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What is a Compulsive Behaviour?
Compulsive behaviours are defined as the repetitive physical behaviours and actions that performed following intrusive and obsessive thinking. The compulsive behaviours are commonly performed in an attempt to relieve anxiety caused by the obsessive thoughts. Relief is often temporary and becomes gradually worse with time.
It is estimated that approximately 2.2 Americans suffer from an obsessive and compulsive disorder- this is equal between males and females. It is estimated that approximately 741,504 people in the UK who are living with obsessive compulsive behaviours at a given time.
Type of Compulsive Behaviours
Compulsive behaviours can present in various ways. One way is checking, or confirming something. For example, you can check if doors or windows are locked, alarms are on, water, lights, or that knobs on the stove are secured in the off position. Checking will occur multiple times and can last for hours, which can interfere with activities of daily living, causing an individual to be late for work or other appointments. Checking can severely impact a person’s ability to fulfill daily tasks and potentially damage items that are being checked.
Checking is usually accompanied by a contamination compulsion, or the need to wash or clean. This compulsion derives from the obsession of contracting bacteria or illness for the individual or a loved one. This compulsion may present as avoidant behaviour in regard to touching objects in public spaces, such as poles, door knobs/handles, shaking hands, or using public restrooms for fear of contracting germs. This will also be carried out several times until the individual determines it is clean. This differentiates from OCD because the individual must “feel” that it is clean as opposed to “seeing” that it’s clean.
Hoarding is defined as excessive acquisition and an inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment.
Sexually compulsive behaviours are followed by obsessive thoughts, regarding sexuality and sexual interest. Compulsive behaviour will include avoiding places that would make them vulnerable to sexual obsessions, or avoid individuals that trigger sexual obsessions.
A compulsive gambler is defined as someone who is unable to abstain from gambler. This compulsive behaviour can have severe financial and social consequences and the compulsion can only be relieved by more gambling. This compulsive behaviour is difficult to identify.
Compulsive behaviour with eating, also known as binge-eating, is the behaviour of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time and to the point of discomfort.
Compulsive shopping, also coined as retail therapy, overspending and shopaholism, is the compulsive and uncontrollable consumption and purchase of material items. Compulsive shopping is the unregulated purchasing of products that an individual may never wear or use. This compulsive behaviour can have serious financial consequences.
Compulsive talking, also termed as “oversharing”, is the behaviour of dominating conversation and prioritising yourself and your experiences in conversation with peers. Motivation for this compulsive behaviour can vary but typically this compulsion is used to mask or avoid sharing feelings and to create and enforce unhealthy boundaries with others - pushing them away through talking.
Treatment for Compulsive Behaviours
The best treatment for addressing compulsive behaviours is a talk therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and OCD UK reports that approximately 75% of people with obsessions and compulsive behaviours are significantly helped by CBT. CBT is the preferred treatment method as it has no risks or side-effects and is considered effective and is an evidence based treatment for compulsive behaviour. Using CBT, you will identify and process the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour and work with your therapist to identify triggers and slowly replace unhealthy behaviours with appropriate and healthy actions.
In addition to seeking treatment with a professional, you can also preemptively prepare for your initial appointment. It can be helpful to make a list of symptoms that you feel you exhibit. Any personal information regarding significant events that led to life changes or trigger stress could be relevant as well as any and all medications you are taking - the dosage and the name of medication. Finally, write down a list of questions you have so that you don’t forget and don’t hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
For more information about talking therapies and treatment programmes available at our Clinics in London, Milan and Rome please visit our Treatment page.
All our Therapists offer Psychological Therapies for Compulsive Behaviours to Adults, Children and Teenagers. Click here to meet the Team.
Further Reading about Compulsive Behaviours
Additional reading may be beneficial to help you cope with Compulsive Behaviours. OCD UK provides a list of blogs about treatments for OCD and advocates for awareness of OCD. Help for Hoarders is another blog that addresses the specific and highly stigmatized compulsion of hoarding. This blog offers support through an online community and self help resources.