Compulsive behaviour is behaviour which a person does compulsively – in other words, not because they want to behave that way, but because they feel they have to do so.

Mental health professionals have identified signs of compulsive behaviour in various disorders such as:

  1. Obsessive – compulsive disorder – obsessive, distressing, intrusive thoughts and related compulsions which attempt to neutralize the obsessions.
  2. Drug addiction – a condition where a person takes a drug compulsively, despite potential harm to themselves, or their desire to stop.

Compulsive behaviour generally arises out of obsessional thoughts, and is driven by a sense of discomfort, which may be described as unease, anxiety, or guilt.[1]

When guilt feelings are to the fore, it is generally a severe, unyielding, archaic conscience that is in question.[2] Sometimes behaviour is obviously following such a conscience, as with the exaggerated repetition of the parental command to ‘go and wash’ in guilt-driven compulsive washing; sometimes it may represent both obedience to conscience and its defiance in successive actions, as when a stone is removed from a road, and then put back, or when a gas tap is first turned on and then turned off again;[3] sometimes obedience and defiance are combined in one single act.[4]

  1. ^S. Rachman/P. De Silva, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (2009) p. 17-9
  2. ^Humberto Nagera, Obsessional Neurosis (1993) p. 205
  3. ^Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 270 and p. 153
  4. ^E. Skynner/J. Cleese, Families and how to survive them (1994) p. 220
  5. ^Stephen Juan, The Odd Brain (2011) p. 159
  6. ^J. Halliday/P. Fuller, The Psychology of Gambling (1974) p. 30-1
  7. ^Fenichel, p. 383
  8. ^Quoted in T. A Shippey, The Road to Middle Earth (1992) p. 258
  9. ^S. K. Mangal, Abnormal Psychology (2008) p. 127
  10. ^Juan, p. 160-1
  11. ^Len Deighton, The IPCRESS File (1976) p. 211