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Conquering Compulsions: Hope & Healing

a women bitting her fingers looking worried around people moving fast

You're getting ready for work, but a nagging thought keeps popping into your head. "Did I lock the door three times or just twice?" 

You check once, then twice, then a third time for good measure. 

Sound familiar? We've all had those moments where a thought or urge feels impossible to ignore. 

Occasional repetitive thoughts or behaviours are pretty normal. But what if these urges become overwhelming and start to interfere with your daily life? That's where compulsive disorders come in.

For people with compulsive disorders (CDs), these experiences can become overwhelming and disruptive to daily life.

Mango Mental Health wants to help those who may not know enough about mental health while supporting those seeking more information. 

Understanding Compulsive Disorders

We all have our little habits. Maybe you tap your pen rhythmically during meetings, or you have to arrange your coffee cup just right in the morning.

But what if these quirks become overwhelming and start to control your day? That's where compulsive disorders (CDs) come in.

The prevalence of diagnosed OCD in Canada is 0.93%, which means approximately 1 in 100 people aged 15 or older have OCD. Among children, OCD is more common in boys, but among adults, men and women are equally affected. (1)

Think of CDs as a kind of mental tug-of-war. On one side, you have unwanted thoughts or worries that keep popping into your head. 

Maybe it's a fear of germs, a constant need for things to be perfectly symmetrical, or intrusive thoughts that just won't go away. These are called obsessions, and they can cause a lot of anxiety and distress.

On the other side of the tug-of-war are compulsions – the things you feel compelled to do to try and make those obsessive thoughts disappear. 

It could involve repeatedly washing your hands, counting things in a specific order, or constantly checking the stove to make sure it's off. 

These behaviours might provide temporary relief, but they can become a time-consuming and exhausting cycle.

The key thing to remember is that CDs are more than just being a bit particular or having some strange habits. They can be real challenges that significantly impact a person's life.

Why They Matter: It's Not Just Annoying, It Can Be Disabling

Let us try to imagine you're late for work because you spent an hour double-checking the locks and rewashing your hands. 

Or maybe you can't enjoy a social gathering because you're constantly worried about things being out of place. 

That's the reality for many people with compulsive disorders (CDs). CDs aren't just a minor inconvenience; they can be truly disabling. Here's why they matter:

  • They can take up a lot of time and energy. Repetitive thoughts and behaviours can steal precious time away from work, hobbies, and relationships.

  • They can cause significant distress and anxiety. The constant struggle with obsessions and compulsions can be emotionally draining and lead to feelings of shame or isolation.

  • They can interfere with daily life. Whether it's work, school, or social interactions, CDs can make it difficult to function normally.

  • They can damage relationships. The stress and time consumed by CDs can strain relationships with family and friends.

The good news is that CDs are treatable! With the right support, people with CDs can learn to manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives.

Types of Compulsive Disorders

There are several types of CDs, each with unique obsessions and compulsions. Here are some common examples:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): This is the most well-known type, characterized by intrusive thoughts about germs, contamination, order, or symmetry, often accompanied by compulsions like cleaning, arranging, or checking things repeatedly.

  • Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling Disorder): Repetitive hair pulling that leads to noticeable hair loss.

  • Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior Disorder (BFRB): Skin picking or nail biting that causes significant distress or impairment.

Compulsive Disorder Signs and Symptoms

While the specific obsessions and compulsions vary, some general signs of a compulsive disorder include:

  • Spending a significant amount of time (over an hour a day) on repetitive thoughts or behaviours.

  • Experiencing significant distress or difficulty functioning due to obsessions or compulsions.

  • Feeling the need to keep things perfectly symmetrical or orderly.

  • Engaging in repetitive behaviours like excessive handwashing, counting, or checking.

Treatment for Compulsive Disorders: Taking Back Control

Compulsive disorders (CDs) might feel overwhelming, but there is a path to feeling better. Here's some good news: treatment for CDs is highly effective!

The most successful approach is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Now, CBT might sound fancy, but imagine it as a toolbox filled with helpful strategies. 

Here's what you can expect:

  • Challenging Your Thoughts: A therapist will help you identify and challenge the negative thought patterns that fuel your obsessions. For example, if you have a fear of germs and constantly wash your hands, you might learn to question the likelihood of getting sick every time you touch something.

  • Developing Coping Mechanisms: CBT equips you with healthy ways to manage anxiety and resist compulsions. This could involve relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, or exposure therapy (gradually facing your fears in a safe environment).

  • Taking Control Gradually: The therapist will guide you through a step-by-step process to gradually reduce your compulsions. You'll learn to tolerate the anxiety associated with obsessions without needing to "fix" them with rituals.

Please remember that treatment is a journey, not a destination. It takes time and effort, but with consistent practice, you'll develop the skills to manage your CDs and live a more fulfilling life.

Here are some additional points to consider including in this section:

  • Medication: While CBT is the first-line treatment, medication can sometimes be helpful alongside therapy, especially for managing severe anxiety symptoms.

  • Finding the Right Therapist: Look for a therapist who specializes in treating CDs and uses evidence-based approaches like CBT.

  • Support Groups: Connecting with others who understand your struggles can be incredibly helpful. Consider joining a support group for people with CDs.

By incorporating these points, you can create a well-rounded section on treatment for compulsive disorders, offering readers both hope and practical guidance.

Cultural Considerations for Compulsive Disorders

Compulsive disorders (CDs) can manifest in similar ways across cultures, but there are also important cultural considerations to keep in mind. 

Here's why:

  • Cultural Beliefs and Rituals: Some cultures have specific rituals or beliefs that might appear similar to compulsive behaviours. For instance, handwashing can be a significant part of religious practices in some cultures. A therapist must understand your background to distinguish cultural practices from symptoms of a CD.

  • Expression of Distress: Different cultures express emotions and distress differently. Someone from a more reserved culture might not outwardly show the anxiety associated with obsessions, making it harder to diagnose a CD.

  • Stigma and Help-Seeking: Mental health stigma can vary across cultures. Someone from a culture with a strong emphasis on self-reliance might be hesitant to seek help for a mental health condition like a CD.

By seeking help from a culturally competent therapist, you can ensure you receive treatment that considers your unique background and needs. Remember, there's no shame in seeking help – it's a sign of strength and a commitment to your well-being.

Final Thoughts

Compulsive disorders (CDs) can be challenging, but they don't have to define you. Here's a quick recap of the key takeaways from this article:

  • CDs are more than just quirks: They involve intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions) that significantly impact daily life.

  • They matter because CDs can be time-consuming, cause distress, interfere with daily activities, and strain relationships.

  • There is hope: Effective treatments like CBT can equip you with tools to manage your symptoms and regain Control.

  • Treatment is a journey: It takes time and effort, but you can build the skills you need to thrive with consistent practice.

  • Cultural considerations are important: Find a therapist who understands your background to ensure culturally sensitive care.

Remember, you're not alone in this. Millions of people manage compulsive disorders and live fulfilling lives. If you suspect you or someone you know has a CD, reach out for help. 

OCD affects about 1% of the Canadian population, with slightly more women experiencing the disorder. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that cause distress, while compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts performed to reduce anxiety. (2)

Talk to your mental health professional, or consider joining a support group. You can find healing and build a brighter future with knowledge, support, and effective treatment.


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