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The OCD Cycle

Hi, do you find it difficult to choose what you want do and then do what OCD wants instead? 
Do you remember that when you do what OCD wants you are doing a compulsion? 

Compulsions reduce anxiety for a little while and so children do compulsions again because it's hard to live with anxiety. They think this is the solution but unfortunately it isn't because it keeps OCD going in a circle. Children also think compulsions will stop bad things happening; or to feel right. But nothing bad will happen if you don't do compulsions. 

This page will help you become less fearful about not doing compulsions which can help you do what you want instead of what OCD wants. 

Let’s go around this OCD circle to see exactly what happens

Obsessive thought

Obsessive thoughts are also called intrusive or unwanted thoughts; and also obsessions. These are worrying thoughts that make children and grown-ups feel fearful about harm coming to themselves or someone they know. Or they may be about keeping things perfect, to feel right, or being fearful of losing things.  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. 

Compulsive behaviour

Anxiety is so horrible that children do compulsive behaviours to reduce this kind of distress. Compulsive behaviours are also known as rituals or compulsions. These might be checking, straightening things, hand-washing, tapping, counting, ruminating, avoiding or escaping, or something else. It might also be saying a certain phrase or prayer under your breath to cancel out an unwanted thought or image. You might also swap bad images for good ones. Or you might keep things because it makes you feel anxious to part with them.

Temporary relief

Doing compulsions gives you temporary relief.This means that the anxiety goes away for a little while but then it comes back because the obsession bothers you again. When anxiety gets really high you get the urge to do more compulsions to get temporary relief again.

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

Learning to break the OCD cycle helps you get better, but this is hard work because anxiety is so horrible, and so to help you along how about reading my 3-step doubting challenge (below). My challenge will help you see that making your own decisions can help you break the OCD cycle, even when you're doubtful or feeling very anxious. Just remember that anxiety can only reach so high before it comes down all by itself, and the more you do my 3-step challenge the sooner your anxiety will get less and less, and your obsessions will too.

  Caring Carol's 3-Step Doubting Challenge

Children with OCD often find it difficult making decisions

Because children with OCD often find it difficult making decisions, they can get the urge to do what OCD wants instead. This can be very scary because some children believe that if they don’t do what their OCD wants it will make a threat that something bad will happen; or they think that they'll never ever feel "just right" about something or that they might lose something, get germs and fall ill, or feel dirty forever, or something else.

Caring Carol says there is no proof to show that OCD threats can make bad things happen. If OCD could make bad things happen it would be like magic, but magic is just a trick!

Unfortunately, children still get doubts about making decisions which is why Caring Carol wrote the 3-step Doubting Challenge. 

Let's take a look... 


First, a decision can be anything, like choosing what you want to wear, what you want to eat, which movie to watch, or something else. When you decide, you may get thoughts that something bad will happen, but the way to disprove this is to think to yourself that even though you feel worried about making your own decision you will do it anyway.

The list of decisions is endless.

Remember, 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 it might be, you've taken a very brave step...

Okay, so now let's skip to step 2… 


doubt often creeps in once you’ve made your choice. You may continue to worry that something bad could 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. But your job is to resist doing the compulsion, so remember to bear with the anxiety whilst keeping to your decision. You might think you'll panic forever about not "feeling right", that you'll never get over losing something, or get really fearful that the bad thing might happen. But stay strong and remind yourself that your anxiety won't last. Doubts can make you feel very distressed, but the best thing to do when challenging a doubt is to stick with your choice while letting your distress happen and it will come down eventually, usually within an hour.

Time to jump 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 if 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 does happen?" or "But what if I never feel just right?", or something else. But by resisting you get the chance to learn that you can manage really well when you get the "something doesn't feel right" sensation, or when you think you'll never get over losing something, or whatever it is that causes you distress. With practice you will see that you can make your own choices and cope after all.

Doing the 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!

Image result for thumbs up


Caring Carol says that as you begin to challenge and defeat OCD, remember her important message below!

"Every minute you resist doing a compulsion means you are in control. For every minute you are in control, you are beating OCD. Control means being in charge of what you do instead of OCD being in charge of what you do."

 Question Section 

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 do what you want?
  3. Does anxiety come down all by itself? How long does it usually take?
  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, how could this help you?
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. This lesson is about cognitive behavioural therapy and will help 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: 

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. Also highlighted in this lesson is the recognition that with continued exposure children learn that they can manage their anxiety which further helps them habituate to their fears. More about habituation will be discussed in lesson 4. 

Copyright © 2013 Carol Edwards. Updated 2016, 2017.  

Images: royalty free advanced search.