Maybe you don't identify with having any sort of addiction. On the surface, things are going relatively well. You can cope with life- mostly.
Or maybe you only associate compulsions with OCD symptoms. You don't engage in excessive hand washing, checking locks, or other stereotypical compulsive behaviors, so you assume you're off the hook.
And yet, there's a part of you that you don't always readily reveal to others. It's that anxious part, that part that self-sabotages or self-protects, even when it isn't fully necessary.
Sneaky compulsions tend to be covert, insidious, and shameful. You probably want to pretend that everything is going okay. But you also recognize that you don't always cope optimally.
Compulsive behavior can easily fly under the radar, especially if society reinforces it. Here are some common compulsions you may not even realize are problematic.
Constant Desire to Optimize
Do you spend hours researching the perfect product? When starting a new habit, do you obsess over the best way to start? Do you get so preoccupied with making sure things are done perfectly that you often procrastinate or avoid certain tasks altogether?
The excessive preoccupation with optimizing everything in life comes from a desire to reduce anxiety. Paradoxically, this compulsion only triggers more stress.
When you want everything to be the absolute best, you might struggle with unwanted thoughts of incompetence, failure, or intense negative emotions. Moreover, optimization can be time-consuming- in severe cases, it can also affect the quality of your relationships and overall mental health.
At first, this compulsive behavior starts innocently enough. You feel emotionally invested in a certain current event. And so, you watch the news or read an article about it.
But then, it's like you can't stop checking. You're researching everything you can about that specific issue. You're diving into rabbit holes and spending excessive time trying to learn everything you possibly can.
Do these repetitive actions offer any real sense of relief? Not usually. Research shows that excessive media consumption actually worsens anxiety disorders and depression.
There's a negative reinforcement effect that happens when you excessively scroll. The compulsive behavior can make you feel more depressed or uncertain, and the activity can take over normal parts of your daily routine.
Seeking Constant Reassurance
We are all social creatures, and there's nothing wrong with wanting validation and support from loved ones. But codependency often entails a pattern of repetitive behaviors between partners.
If you feel overly anxious in the relationship, you may have obsessive thoughts about rejection or abandonment. These fears can cause you to act out inappropriately (testing your partner's loyalty, accusing them of cheating or wanting to leave, trying to hurt them before they hurt you).
Meaningful relationships require a sense of mutual trust and safety. Ideally, both partners have (or are working towards) maintaining a secure sense of self. That means they have high self-esteem and can enjoy flexibility and connection within their relationship.
Severe Inhibitory Control
Maybe you don't allow yourself to have fun...ever. You associate daily life with a sense of suffering. Relaxation and pleasure, therefore, feel self-indulgent.
Instead, you strive to be at the top of your game at all times. Sometimes, this tendency is exacerbated when it's culturally unacceptable to prioritize rest and relaxation. But it's often also due to certain personality traits and associations with what it means to relieve stress or engage in self-care.
It's no surprise that this mindset can exacerbate certain mental health conditions (OCD, anorexia nervosa, depression, hoarding disorder, and other psychological disorders).
In other words, you almost go to the other extreme when it comes to compulsive behavior. You refuse to engage in any mental acts that feel exciting or pleasurable. Therefore, it's hard to spend money, or just generally "let loose." If you do engage in impulsive behavior, it often coincides with extreme shame or intrusive thoughts about things falling apart.
Research shows that, on average, people lie four times a day.
Take a moment to reflect on this compulsive behavior. Even white lies- those small embellishments or exaggerations- can certainly add up. They're dangerous because they aren't authentic. And, over time, the adverse consequences can include diminished self-esteem, a sense of separation from others, and persistent thoughts of inferiority.
So even if they don't cause you significant distress in the moment, ask yourself this: what am I hiding by telling this lie? How might this harm me or my loved ones in the future?
How We Treat Compulsive Behaviors
Repetitive behaviors have a functional purpose, despite their negative consequences on your mental health. They aim to provide a sense of control, order, and even pleasure in your everyday life.
That said, compulsive behavior can aggravate mental health conditions, and it can also coincide with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you are concerned about you or a loved one's symptoms, we are here to help.
At Resurface Group, we recognize how compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts can affect your emotional well-being. Whether you struggle with more obvious compulsions (substance dependence, compulsive overeating, compulsive shopping, or skin picking) or more covert compulsive acts, we are here to help you.
Contact us today to learn more!