Many people enjoy repetitive behaviors like bedtime routines, religious practices and exercise regimes as a part of their daily lives. But when such repetitive behaviors are performed in hopes to make obsessions go away, the behaviors can turn into compulsions.

Definition of Compulsions

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or thoughts that a person engages in to neutralize, counteract, or make their obsessions-thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again and feel out of the person’s control-go away. Compulsions are time-consuming and interfere with important activities.[1]

Types of Compulsions

People with obsessive compulsive disorder(OCD) rely on compulsions as a temporary escape to prevent or reduce anxiety related to their obsessions. For instance, if a person with OCD believes he hit someone with his car, he may return to the scene he believed the accident to take place again and again just to be sure. Compulsions typically have themes, such as the following:[2]

  • Washing and cleaning
  • Counting
  • Checking
  • Demanding reassurances
  • Performing the same action repeatedly
  • Orderliness

Signs & Symptoms of Compulsions

Symptoms usually begin gradually and vary in severity throughout one’s life. They are generally worse during stressful times. Compulsion symptoms and signs may include the following:

  • Hand washing until skin becomes raw
  • Checking doors repeatedly to make sure they’re locked
  • Checking the stove repeatedly to make sure it’s off
  • Counting in certain patterns
  • Arranging canned goods to face the same way


  1. International OCD Foundation. Obsessions and Compulsions. Retrieved February 6, 2013, from
  2. Mayo Clinic. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms. Retrieved February 6, 2013, from

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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