Common OCD Compulsions

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What Defines the Compulsions in OCD

Compulsions are part of the cycle of obsessions and compulsions that a person with OCD experiences. The obsessions are the problems that consume a person’s thoughts and leads them to compulsive behaviors. The compulsions are performed in an attempt to bring some relief from the obsessions. The effect is temporary and the cycle repeats itself, over and over.

List of Common ODC Compulsions

Obsessions and compulsions play out in many ways but some are more common than others. Compulsions are described as mental acts or repetitive behaviors that are engaged in to relieve the worry and anxiety caused by obsessions. Here is a list of the more common OCD compulsions that people experience:

  • Compulsive cleaning is a well known sign of OCD. The person is afraid of contamination and performs cleaning rituals such as showering for extended periods, scrubbing their hands with harsh cleaners and repeatedly cleaning certain areas of their home.
  • Some people with OCD have a fear of causing an accident in the home and are compelled to check that appliances are switched off, and doors and windows are locked. Others fear causing a road accident and may compulsively check roads to ensure they haven’t knocked someone over.
  • Another common fear is that of contracting a dread disease. The person may visit doctors repeatedly and ask for tests, examinations and reassurance that he is not sick. These visits are often based on symptoms that may be minor or imagined.
  • Counting and ordering rituals are common OCD compulsions that people engage in to try and reduce anxiety or banish intrusive sexual or violent thoughts. Typically, they include doing things in a certain way and organizing items into specific orders. This might include arranging their clothing by color, CDs alphabetically or books by size.
  • Hoarding is a well known compulsion and is the result of indecision and the fear of throwing away something that might be needed. The person seems unable to discard worthless items such as plastic bags, old newspapers and magazines, and old appliances, and hoards these. If they engage in this practice for long enough, their home may be overrun with piles of trash.

How Compulsions Affect People’s Lives

Compulsions have a number of negative effects on people’s lives and they are often aware of these. However, the drive behind the compulsions is so strong that they feel trapped in an endless cycle of fear, anxiety and rituals. The effects include the following:

  • An excessive amount of time is spent in performing the rituals. This interferes with daily life and may result in loss of employment as well as social isolation.
  • Many people are embarrassed by their OCD. They know that their behavior is abnormal but seem unable to do anything about it. They may try and keep their compulsions a secret.
  • Cleaning rituals can cause harm to skin and hands due to the overuse of harsh chemicals. Skin may become raw and chapped and medical help may be needed.
  • People with a fear of sickness often spend large amounts of money on doctors and unnecessary medical tests. This can cause financial hardship to themselves and their families.
  • If a person engages in ordering compulsions, they may become distraught or angry if someone touches something they have placed in order.
  • In a similar fashion, hoarders may be genuinely distressed if someone suggests they clean out their junk and throw some stuff away.

While these are some of the common OCD compulsions, there are many more that are not so well known. All of them cause hardship to the sufferer and often embarrassment as well. Many sufferers desire to be free of the endless obsessions and compulsions but they often do not seek help until a family member insists that they do.


Coping with OCD by Bruce M Hyman and Troy Dufrene, New Harbinger Publications, 2008

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Help for Children and Adolescents by Mitzi Waltz, O’Reilly & Associates, 2000