Compulsions are the fuel that keeps the OCD car running. To stop the car’s engine, you must starve it of fuel.

Why do OCD sufferers do compulsions? Obsessions cause distress. Most people call that distress anxiety. Compulsions are done for one of two reasons:

1) To alleviate (get rid of) the distress caused by obsessions;

2) To prevent a bad thing from happening.

Compulsions don’t work. Oh, doing them may temporarily bring some modicum of relief, but they cause more problems than they solve. Doing compulsions causes feelings of doubt to increase, anxiety to rise and they always, always lead to more obsessions and more compulsions.

One of my favorite sayings is, “No one ever fully recovered from OCD while continuing to do compulsions.” It’s true. You can’t get totally better while continuing to do compulsions. Compulsions are OCD fuel. They keep the disorder running. Do a compulsion and you are guaranteeing more intrusive thoughts and an urge to do more compulsions. Round and round you go. You’re on the OCD merry-go-round.

It’s difficult, if not near impossible, for sufferers to quit their compulsions cold turkey. It’s a terribly difficult thing to do. Often, sufferers are advised by therapists to use reduce and delay to cut down compulsions. Reduce means to cut down the frequency of compulsions, while delay means to delay doing compulsions for a set period of time. Both work very well in cutting down on compulsions. But is that enough?

Sufferers, along with their therapists, should at the outset of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, identify compulsions being done and set a goal for the future when it comes to compulsions. Often these goals end up being worded that it would be okay to do just a few compulsions a day. It is felt that that is enough, that is acceptable, that is achievable and the sufferer will be in a much better place if that is achieved.

The problem with setting a goal of a few compulsions is that the OCD mind is never satisfied with one or a few. Doing one compulsion increases feelings of doubt. If you were doubtful before you did the compulsion and therefore wanted to be more sure by doing the compulsion, you’re going to be even more doubtful after doing the compulsion. What does that do? It makes the OCD mind want to do more compulsions. One compulsion becomes two, which becomes three and soon enough the sufferer is stuck in a cycle of increasing compulsions.

Does that mean sufferers shouldn’t reduce and delay? Of course not. Those are two perfectly acceptable exercises to lower the number of compulsions done. Sufferers should feel a sense of accomplishment for reducing compulsions by 10%, 20%, 50%, 75%. Each steady reduction is cause for celebration. The sufferer is moving forward on the path to recovery. It’s a good thing! But it’s not enough.

The goal, the end goal, needs to be no compulsions. Only then can a sufferer say they have broken free of OCD. No compulsions means the desire to do compulsions diminishes over time. Doubt fades. Sufferers feel more confidence, not less. The frequency of obsessions also diminishes. With fewer obsessions, sufferers feel better.

Should sufferers feel bad if they do a compulsion? Of course not. It’s an ingrained habit that takes a whole lot of work to reverse. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of time, practice and determination to achieve. There’s going to be setbacks. Things will go awry from time to time. Accept that, vow to do better and get on with it.

No compulsions. No fuel for the OCD car. A worthy goal for all.