Let's learn about the OCD cycle

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Wow! You're up to your third lesson already! 

In lesson 1 you learned about obsessions which are unwanted thoughts, urges and images that cause you distress; and in lesson 2 you learned that compulsions reduce anxiety caused by the obsessions. You also learned that doing compulsions only gives you anxiety relief for a little while which is why you do compulsions again and again. At first it feels like compulsions are the solution for getting rid of OCD. Unfortunately this isn't the case because rituals keep OCD going in a circle. 

Lesson 3 will help you figure out that resisting compulsions can be done; and that you can start to learn how to undo those behaviours and do what you want instead of what OCD wants. 

When you resist compulsions you start to break the OCD cycle.

Let's first take a look at how the OCD cycle works...

Now let’s go around the OCD circle to see how each part plays its role


You've learned already that obsessions are also called intrusive or unwanted thoughts; and also obsessive thoughts. Nobody can help their obsessive thoughts, they just happen.


Obsessions cause anxiety which is like the feeling you get in your tummy when you go to the dentist or when something makes you feel nervous, like starting a new class. 


Anxiety is so horrible that children do compulsions to make obsessions stop. Compulsions are also called compulsive behaviours or rituals. 


You get relief from anxiety for a little while after you've done a compulsion but then anxiety comes back because the obsession bothers you again. This shows that compulsions cannot make obsessions stop; instead this makes the obsessions worse. 

So now you can see how OCD goes around like a circle

Learning to break the OCD cycle helps you get better. It is hard work breaking the cycle because anxiety is so horrible, but it's worth the hard work because this is what makes your OCD weaken. The more it weakens the more you're able to do things the way you did before OCD. Let's look below to learn more about breaking the OCD cycle with my 3-step doubting challenge.

Caring Carol's 3-Step Doubting Challenge

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Let's kick OCD doubts into touch

Making decisions can be a big struggle which can make you get the urge to

 choose what OCD wants instead of what you want. This is especially hard 

when OCD makes you believe something bad will happen.

Caring Carol says there is no proof to show that OCD can make bad things 

happen. If OCD could make bad things happen it would be like magic, yet 

magic is just a trick!

Unfortunately doubts can be a tricky thing to manage which is why Caring 

Carol wrote the 3-step Doubting Challenge. 

Come on, let's go explore below... 



First, a decision can be anything, like choosing what you want to wear, what you want to play, whether to straighten something, which pencil to use, or something else. When YOU DECIDE you may get thoughts that something bad will happen, so do remember there has never been any proof that having thoughts can make something happen. 

You can learn to challenge what OCD tells you to do by making your own decisions. For example, if your choice is to wear your blue jumper, then the idea is to resist putting on your black one, which is what OCD might be telling you to do. 

Once you've made your choice, whatever that choice might be, you've taken a very brave step in your step 1 challenge...

Okay, so now let's skip across to step 2... 



doubt often creeps in once you’ve made your choice. You may continue to worry that something bad will happen and wonder if it would be better to change your mind and do what OCD wants instead. If you do what OCD wants instead this will be a compulsion. So your job is to resist doing the compulsion. You'll have to bear with the anxiety whilst keeping to your decision and you might think you'll be anxious forever about not "feeling right", that you'll never get over losing something, or that you'll be scared about a bad thing happening. Just stay strong and remind yourself that your anxiety will come down, that you're not alone, and that OCD is beatable. Stick with your choice while letting your distress happen, it will come down whether you do a compulsion or not.

Time to jump down to step 3… 



Holding on to your choice shows great determination and courage, and it gives you the chance to recognise that the fear about something bad happening when you don't do a compulsion is based on feelings and guesses, not facts. When you get doubts you might say, "But what if something bad does happen?" or "But what if I never feel just right?"...Yet by resisting the compulsion whilst letting your distress happen you get the chance to learn that you can manage really well. With practice you will see that you can make your own choices and cope after all, just like the children in the UNSTUCK videos.

Doing Caring Carol's 3-step Challenge is very courageous! When you've done it once, you can do it again, and every time you do it, you keep on beating OCD!

You're a star!

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Quiz Time 

Let's see how well you can remember what you've just learned!

 Caring Carol says please ask your grown-up to help you find the answers! 

  1. Can you name the four things on the OCD cycle?
  2. What happens to the OCD cycle when you start doing what you want, and not what OCD wants?
  3. Anxiety comes down all by itself, even when you don't do a compulsion? True/False?
  4. What are the 3 steps called for Caring Carol's 3-step challenge?
  5. Write out Caring Carol's "YOU DECIDE" tip on a piece of card you can keep. When you feel urged to do a compulsion, ask yourself how this can help you? Note this down as a reminder to yourself.
Caring Carol says WELL DONE on coming to the end of your third lesson!

Thumbs Up!

And now for your fourth lesson...

It's time to go to the next page for your fourth lesson. Lesson 4 is about cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT for short. CBT helps you learn more about resisting compulsions and doing what you want to do. Just click on the link below and I'll see you there!

Lesson 4

Parents and caregivers summary box

The goal highlighted on this page is to help children feel confident that they are capable of making their own choices and to believe that their decisions are okay. This learning page further reinforces the importance that thought-action fusion isn't connected and as a result encourages your child to trust facts based on probability rather than feelings or guesses. Since doubts versus certainty play a big part in OCD, it's important that this problem is addressed as soon as it's recognised to guard against OCD becoming further entrenched. A discussion point with your child at this stage would be to highlight that being exposed to their obsessional fear is something they can manage with their anxiety, since anxiety comes down once it's reached a peak, and whether compulsions or giving into or not. Resisting compulsions helps a child build distress tolerance and eventual habituation to their fears. More about habituation will be discussed in lesson 4. 

Click link below for an effective exposure strategy!

O.C.D. - An Effective Strategy for Exposure Response Prevention

Copyright © 2013 Carol Edwards. Updated 2016, 2018.  

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