Let's learn more about compulsions

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Hey! In lesson 1, you learned more about obsessions and the type of unwanted thoughts children get. You also learned about magical thinking, that feelings are not facts, how to shelve problems, and other things besides. In this lesson, I will teach you more about compulsions and why you do them... Let's watch the video first, and hear what the children at UNSTUCK say about their compulsions...

What did you learn from the children in this video?

This video helps you to learn that when you get unwanted thoughts, images and urges, you often do things over and over again because you think this will make your anxiety and fear go away, which it does for a very short time, and then the fear and anxiety come back and you do the things you did already all over again. 

When you do things over and over again, you are doing compulsions or compulsive behaviours? So the word "compulsive" in obsessive compulsive disorder means doing certain behaviours that match the obsession. For example, fearing germs (obsession) means a compulsion will be to wash repeatedly to "get rid" of the germs. 

Let's see what compulsions the children do below, then you can talk with your parent or caregiver about what your compulsions might be. 

Billy's Compulsions

My compulsion is to give into what OCD wants. For example, if I want to wear my black jumper, my OCD tells me I have to wear my blue one or something bad will happen. I understand about magical thinking now, and how thoughts cannot make bad things happen, but I'm still unsure about taking risks and living with uncertainty. Doing what OCD wants makes my anxiety go down for a little while, but I haven't learned properly yet that doing compulsions makes my obsession worse. Caring Carol said she is going to give me some tips to help me make decisions about my choices, instead of doing what OCD wants. 

Sarah's compulsions

My compulsions are known as symmetry compulsions because I feel like I need everything straight. I also have "just right" compulsions because things cause me distress if something doesn't feel or sound right. So my compulsions are not only getting in and out of bed before eventually lying down, I also get my mom to say "goodnight" over and over again too, until it sounds just right. I spend a long time dressing and undressing too until it feels right; and I will take forever touching one side of my body and then the other side until that feels right. I have an urge to put my books in order too, and until they match perfectly on the shelf. Making sure all the things I've collected are still there takes a long time also. I do these compulsions not only to "feel right" but also to feel less distress. But this doesn't last long, and so I do the compulsions all over again. Soon Caring Carol will help me to understand that my compulsions make my obsessions get worse, not better.

Johnny's Compulsion

I wash my hands lots of times every day because I think this stops me from getting germs and spreading them. I wash a lot because I want to stop feeling filthy too. I feel less anxious when I wash my hands, but this doesn't last long, and soon I need to wash my hands again. I'm still a little confused about feelings not being facts, like when my hands are clean but still feel dirty. Anyway, Caring Carol is going to help me learn more about this soon, so I'm glad about that, even though I'm a bit nervous too.

Jasmine's compulsions

I feel a bit better about what Caring Carol said about the chance of a burglar being in our street. It's because the chance of this is close to zero. But I still feel like I have to give into the compulsion to double-check just to make sure. I do this because it eases my distress, but only for a little while, and then I have to check again. When I'm out, I check by texting my mom. I ask her to go make sure the windows and doors are locked. I feel reassured when she texts back and says everything is okay. I know now that reassurance from my mom is another compulsion, but at the moment I can't help it. I also go into all the rooms and check the windows are closed when I'm home, and I double check the doors are locked over and over again, even when I've already seen my mom lock them. It's exhausting, and so Caring Carol is going to help me break my compulsions down and then show me in small steps how not to do them anymore. She says not doing compulsions weakens the obsession, but you have to stop gradually, not all at once, otherwise it would be too overwhelming.  

George's Compulsions

I have been very worried about my obsessive thinking, especially about tornadoes at the moment. So my compulsion is to avoid going out in bad weather, or if there is a storm I do another compulsion which is escaping. I escape by hiding under my bed. When I avoid or escape, I spend lots of time ruminating about my fears. Caring Carol told me that ruminating is another type of compulsion that you cannot see because it's done quietly in the mind. Ruminating is constantly worrying about things that bother you or scare you; it's like you go over and over in your mind about what if this happens or what if that happens. The more I ruminate about everything that worries me, the more I want to avoid and escape from my fear, and it just goes on and on. Another compulsion that I do is ask for reassurance all of the time, like asking my parents over and over again if everything will be okay. Caring Carol's thinking time diary helps me, and soon I'm going to learn about living with uncertainty too.

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Quiz Time! 

See what you can remember about what you've just learned!

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

  1. Can you find out what George's compulsions are and write them down?
  2. If someone has a fear of germs (obsession) what will their compulsion usually be?
  3. Sarah has a symmetry obsession. Name two things she does to "feel right".
  4. When Jasmine does a checking compulsion, her anxiety reduces, but it would still reduce even if she didn't do a checking compulsion, it would just take a little longer. True or false?
  5. Since compulsions make OCD worse in the long run, what do you think is the best thing to do?

Great job for completing lesson two!


And now for your next lesson...

Click the lesson 3 link below and let's go learn how you can make your own choices! 

Lesson 3

Parents and caregivers summary box 

The learning outcome for this lesson is for your child to understand that compulsions are behaviours that make them think doing them will ward off perceived danger, make things "feel right" and to relieve anxiety and reduce fear. A further learning objective however is for your child to grasp that while giving into compulsions lowers anxiety initially it actually increases this in the long run. This will be covered in more detail later. At this stage, it's a good time to discuss with your child that thoughts are not directly linked to an action (this is referred to as thought-action-fusion) e.g., because they have a thought about something, it doesn't mean that thought will occur. This means compulsions are not required. You can further encourage your child to trust facts based on probability rather than ideas based on feelings and assuming something bad will happen based on how they feel. Finally doubts versus certainty play a big part in OCD and this will be covered further in the next lessons.

Copyright © 2013 Carol Edwards Updated 2016, 2018 Banner: stock photo. Images: royalty free advanced search.