advertisement
advertisement

Stopping Your Compulsions

With this practice, you need not change how or when you ritualize. But each time you do ritualize, you must then perform some additional task. Choose a task totally unrelated to any of your compulsive tendencies and also something that requires you to disrupt your normal routine. Decide to drive to a park and pick up trash for an hour, do some kind gesture for someone you are angry with, practice the piano for forty-five minutes, or hand-copy ten poems from book. Ideally, the consequence you choose will also be one that has some redeeming value. One we use often is exercise - such as taking a brisk walk for thirty minutes.

If these sound like disruptive, time-consuming tasks it's because they are supposed to be! But don't consider them as punishment; they are simply consequences you have added to your ritual. To be effective, the consequences must be costly.

Because they are costly in time and effort, after some practice you will become aware of the moment you are about to ritualize, and you will hesitate. You will pause to think about whether it is best to start ritualizing, because if you do ritualize, you'll also have to start in on this not so pleasant consequence. This moment of hesitation gives you an opportunity to resist the compulsion in order to avoid that costly consequence.

For example, let's say you must check the stove every time you leave the house for work in the morning. You tend to get stuck touching each knob six times before you walk out the door. Later, when you are on the front porch, you doubt whether the stove is off, and back you go for another round of checking. Several weeks ago you began to use the slow-motion practice every time you checked. This has worked so well that now you check the stove only once and never touch the knobs. But each day, standing out on the front porch, you still become doubtful and must return to the stove for a second quick check "just to be sure."

This would be a good time to implement a consequence. Decide that, starting tomorrow, each time you check the stove again, touch a knob while checking, or even glance at the knobs again while walking through the kitchen, you must take a brisk thirty-minute walk as soon as you come home from work. This means you take a walk before doing anything else: no stopping at the store on the way home; no having a snack after you get home. Just put on your walking shoes and go, regardless of whether it's hot and muggy, raining, or snowing. Soon you will be thinking twice before stepping back inside from the porch "just to make sure."

This technique will work in the same way whether you are a washer who wants to stop washing your hands an second time, a hoarder who wants to stop collecting meaningless materials, or and order who wants to stop straightening up repeatedly. If the consequence you choose does not have this intended effect after numerous trials, then switch to a consequence that seems a little more costly.

Self-Help Practice 5: Choose Not to Ritualize

This, of course, is the option you will continually take as you gain full control of your rituals. Yet it requires determination. You must have a long-term commitment to overcome your problem in order to counterbalance the immediate urge to ritualize. You must be willing to suffer short-term distress in order to achieve your goal of freeing yourself from your symptoms.

Choose Not to Ritualize

  1. Expose yourself to the object or situation that stimulates your urge to ritualize
  2. Choose not to perform the ritual
  3. Practice tolerating the distress until it subsides

All of the previous techniques in this section promote your ability to refrain from ritualizing and help prepare you for this option. Each aids in developing the important position of choice. Working with any of the other options first - Postponing, going in slow motion, changing some other aspectof the ritual, or adding a consequence - helps you choose this last option with less anxiety, stress, and effort than if you used it first. Instead of saying, "I have to stop this," you are much more likely to feel, "I'm ready to stop this."

To decide not to ritualize is to decide to face your anxiety directly, to stop protecting yourself from your distressful feelings through your compulsive behavior. You are willing to feel anxious if that's necessary. In fact, that is a lesson you will learn through your practice of this option. You will discover you can manage your discomfort. To find this out, you will go toward your anxiety instead of away from it.

The best way to do this is to voluntarily initiate contact with whatever it is that brings on your urge and then withhold your rituals. If you have an irrational fear of contamination, touch things you believe are contaminated. If you are afraid you might leave the stove on accidentally, then purposely turn it on and leave the house for half an hour. If you have to have a perfectly clean house, then mess up several rooms and leave them that way for several days at a time. Only through this practice can you discover that your distress passes and so does your urge. Chapters 7 and 8 of Stop Obsessing! provide specific instructions on how to stop your rituals.

But you don't simply have to grit your teeth and bear your distress. Remember to practice relaxation techniques. Use the Calming Breath and the Calming Counts to help let go of your tension. In The Stop Obsessing! Tape Series we provide you with our tape called "Generalized Relaxation and Imagery". This tape will help you let go of your tensions and enjoy twenty minutes of peace and quiet. Because this is a generalized relaxation tape, some people listen to it every day. But another good time to listen to it is when you are resisting your rituals and noticing that you are feeling anxious. Following the tape will help you calm down.

Relaxation is not your only option during these times. In some of these situations, when your tension is high, you won't feel like sitting quietly and listening to a tape. During those times, be sure to refocus your attention on some other task that will hold your interest, like talking to a supportive friend or taking a brisk walk.

next: About Dr. Reid Wilson
~ back to Anxieties Site homepage
~ anxiety-panic library articles
~ all anxiety disorders articles

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

Related Articles

Support Group

Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me

Create an account

Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required.
Name *
Username *
Password *
Verify password *
Email *
Verify email *

Follow Us

advertisement

Anxiety-Panic Videos

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Mental Health
Newsletter Subscribe Now!

Mental Health Newsletter

Sign up for the HealthyPlace mental health newsletter for latest news, articles, events.

Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me
advertisement
X
advertisement
X
advertisement
X
Back To Top