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The obsessive person is driven by persistent negative thoughts that are involuntary, uncontrollable, and consuming. Self-doubt, ambivalence, indecision, and impulses fill him. These thoughts are a defense against making any mistake. His internal belief often is, "If I keep worrying, I will prevent anything tragic from happening." At the same time, the person knows that these thoughts are irrational, and he tries to resist them. The more he resists, the stronger they become.

The obsessive thoughts that are most common are those of violence (poisoning one's spouse or stabbing a child), committing an immoral act, doubting whether one has performed some action (turning off the kitchen stove), and contamination (catching germs by picking up objects or touching someone).

Compulsions are motivated by a need to relieve anxiety through rules or required rituals. Common compulsions are hand washing, as often as ten times an hour throughout the day, ritualistic touching of specific objects, and checking behavior.  One compulsive client felt compelled to check if she had left the stove on each time she left her house for an errand. She would lock the front door as she was leaving, then feel a strong urge to return to the kitchen and touch each burner control knob as she checked it. As soon as she was back outside she would again feel a strong compulsion to repeat the process. After twelve or so times, she usually felt free enough to leave the house. Sometimes, however, this fear forced her to cancel her plans.

Other compulsions include repeating behaviors or thoughts until a bad thought or image is gone, ordering rooms or items is a special way, hoarding of newspapers and other "resources".

This section is designed to help you apply self-help skills to the problems of obsessions and compulsions, whether you yourself have this concern, or you want to help a family member or friend. You'll learn how to gain perspective about your worries and obsessions, how to let go of your obsessions, and how to gain control over your compulsions. These goals can be achieved by using a variety of techniques.