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Stopping Your Compulsions

Like anxiety and distress, urges to ritualize decrease on their own over time, as long as you don't act on those urges. If you succeed in postponing the compulsive actions for several hours, you might discover that you no longer feel so compelled to engage in them when your selected time to ritualize arrives. Through this experience, you begin to believe that there may be other ways besides ritualizing to reduce your distress. Letting time pass and becoming distracted by other thoughts and feelings can decrease the urge to ritualize. As time goes by and your urge to ritualize diminishes, you will gain a sense of perspective, and with that perspective comes a greater sense of self-control.

If you postponed ritualizing from, say, 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M. and you still experience the urge, try to postpone it again. Say to yourself, "I'll wait until noon and see how I'm doing then." If you can continue postponing, your urge will eventually fade away. If you cannot postpone again, apply one of the following two practices: either think and act in slow motion during the ritual, or change some other aspect of your ritual. We'll talk about these choices next.

Self-Help Practice 2: Think and Act in Slow Motion During the Ritual

Another way to change your ritual pattern is to purposely slow down the thinking and physical movements that occur during the ritual itself.

Perform the Ritual in Slow Motion

  1. Select one ritual (typically a checking behavior)
  2. Slow down your thinking and physical movements during the ritual
  3. Pause at several points to take a calming breath and let go of tensions
  4. When ready, let go of the ritual completely and tolerate the distress that follows

There are two major benefits to this practice. First, when you are distressed you often feel tense, pressured, and rushed. By slowing down your thoughts and actions, you decrease the intensity that accompanies the ritualizing. Without that intensity, the ritual may not be as compelling and consequently will lose some of its power.

The second significant benefit of slowing down during a ritual is that you will remember more of the details of your action. Have you noticed times, just after you've completed a ritual, when you can't quite remember how well you ritualized or if you ritualized enough? You feel safe momentarily but seconds later start doubting whether you carried out your ritual adequately. This probably led you into another round of rituals. As you physically and mentally slow down, you can better remember the details of your actions. Since this technique provides you with a stronger memory of your actions, it will reduce your doubts.

Slow-motion practice can be used with many behavioral rituals. It is especially effective with checking rituals since it seems to reduce this doubt about your actions. For instance, if you wish to practice slow-motion checking of a door, approach the door slowly, pause a few moments to take a Calming Breath while you casually study the lock. As your hand reaches the lock, notice the sensation of the metal on your fingers. If it is a dead bolt lock, then turn it ever-so-slowly. Listen for the "click" as the bolt drops into place. As soon as you hear it, pause for a moment. Hold your hand in place for fifteen more seconds while asking yourself, "Is this door locked?" When you respond, "Yes," drop your arm slowly and then slowly walk away.

When you practice this slow-motion procedure, be sure to incorporate either the Calming Breath or Calming Counts. By interspersing them several times throughout the practice, you can help keep your physical tension at a minimum. This, in turn, will help your concentration and your memory. Listen to the tape entitled "Practicing the Breathing Skills" to remind yourself of these brief relaxation techniques.

Self-Help Practice 3: Change Some Aspect of Your Ritual

When choosing this practice, you decide to change any of a variety of characteristics within your compulsive pattern. To do so, you first need to analyze the specific manner in which you ritualize.

Change Some Aspect of the Ritual

  1. Select one ritual
  2. List all its characteristics (specific actions, order, repetitions, physical stance, etc.)
  3. Begin altering some elements of your ritual
  4. Practice those changes regularly over the next few days
  5. Every three or four days, modify the ritual pattern again
  6. When ready, let go of the ritual completely and tolerate the distress that follows

Choose one ritual and analyze its characteristics. Take a pencil and paper and jot down all the specific details you can think of. Describe your exact motions and thoughts, in the order they occur. After you've done this then go back and consider the following characteristics. List the particulars of your ritual based on each of these categories:

  • your specific actions
  • specific thoughts you have
  • the order of the action
  • the number of repetitions needed, if any
  • the particular objects you use
  • how you stand or sit during the ritual
  • how you're feeling, and
  • any triggering thoughts or events.

Last Updated: 30 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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