Millions of people suffer from one form of compulsive behavior or another. Some common activities that can develop into compulsions include shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, sex, exercise, and body-focused behaviors, such as hair-pulling and skin-picking. In fact, any behavior has the potential of becoming a full-blown obsession. Some people even talk compulsively, where their incessant chatter sometimes reaches a point of inappropriateness. And, of course, there’s garden-variety obsessive compulsiveness; a hallmark example is the person who checks and rechecks everything—is the stove turned off, is the door locked? A compulsive person performs these behaviors to relieve underlying anxieties or negative emotions. While the behavior doesn't necessarily lead to any end pleasure or reward, the compulsive person engages in the behavior anyway, for temporary relief. In extreme cases, compulsive behaviors start to rule the sufferer’s work, home, and social life at the expense of normal activities.
What Is a Compulsive Behavior?
How to Handle an Obsession
Compulsions often arise after stressful events, trauma, or abuse. When people have compulsions, they are trapped in a pattern of repetitive actions or senseless thinking that proves difficult to overcome. There may even be a genetic component to these compulsions, with similar behaviors showing up in identical twins. Numerous rating scales have been devised to determine the severity of this problem—such as the Brief Obsessive-Compulsive Scale or the Evidence-Based Brief Obsessive-Compulsive Scale. Treatment can include antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that are typically used for anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy and other counseling approaches.
The Many Types of Compulsivities
Compulsive behaviors come in many forms, all of which can be quite debilitating and even dangerous. Hoarders, who are unable to part with even the most worthless possessions, find the act of purging so distressful that they live under extremely crowded and potentially harmful conditions. Compulsive shopping is another debilitating behavior which entails not only making actual purchases but also chronically thinking about buying one item or another. Some compulsions directly put people’s health and lives at risk, such as overexercising and overeating, or even taking selfies. The latter has even resulted in the sudden deaths of people trying to capture photographs in hazardous settings.