Counting compulsion OCD
Counting as a compulsion is very common in the OCD world. Often individuals may count to gain a feeling of "just right" or "yep now I can stop" - That's the feeling I was looking for. Often this counting is done is avoid anxiety and the fear of the feeling that something is "wrong".
We're going to talk about why counting happens and what you're going to do about it.
You may be wondering, what do you mean by counting Nate. Well, let me tell you. Counting can be literal counting. It can be tapping something while counting. It can be doing an action over and over again while counting. Some may count to a certain number until it feels right or until their brain says, "Whooo, you prevented that bad thing from happening." They may count in odd numbers, even numbers, they can count in 4's -- it literally is whatever their brain said is the way they should do it.
Here is an example. My spouse calls me and say, "Hey, I'm headed home from work. Be there in 20 minutes." At that moment, I turn off my phone and my brain says...."well crap...I just turned my phone off the wrong way, if I don't redue it 8 times, my spouse is in real risk of crashing and it'll be my fault." So I grab my phone and turn it off and on 8 times. Well crap...that actually didn't feel right, I better do it again. Maybe I need to put in the password and THEN turn off the phone 8 times. Okay okay...that was it. Now I feel like I've reduced this risk and my anxiety went away.
When I see my spouse walk in the house it verifies to me that the only reason she is safe is because I took action. OCD tricked me into believing something that actually is untrue.
I see this counting done so randomly, unplanned and out of the blue. The brain says 37 times I need to push the J button on my keyboard...sometimes there is no known risk or responsibility. I just know it HAS to be done or I won't stop thinking about it AND I'm going to feel anxious or distressed until I do it.
Sometimes when someone is counting is actually is pretty automatic. It's just something they do and have done for a while. For instance, someone may count floor or ceiling tiles, words in a sentence, the amount of steps they are taking, how many times they dribbled the basketball, how many passes they made, really anything you can think of, they may count it.
There is no rime or reason to it other than not wanting to feel uncomfortable or feel responsible. Someone can get triggered because they saw a certain number or color that makes them go through their counting routine.
You know what we're going to do about all this counting? Completely mess it up..and I'll show you how.
To treat counting OCD compulsions, we use exposure and response prevention. Essentially what we want to do is break OCD's rules. You will be exposing yourself to the discomfort and anxiety and RISK the the responsibility threat that comes your way. So using my example of my spouse, Instead of me turning on and off my phone. I'm actually going to either leave it and not engage with the phone anymore or I'm going to make it very unsatisfying by maying turning it on and off 3 times instead of my normal 8.
The brain is likely to freak out and say, "WAIT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" It's going to be your fault, they will crash because of you AND your anxiety will never go away. So the response part is this......yeah man, I messed it up and they may or may not crash or I just agree with it and say, "totally, crashing here we come." The response part is crucial. I'm essentially acting like I don't care and am willing to do this until my distress reduces.
What will happen is that my spouse is likely to walk in and then you just caught your OCD red handed. That little liar. "Uhhh okay, well I know I told you that you were in danger, but I was wrong.....NEXT time though." Once the brain learns that you actually weren't in danger and that you could tolerate not counting those urges to count start slowing down.
Wow what a trip! Have you had these counting compulsions before? To enhance your OCD knowledge and recovery journey, make sure you go watch my video on sneaky compulsions because these are done a lot!
Can't stop counting
How to stop doing compulsions
I'm just going to get right to it! Just stop doing the compulsions. Easiest video ever... peace. Just kidding, don't leave yet. If you don't know by now, stopping those pesky compulsions can be extremely difficult. It's those things that you brain says you have to do to feel better or reduce a "threat" that often isn't ever a threat.
Instead of the all-or-nothing approach of either do the compulsion or don't, I'm going to teach you a way to ease yourself into this uncomfortableness. "but why would I want to feel comfortable." I hear you! It's so you can get your life back. Okay, no more fluff. Here is what I want you to know. Postpone or delay your compulsion. This compulsion could be a ritual of some kind. It could be washing hands, asking for reassurance, researching online, skin picking, or plain old rumination. The attempt to problem solve.
It may not be as simple as postponing the compulsion so here's what you can do. Pull out a piece of paper and write down all of your compulsions. Maybe you rank them from 0-10 --- 0 being easy to resist and 10 being out of this world hard to resist. You may want to start with the easier ones first. Create a goal for yourself. I'll use hand washing as an example. If I feel the need to wash my hands every time I touch my phone, I am going to see if I can delay this. Don't sell yourself short, but be realistic. Can you do it for 10 seconds? I bet you could. Could you do it for 20 seconds, 30, or 40? How about even a few minutes? What about a few hours?
What's going to happen is that it's possible you'll forget to do the compulsion. That's right! That strong urge you were feeling was so overwhelming, but when you've waited long enough, that feeling reduced, allowing you to have a better chance at making a different decision. You can do anything you want to. Clique, I know. But it's so true. You need that mindset of stopping your compulsions and this may be a good place to start.
It can be important for you to set goals for yourself. I am postponing washing my hands today. I am choosing to not engage in figuring out this ruminating thought right now. I'll see how badly I want to figure this out at 10am today. At this time, If I remember, I'll see if maybe I can go until 12pm. You have all the power in the world. It's just knowing what to do with it.
Here is something to remember, you're going to be feeling some distress or anxiety. Remind yourself that it's okay. Anxiety is not the bad guy. I don't blame it, it's job is to warn you that you're in danger and gives you ways to feel better. That's the urge right there that we're not giving into. Be prepared and ready to feel uncomfortable while you're delaying compulsions.
You can choose to respond differently to the discomfort. Some may say, "yah man, love it" "thanks for this feeling." "I'm so excited to get better by not doing the compulsion." Any threat that comes your way can be answered with a "maybe, maybe not." This helps the brain be okay with no answer. No answer is the key. You got this!
To be empowered and gain an upper hand, you need to know what compulsions you do that are sneaky. You may not even know you're doing them. Go watch that right now.
Nathan Peterson, LCSW
OCD can be tricky! I want to provide useful information for your OCD, anxiety, tics, tourette's, BFRBs, and many other anxiety related disorders.