How delaying compulsions in the OCD treatment

How delaying compulsions in the OCD treatment

Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be incredibly challenging and overwhelming. The constant need to engage in compulsive behaviours and rituals can consume one’s daily life, making it difficult to focus on anything else. However, in treating OCD, there is a strong emphasis on delaying compulsion, and it is an essential aspect of the therapeutic process.

The role of compulsions in OCD

Compulsion is a critical component of OCD and plays a significant role in the maintenance of the disorder. Individuals with OCD feel compelled to engage in certain behaviours or rituals in response to their obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are often performed to reduce anxiety, prevent harm, or achieve a sense of control.

While engaging in compulsive behaviours may provide temporary relief, it ultimately reinforces the cycle of OCD. The more an individual engages in compulsions, the more their brain associates these behaviours with reducing anxiety. This reinforces the belief that compulsions are necessary and perpetuates the cycle of OCD.


Why delaying compulsions is important in OCD treatment

Delaying compulsion is a crucial aspect of OCD treatment because it disrupts the cycle of OCD and challenges the individual’s beliefs about the necessity of their compulsions. By intentionally delaying the urge to engage in compulsive behaviour, individuals can learn to tolerate their anxiety and reduce their reliance on compulsions.

One of the primary goals of delaying compulsion is to develop a sense of control over one’s impulses. By resisting the immediate urge to engage in compulsive behaviour, individuals can gradually increase the time between the urge and the action. This practice helps to weaken the connection between obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours, ultimately reducing the frequency and intensity of the symptoms.

The benefits of delaying compulsions

Delaying compulsion offers several benefits for individuals with OCD. Firstly, it helps to break the cycle of OCD by interrupting the automatic response to obsessive thoughts. By resisting the urge to engage in compulsive behaviours, individuals can challenge the irrational thoughts and fears that drive their OCD symptoms. Over time, this practice can lead to a reduction in the frequency and intensity of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

Additionally, delaying compulsion allows individuals to develop a greater sense of control over their OCD symptoms. By actively choosing not to engage in compulsive behaviour, individuals can regain a sense of agency and reduce their reliance on external rituals to manage their anxiety. This increased sense of control can empower and contribute to a greater overall well-being.

Strategies to delay compulsions in daily life

Implementing strategies to delay compulsion in daily life can be challenging but can become more manageable with practice and persistence. Here are some practical strategies to help delay compulsion:

  1. Identify triggers and warning signs: Pay attention to the situations, thoughts, or feelings that trigger your compulsions. By recognizing these triggers, you can anticipate the urge to engage in a compulsion and consciously choose to delay it.
  2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and impulses. By practising mindfulness, you can observe your urges without immediately acting on them, allowing yourself to delay the compulsion.
  3. Use distraction techniques: Engage in activities that divert your attention away from the urge to engage in a compulsion. This could include hobbies, exercise, or spending time with loved ones. You can delay the compulsion and reduce its intensity by redirecting your focus.
  4. Set gradual goals: Start by delaying the compulsion for a short period and gradually increase the time between the urge and the action. Celebrate each successful delay as a small victory and progressively work towards longer delays.
  5. Seek support: Consider joining a support group or seeking therapy for OCD. Connecting with others who understand your experiences can provide valuable support and encouragement as you work towards delaying compulsion.

According to Foa and Wilson (2009), if you have multiple rituals, choose one that you believe would be the simplest to delay. When you have the urge to perform the ritual, postpone it for a specific amount of time. This tactic will assist you in successfully resisting the ritual, as it only requires a short period of resistance. The length of time you postpone the ritual is determined by your own judgment and what you believe you can handle. At times, waiting for thirty seconds may be all you can handle, while other times, you may be able to postpone for half a day.

To successfully control your impulses, it is crucial to create a division between the desire and the action (Foa & Wilson, 2009). Even for thirty seconds, a brief pause can make a significant difference. Thirty seconds may seem short, but it is enough to allow for a conscious decision-making process before impulsively engaging in habitual behaviour.

This technique has two benefits. Initially, you will develop the ability to endure extended periods of discomfort rather than immediately seeking relief through repetitive actions (Foa & Wilson, 2009). Additionally, effectively delaying the response will strengthen your feeling of authority.

According to Foa and Wilson (2009), another strategy is to alter your ritual routine and intentionally decelerate the thought process and physical actions that take place while performing the ritual. There are two main advantages to this technique. Initially, when you are experiencing distress, you tend to feel tense, pressured, and hurried. By taking a slower approach to your thoughts and actions, you can reduce the intensity of repetitive behaviour. Without that intensity, the behaviour may not be as appealing and as a result, it will lose some of its effectiveness.

One effective way to use slow-motion practice (Foa & Wilson, 2009) is with behavioural rituals, particularly checking rituals. This technique can help to lessen any doubt about one’s actions. For example, if someone wants to practice slow-motion checking of a door, they can approach the door slowly, take a calming breath, and casually study the lock. As they reach for the lock, they should pay attention to the sensation of the metal on their fingers. If it is a deadbolt lock, they should turn it slowly and listen for the sound of the bolt dropping into place. After hearing the sound, they should pause momentarily and hold their hand in place for an additional fifteen seconds while asking themselves if the door is locked. Once they answer “Yes,” they can slowly drop their arm and walk away.

To effectively perform this slow-motion technique, it is essential to include either the Calming Breath or Calming Counts. Incorporating them multiple times during the practice can help reduce physical tension.

Conclusion and the importance of seeking professional help for OCD treatment

Delaying compulsion is a fundamental aspect of OCD treatment and can significantly contribute to managing the condition and improving overall well-being. By resisting the urge to engage in compulsive behaviours, individuals with OCD can challenge their irrational thoughts and gain more control over their symptoms. However, it is essential to remember that tackling OCD requires a comprehensive approach, including therapy, medication, and support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with OCD, it is crucial to seek professional help. A qualified CBT therapist or mental health professional can provide a diagnosis, develop an individualized treatment plan, and offer guidance throughout the recovery process. With the proper support and strategies, individuals with OCD can learn to delay compulsion, break free from its grip, and live a more fulfilling life.

Foa, E. B., & Wilson, R. (2009). Stop obsessing!: How to overcome your obsessions and compulsions. Bantam.

The OCD Challenge is 100% FREE. The Peace of Mind Foundation funds it, making the program free to all users worldwide. was created over 25 years ago by Reid Wilson, PhD, to provide those who suffer from anxiety disorders accessible and empowering remedies.


author avatar
Federico Ferrarese Federico Ferrarese - Chartered Psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist
I am deeply committed to my role as a cognitive behavioural therapist, aiding clients in their journey towards recovery and sustainable, positive changes in their lives.