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Sneaky Compulsions in OCD: Do You Do These Things?

by edinburghtherapyservice
12 minutes read

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterised by the persistent intrusion of distressing thoughts, known as obsessions, and the subsequent repetitive behaviours or mental acts, termed compulsions. 

Obsessions are intrusive and unwelcome thoughts, images, or urges that frequently plague an individual’s mind. Compulsions are the observable or mental actions performed in response to obsessions. The primary aim of compulsions is to reduce the anxiety generated by intrusive thoughts or to prevent the perceived negative consequences from occurring. 

Over time, compulsions can become ingrained as habitual coping mechanisms for those with OCD. While initially offering a sense of relief, these rituals reinforce the belief that their performance is necessary to avoid harm or discomfort. However, this reliance on compulsions perpetuates the disorder, making it increasingly challenging to break free from the cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

What are some common compulsions in OCD

Compulsions manifest in diverse forms, often reflecting the specific themes or content of the obsessions. Some of these compulsions are well-known and recognised as common in OCD:



-Washing hands excessively or in a particular manner.

Excessive showering, bathing, tooth brushing, grooming, or adhering to strict toilet routines.

Excessive cleaning of household items.



Checking to ensure that doors, windows, or other entry points are securely locked.

Checking that household appliances are turned off or unplugged.

Checking that no harm has been done to oneself or others.

-Checking to confirm that no errors have been made.



Engaging in repetitive daily tasks, such as ascending and descending stairs.

Performing actions in sets or multiples, such as switching a light on and off a determined number of times.

Reviewing or revising.

Tapping, touching, or blinking, multiple times.

Echoing or replaying phrases or word sequences, vocally or mentally.


Mental compulsions

Praying repeatedly.

Utilising “cancelling” or “undoing” actions (e.g., replacing a “negative” word with a “positive”).

Rehearsing scenarios or future events in one’s mind to prepare for potential dangers or to prevent negative outcomes.

Mentally planning routes or strategies to avoid situations, people, or objects that trigger obsessions.

Counting of objects, letters, words, or actions.

Counting during activities to conclude on a preferred, correct, or safe number.


Other compulsions

Organizing or arranging items until it “feels right”.

Avoiding locations, individuals, or tasks that trigger intrusive thoughts.

Seeking reassurance through questioning, online searching, reading articles, or confessing to others.

What are sneaky compulsions?

Sneaky compulsions are subtle compulsions, so inconspicuous they could easily escape notice. They’re the hidden aspects of OCD, particularly the internal compulsions involving mental review and analysis. Often, these actions occur without any outward indication. Additionally, OCD can prompt us to become clandestine, attempting to persuade others and ourselves that we’re not engaging in compulsions when, in fact, we are.

How to recognise sneaky compulsions

The defining factor that distinguishes a compulsion lies not in the behaviour itself, but rather in its underlying purpose. When a behaviour is employed to alleviate distress stemming from an obsession or to avert an anticipated negative outcome, it transforms into a compulsion or a form of control behaviour. The crucial aspect to consider is the motivation behind the action. Are you reading articles about OCD to enhance your understanding of the condition, or are you doing so to alleviate anxiety triggered by intrusive thoughts (e.g., “Do I really have OCD or is this something else?”) If it’s the latter, then reading articles serves as a compulsion; however, in the former scenario, it does not.

One effective method for recognizing whether a behaviour qualifies as a compulsion is to ask yourself these questions:

What is the underlying purpose behind my actions? What do I hope to achieve?

How much time do I devote to this behaviour, and does the frequency of engagement increase over time?

Is my behaviour primarily driven by anxiety or the need for certainty?

Do I experience heightened anxiety when I refrain from engaging in this behaviour?


If your responses to these inquiries suggest a pursuit of control, an aversion to uncomfortable emotions, a quest for emotional relief, and a craving to diminish uncertainty, you may be indeed participating in compulsive behaviour.

Now, it’s essential to approach this with caution. Engaging in repeated checking or analysis to determine whether a behaviour constitutes a compulsion can evolve into another compulsion. While it’s valuable to utilise these insights to cultivate awareness, it’s important to pay attention if this behaviour begins to serve as a means of exerting control over your OCD.

A list of sneaky compulsions

Check out this list of some hidden compulsions you might be engaging in without necessarily recognizing them:



Taking videos or photos.

Reviewing text conversations.

Reflecting on memories.

Mentally revisiting conversations.


Reassurance seeking

Self-reassurance, affirming to oneself that things will be alright.

Persuading others that seeking reassurance isn’t your intent.

Research using books, the internet, social media, blogs, online forums, etc.

Making comparisons.

Sharing stories, thoughts or opinions to analyse reactions from others.


Scanning body

Assessing your body’s response to specific behaviours (e.g., assessing how you feel when you comb your hair, or when you look at a child).

Monitoring your emotional state in the presence of your partner.

Observing for signs of arousal and attraction within your body.


Body compulsions

Tensing your muscles.



Specific eye movements.

Mouth movements.

Lightly biting the lips.


Squeezing your eyes.



Avoid looking at certain people.

Avoid certain places, people, or events.

Avoid touching specific things.

Avoid watching certain content.

Thought suppression.


Trying to figure out something to gain certainty

Engaging in internal dialogue, whether through thought or out loud.

Gathering evidence of emotions and reflecting on one’s emotions.

Evaluating actions and thoughts against core values.

Replaying conversations mentally.

Seeking an understanding of the significance behind thoughts, emotions or behaviours.

Attempting to uncover the root causes of events, feelings, and behaviours.

Mentally altering details of past events to analyse how they would change your current circumstances or emotions.

➤ Trying to figure out if what you have is OCD or something else.



Self-punishment as a reaction to guilt (to make things “right”)

Replacing one ritual for another

Further reading

Do you offer OCD therapy near me?

Edinburgh Therapy Service offers both in-person OCD counselling in Edinburgh (United Kingdom), and online therapy accessible worldwide. We specialise in therapy for OCD, offering CBT with ERP as the main treatment option. 

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The Edinburgh Therapy Service is a psychotherapy and counseling practice based in Edinburgh, Scotland (United Kingdom). We offer therapy both in-person in Edinburgh and online, available in English and Spanish.

Contact info

Contact us for more information or to book your first appointment: [email protected]