an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (such as excessive hand washing)

Compulsion: Understanding its Mechanism and Implications for Mental Health

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Compulsion, a phenomenon deeply ingrained in human behavior, represents a complex interplay of psychological, cognitive, and emotional factors. Defined as the irresistible urge to engage in repetitive behaviors or mental acts, compulsion often manifests in various forms, ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to addictive behaviors and beyond. This short article delves into the multifaceted nature of compulsion, exploring its underlying mechanisms, psychological implications, and societal impact.

It’s important to start with an important distinction: “There are two significant aspects to OCD, obsessions and compulsions. The process of how our thoughts (obsessions) and our behaviors (compulsions).” Some examples of compulsions are:

  • Excessive or ritualized hand washing, showering, brushing teeth, or going to the bathroom
  • Repeated cleaning of household objects
  • Ordering or arranging things in a particular way
  • Repeatedly checking locks, switches, appliances, doors, etc.
  • Constantly seeking approval or reassurance
  • Rituals related to numbers, such as counting, repeating, excessively preferencing or avoiding certain numbers

It is important to identify then what are the symptoms of OCD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Fear of forgetting, losing, or misplacing something
  • Fear or losing control over one’s behavior
  • Aggressive thoughts toward others or oneself
  • Unwanted, forbidden, or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or harm
  • Desire to have things symmetrical or in perfect order

Although not fully understood, there are several theories about the causes of OCD, including:

  • Compulsions are learned behaviors, which become repetitive and habitual when they are associated with relief from anxiety
  • Genetic and hereditary factors.
  • Chemical, structural and functional abnormalities in the brain
  • Distorted beliefs reinforce and maintain symptoms associated with OCD.

According to NHS, “obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be treated. The treatment recommended will depend on how much it’s affecting your life.”

          The main 2 treatments are:

  1. Talking therapy: Usually a type of therapy that helps you face your fears and obsessive thoughts without “putting them right” with compulsions.
  2. Medicine: Usually, a type of antidepressant medicine that can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain.

“OCD can also target your relationships head on, causing you to have persistent intrusive thoughts about specific people, making even being around them a triggering situation. This is utterly horrid and can be tricky to explain. But therapy can really help.”

In conclusion, we have delved into the concept of compulsion, exploring its psychological, behavioral and societal dimensions. It is evident that compulsions can manifest themselves in diverse forms ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorder to addiction and beyond, often leading to significant distress and impairment in functioning. Ultimately, by addressing compulsive behaviors comprehensively, we can strive towards promoting mental health and wellbeing for individuals and communities alike.


“Compulsion Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

“You Are Here: Home.” OCDUK, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

“What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” Psychiatry.Org – What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?,,the%20same%20in%20the%20future. Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

“Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 25 July 2000,

NHS Choices, NHS, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

“How OCD Affects My Relationships: Young Person Blog.” YoungMinds,,But%20therapy%20can%20really%20help. Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

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