Obsessions are by definition unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images and impulses generally regarded by a person as unacceptable, embarrassing and difficult to dismiss. The more personally unacceptable an intrusive thought is, the more uncomfortable one will be with its continued occurrence. When an obsession is present, it is accompanied by strong feelings of discomfort or anxiety, and the urge to „neutralize“ the obsessional thought, image, or impulse. Neutralizing behaviours can take the form of a compulsive behaviour (e.g., repetitive washing or „checking“).
These behaviours tend to be carried out in a stereotyped way, or according to idiosyncratically defined „rules“, such as engaging in a hand-washing ritual designed to neutralize a contamination obsession, and are associated with temporary anxiety relief. Neutralizing behaviours may also include changes in one’s mental activity – e.g., deliberately thinking a different thought in response to an upsetting obsessional thought. Individuals with OCD may also develop avoidance behaviors in order to avoid situations that could trigger obsessions.
Dr. Mervin Smucker is an international trauma consultant and author of numerous articles and books on trauma and cognitive-behavioural therapy interventions.