Counting Compulsions 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!
How to stop counting
Nathan Peterson specializes in working with OCD and Anxiety related disorders and has done so for the past 7+ years.