How It Feels to Resist an OCD Compulsion


Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

Recovery from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) means resisting compulsions in conjunction with therapy. For anyone who hasn’t experienced OCD, it may be difficult to understand just what it feels like to try and resist a compulsion.

Many people don’t get just how bad the urge to do a compulsion is. They say, “just don’t do it, simple.” If only it were that simple. If it was, it wouldn’t be a disorder.

OCD is an anxiety disorder. You get obsessions and feel anxiety about them. In order to relieve that anxiety, you do compulsions. The reason it is so hard to resist compulsions is that they make you feel better. No one likes feeling anxious. If you do compulsions, you don’t need to feel anxious. But you can’t keep just doing the compulsions. If you want to recover from OCD, you need to keep resisting them.

As I write this, I’m resisting a compulsion. I badly need to exercise. A lot of people feel bad when they don’t exercise, you might say, but feeling a bit guilty because you haven’t exercised and needing to do it are two different things. If I don’t exercise for 2.5 hours every week, I freak out. I have to schedule it, I have to time it and I have to do it. My parents once visited on a Saturday and I had planned to exercise after they left, but they stayed longer than I had expected. But I still had to do my exercise and ended up doing it at 10 p.m. because I knew I would feel anxious if I didn’t.

I’ve skipped my weekend exercise for two weeks in a row, because I’m trying to resist my compulsions. That means two hours a week instead of 2.5. And how do I feel? Terrible. The anxiety is pretty bad. I feel like I’m getting fat. I’m actually underweight, but because I haven’t done the 2.5 hours of exercise, I feel overweight. I know doing some exercise will make me feel so much better. Even just doing 10 push-ups would relieve the anxiety. It’s really hard to resist doing the thing you know will make you feel better.

You know when you have a really bad itch you have to scratch? Or there’s a chocolate cake in front of you and you really want to eat a piece? Resisting a compulsion is like resisting those, but much worse, with the added complication of bucketloads of anxiety, and intrusive thoughts about what will happen if you don’t. You just know, if you give in to the compulsion, relief will come. And who doesn’t want relief? Who would choose to do something that makes them anxious? But when you have OCD and want to recover, you have to learn to sit with the anxiety. I know that, eventually, it will get easier and I won’t need to do the compulsions, but for now I have to suffer the anxiety.

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