Compulsions & Compulsive Behaviours

Compulsions are behaviours that are performed on the ‘spur of the moment’ with the aim of satisfying a perceived need. In many ways, compulsions are the same as ‘acting on impulse’ and invariably involve paying little attention to the consequences.

Compulsions can also be thought of as a type of ‘instant gratification’, a way of feeling good ‘right now’ and are frequently observed in people with very little ability to control their ‘urges’.

Another key feature of compulsive acts is that they almost always result in feelings of guilt after the initial ‘satisfaction’ has worn off!

In general then, compulsions have a characteristic ‘profile’;

  • Perception of a ‘need’.
  • Act to fulfill that need.
  • Feel ‘good’ whilst carrying out compulsive behaviour.
  • Feelings of guilt or regret after immediate satisfaction has subsided.

The Problem with Compulsions

Compulsive behaviours can range from simple everyday behaviours such as shopping to more reckless activities such as drug abuse.

Compulsions become particularly problematic when they are performed excessively at which point they can have very damaging effects on people’s lives: the compulsive shopper may find themselves heavily in debt or even bankrupt, the compulsive eater may become dangerously overweight and the compulsive drinker may end up in trouble at work or with the law.

Unfortunately, the ‘needs’ that are supposed to be satisfied by the compulsive behaviours are often related to earlier traumas or other unmet needs during psychosocial development and are unlikely to be resolved through compulsive acts.

In other words, compulsions are invariably maladaptive coping strategies that are a poor substitute for solving the problems in more useful or adaptive ways.

Common Compulsions

People are capable of being compulsive in almost any activity, but the ones most likely to develop into more serious problems if they are not curtailed.

If you do any of the following in order to ‘feel good’ then consider getting in touch with us to discuss possible solutions;

  • Drink excessively.
  • Buying things you don’t really need.
  • Overeating or Binge Eating
  • Smoking (tobacco or other drugs).
  • Excessive gambling.
  • Indulging in risky sexual activities.

Compulsions are NOT the Same as Obsessions

Although compulsions are frequently associated with obsessions in the general media (for example Obsessive Compulsive behaviours) they are fundamentally different in nature.

Compulsions usually provide an immediate benefit in the PRESENT (for example, some people eat food to feel better when they are feeling down). Only later is it apparent that all that over-eating just leads to feeling ‘bad’ about oneself which creates the need to feel better once again.

Obsessions, on the other hand, are generally performed to prevent the occurrence of a problem in the FUTURE (for example, obsessively checking that all of the gas rings on the cooker are definitely turned off can save feeling bad if there was a fire later on in the night). Only later is it apparent that all of the checking routines themselves produced feelings of anxiety rather than reducing them.