lots of $$$$ when you decide to just be anxious.

“My mind tells me I can’t move forward with this task until I have designed a Grand Ole’ Master Plan for the next 10 years of my life.” Your mind tells a very rigid, controlled story because you haven’t <<YET>> learned how to experience uncertainty.

“My mind tells me that I am living a fake life. What if I don’t really love this person. Maybe I’m actually gay.” Your mind goes into overdrive to try and protect whatever is precious and sacred to you because you haven’t <<YET>> mastered anxiety.

“My mind tells me I have a health condition. Even though I’ve had negative results from numerous blood tests, x-rays and other procedures I still think I’ve got a serious condition that the doctors are missing.” 

Your mind is right. You probably do have a health condition like the rest of the population. We all die of something! You keep trying to find out what that condition is because you haven’t <<YET>> learned how to live with uncertainty.

The True Purpose of A Compulsion Revealed

The only reason you truly perform compulsions is to AVOID:

  • suffering
  • being cast aside or abandoned (which brings us back to suffering)
  • experiencing a catastrophic event that results in irreversible damage (which brings us back to suffering)

Why will you do just about anything to avoid suffering? Because you haven’t taken the time to think it through and realize that you can handle the suffering. No matter what happens you are always capable of growing and changing.

The other day I had a terrible thought on my mind. I’d been told something that freaked me out and my mind became sticky. By 3am I still couldn’t shake the thought. My fear was that this thought would not leave anytime soon and that I would have this very gross unwanted thought stuck in my mind for days on end. 

Finally, I stopped wrestling. I reminded myself of what I tell my clients, “The only way out is in.” I had to lean into this thought. I made my mind deliberately think of the graphic pictures and I agreed with my fear, “Yes, this sideshow could play for days on end.”

The shrug didn’t work. I thought I would get relief from surrendering to the thought but I didn’t. At 5am it occurred to me that I would be starting another day with this horrific haunting unwanted thought. 

I shrugged again and this time said, “It’s going to be a very unpleasant difficult day but I can handle it.” I CAN HANDLE IT. At that point, the movie projector abruptly stopped playing the horrible picture in my mind.

Just typing this to tell you about the unwanted thought I had is triggering the thought. But, this time I am much quicker to say, “Okay. If this picture gets stuck in my mind again it’ll be unpleasant but I can handle it.” ~By the way this story is proof that everybody gets weird disturbing thoughts. Not just people with OCD.

Behind Every OCD Story is an Attempt to Avoid Suffering

The mother with harm-avoidance OCD won’t touch her baby until she has scrubbed in the shower for an hour. She explains, “I have to shower so I don’t get the baby sick.” In other words: “I won’t forgive myself. I’ll feel guilty. (Suffer) I don’t want to be responsible if the baby gets sick. (Blamed, cast aside and suffer) If my baby gets sick she’ll die.” (catastrophic thinking and suffering)

But, all of it is just a story. The story is quite irrelevant. Especially considering the baby needs to get sick. Compulsions just don’t make sense. Besides the baby not building an immune system that reach for a hug has to wait until the shower is over.  Compulsions don’t help. They hurt.

The woman with relationship OCD (ROCD) isn’t sure she truly loves her significant other so she constantly seeks confirmation that she’s in the right relationship. Most of the compulsive behavior is comparing and contrasting. She repeatedly checks to see if he measures up or if she has the right feelings at the right time.

Resist compulsions
Everything is a learning opportunity

She explains, “I just don’t want to make a mistake and waste our lives.” That explanation of not wanting to waste lives or time doesn’t make sense. No matter what happens we are capable of growth and change. 

In every great relationship, there is doubt and imperfection. We never know how anything will turn out. (Anyone who claims to have certainty is afraid of uncertainty.) We must be willing to find out from moment to moment what happens. If what happens includes suffering, you can handle it because you are capable of growth and change.

OCD stories
The story is irrelevant

A compulsion has nothing to do with the storyline or the characters in the story. 

It’s really about learning how to experience anxiety.

Everybody with OCD has a story that incorporates people, places and things of value and importance. OCD thoughts and worries seem to always be overly protective about whatever is precious and sacred to you. 

An OCD story is usually accompanied by an inflated sense of responsibility. The belief that you can and must control an outcome beyond human capability or above what is normally expected of others.

Compulsive Behavior Best Describes…

Peel any OCD story like an onion and at the very core, you’ll find the true reason for compulsions: An aversion to discomfort. Let all of this sink in:

  • If you suffer from sickness what will you feel? Pain. (Discomfort)
  • If you are abandoned what will you feel? Loneliness. (Discomfort)
  • If someone you love is annihilated what will you feel? Heartbroken. (Discomfort)
  • If you keep having bad thoughts how will you feel? Guilty. (Discomfort)
  • If you feel gross what will you feel? Yuck. (Discomfort)
  • If you don’t feel just right, what will you feel? Just wrong. (Discomfort)
  • If you’ve wasted your time or someone else’s time what will you feel? Empty. Guilty. (Discomfort)
  • If you die from a fatal accident or deadly disease what will you feel? Who knows. (Discomfort)
  • If God is disappointed with you what will you feel? God’s supposed wrath. I personally don’t subscribe to this belief but I know there are people who think of God as quick to anger and this causes them pain. (Discomfort) 
A compulsive behavior is defined as an attempt to avoid experiencing discomfort.

There Is Freedom In Surrendering

Contrary to what an individual with OCD thinks, compulsions do NOT prevent suffering, abandonment or annihilation. This is a cover-up story. All things considered, compulsions only temporarily neutralize anxiety while at the same time making your world and self-esteem small.

Radically accept uncertainty in all walks of life and there is no need to perform another compulsion. When you accept, “whatever happens, happens” you are surrendering to feeling uncomfortable and compulsions no longer have a role in your day to day existence. Cross each bridge when you get to it. If you get to it.

In the book Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success authors Feldman and Kravetz explain that giving up is sometimes the only way to move forward. Truly accept the consequences of a potential unwanted event or feeling and there’s no need for compulsions. Let’s just move on.

Most importantly, accept that because of your lack of control over what happens, you may suffer from the uncertainty. It’s okay. You are capable of handling it. There’s a direct correlation between the amount of suffering you feel and the amount of growth you experience.

The more you see an opportunity to grow the less suffering you experience.

News Flash! Compulsions Do Not:

  • Prevent suffering. They cause it.
  • Protect you from abandonment. They actually isolate you and push people away. 
  • Keep you or anyone else alive. They rob you of spending time with loved ones.

It’s a dysfunctional belief that compulsions do something good. First and foremost, compulsions do nothing but gobble you up. With every compulsion, you’re losing a part of you. 

Most of all, it’s a myth that anxiety is debilitating. Your resistance to experiencing anxiety is crippling you. You’ve got to go towards the anxiety. You can do anything with anxiety. You can’t-do much by avoiding.

Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:

Lean into the anxiety and you’ll earn your freedom. You don’t need a compulsion if you’re willing to be anxious. Remember, you can handle any consequence. You are always capable of growing and changing. 

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3 thoughts on “There’s Only One Reason For a Compulsion”

  1. Great post! So many of these phrases and points are ones that you have said to me and made a huge difference in my coping with my OCD and anxiety, and actually many aspects of life in general.

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