By 9 o'clock every Saturday morning, Gary can be found in his front driveway.
He carefully washes and vacuums his car. He prides himself on the fact that the car looks "showroom new."
Gary follows his routine even in the winter months. When it rains on Saturdays, he becomes noticeably agitated. Recently, Gary and his wife had an argument because Gary is "too busy" on Saturday mornings to drive their daughter to music lessons.
John is a retired insurance agent. He is recently divorced, and has limited contact with his children. Although he has serious heart problems and diabetes, John has lunch at a nearby deli every day.
He always orders the same thing: a large hoagie with extra cheese and mayo, french fries, and a large cola. Even when John does get together with his family for a midday meal, he will stop on the way home to buy his usual deli selections for his dinner.
Katy, who lives alone, considers herself an excellent homemaker. She vacuums and dusts her apartment every evening, and makes sure everything is tidy before she goes to bed.
If she expects a visitor, she will usually come home from work at lunchtime to run the vacuum again, "so everything will look nice." This usually causes Katy to be late returning from lunch.
Gary, John and Katy are all engaging in compulsive behaviors. Unlike regular, simple habits, they experience almost irresistible impulses to perform certain actions over and over again.
These actions are repeated even when it is difficult, inconvenient, or unhealthy to do so. Most importantly, these compulsive behaviors are having a negative impact on their personal and business relationships.
The term "compulsion" can be used to describe a variety of unhealthy, repetitive behaviors. Commonly recognized addictions such as overeating, workaholism, and uncontrolled gambling all include a compulsive behavioral component.
The most severe forms of compulsiveness are obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and most often are treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. An individual who causes his hands to bleed as the result of continual, repeated washing, or someone who constantly checks to see if the gas stove is turned off, or to see if the front door is locked, even leaving the house and returning several times to check it, is an example of those with an OCD.
Although it is not completely clear if genetics, environment, or both, cause a particular compulsive behavior, it is generally believed by psychology professionals that compulsions stem from unmet emotional needs — the need for self-acceptance, companionship, control, love, affection, self-esteem, or sense of worthiness.
The chosen compulsive behavior is a misdirected attempt to meet those needs. Unfortunately, since the behavior is an unsatisfactory solution and cannot possibly meet the need, the behavior is repeated in a desperate effort to satisfy that need. The only way to successfully stop the behavior is to identify and learn strategies to deal with the underlying need.
Do you believe that you may demonstrate compulsive behaviors?
Ask yourself if the following behaviors apply to you:
Do you repeatedly engage in certain activities you may sometimes not want to do, but feel you must do?
Do you feel extremely uneasy, anxious or agitated if a change in schedule or circumstances keeps you from these activities?
Do these behaviors interfere with your work or interpersonal relationships?
Do the behaviors lead to arguments or missed opportunities?
Do your repeated behaviors affect your physical or emotional health?
If you answered yes to most of these questions and find that, after unsuccessful attempts on your own to discover the underlying need and to stop or change the behavior, then you may want to consider seeking professional help.
It is also important to recognize that there are varying degrees of this condition and that many people experience a little compulsivity in their daily activities.
If your behavior is productive, contributes to your well-being and does not create problems for you in any area of your life, then use it to your advantage.
If you have any doubts about it check with your physician so he or she can help you determine if it is symptomatic of a condition that requires treatment.
Based in Rockport, life and relationship coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., a psychotherapist, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com or by phone, 978 546-9431.