Obsessive compulsive disorder gives rise to obsessions and compulsions that are more marked than the ‘average person’ in society experiences. Obsessions happen inside our minds and are signs of being fixated about something.
We’ll separate the two and consider compulsions separately here. So what are they, why do we do them and so on? In headline terms, they are purposeful behaviours, intended to counter anxious and unwanted thoughts with physical and mental actions.
We should emphasise at this point that we are speaking of semi-conscious and unconscious acts. People seldom deliberately decide to hoard and start accumulating things. The point is hoarding does add value to their lives and this is the reason why they do it.
What Are the Commonest Compulsions? How Many of Us Have Them?
- Repeatedly checking doors are locked, the gas is off etc. – 28.8%
- Washing and cleaning endlessly – 26.5%
- Repeating the same activity over and over – 11.1%
- Saying the same thing in a set way in our minds – 10.9%
- Focusing on keeping things tidy, symmetrical and orderly – 5.9%
- Hoarding and / or collecting things – 3.5%
- Counting out loud or in our minds – 2.1%
Source of this Table: OCD UK
We can probably match all the listed compulsions to at least one other person we know. It can be helpful to consider how they cope with them, and how they may be helping them deal with something more profound.
These Compulsions Are Actually Natural Responses
Compulsions are a natural reaction to overcome unwanted thoughts and anxieties by doing deliberate, purposeful things. These reactions may be at the physical or mental level, or both. Here we think of things like seeking reassurances, and avoiding people, places and objects.
Of course everybody does this to an extent, and this may be becoming more intense because of the pressures of city life. A specialist might say they become compulsions when they exceed ‘normal behaviour’.
So How Does a Hoarder Experience Their Compulsion
Hoarders are caught between two extremes. Logic tells them hoarding does not make sense, whereas their emotions override that with a strong, subjective drive according to OCD UK. Hoarding wins because it (temporarily) relieves the anxiety behind this conflict.
Obsessive compulsions play out in rigid and structured routines, they say. This is particularly true in terms of obsessional thoughts about protecting a loved one from harm. This may have a bearing on hoarders preserving things with perceived value. In both cases this can be a positive thought unless taken to an extreme.
People with compulsive behaviours often feel a “heightened sense of responsibility to perform the neutralising behaviour because they feel doing so will prevent harm coming to them or their loved ones” according to OCD UK. At other times they are just chasing after a ‘feel good sensation’ by ‘doing the right thing’.
Pulling These Thoughts Together
Our emotions, thoughts and desires are the outward signs of electro-chemical processes inside our brains. We are all a little different from each other. One person may not be a superb athlete but they might play the guitar rather well. Another could prefer being alone with their own thoughts while gardening.
We need to understand each other better. and stop saying people with obsessive compulsions are ill and need help. If you do not show signs of at least one of those compulsions we listed, then perhaps you are the ‘odd one out’ yourself.