MMH: 9 Covert Mental Compulsions

MMH: 9 Covert Mental Compulsions

It’s like looking through a magnifying glass that only picks up on the potentially dangerous, harmful, and scary.

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Hello, my lovelies! Thank you for being here because I have a super important, super exciting announcement to make. I am nominated for Blogger Of The Year at the MH Blog Awards this year! But there is a catch, I need your help! From now until June 4, you can go to the MH Blog Awards website and vote for Amber @ The Winter Of My Discontent for Blogger Of The Year!

It’s a true honor to be nominated with some of the best MH content creators on the web and I can’t wait to find out the results. As always, thank you so much to all of you who do and have supported me. You all mean the world to me and you just keep pushing me to be better and to keep fighting the good fight. It means everything, truly and I hope that I have earned your vote over these months.

Hello! Welcome to The Winter Of My Discontent. In today’s post, we’re going to take a look at mental compulsions. When I first found out I had OCD, I didn’t think that I had any mental compulsions. I had briefly read about something called “Pure O” OCD that was only obsessive and intrusive thoughts, but no compulsions. After further research, I found that many people don’t believe Pure O is a thing and that compulsions are present in everyone who has OCD, even if you can’t see them.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

mental health, brain, mind

First, let’s recap Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD is repeated, unwanted, and incessant thoughts (obsessions) or the urge to do something over and over (compulsions) to get rid of or control the thoughts. Last September, I was diagnosed with OCD, along with a myriad of other disorders. Since then, I have been learning all that I could about OCD and my other disorders (ADHD, Persistent Depressive Disorder, C-PTSD, GAD).

As always, I took to Google and Twitter to start my search for answers. OCD Twitter has a lot of knowledgeable people that speak out and raise awareness. Due to these accounts, I learned that mental compulsions were possible and I learned what some of them might be. In my research, I once again found myself in those tweets and searches for information. Real-life examples of behaviors I had never known to identify to a medical professional because I just thought that’s how I was.

My grandma was, what she called, “nervous.” She had “bad nerves.” I’ve watched her sit and ruminate for hours on end, smoking cigarette after cigarette and rocking in her chair. She got a police scanner eventually and that made her even more nervous, especially when she heard the names of my car accident-prone little cousin or a stray relative picked up for public intox or marijuana charges.

When I started to worry in the same way in my late teen and early 20s, I just passed it off as getting it honest. My grandma was nervous, after all. It would make sense that I got that behavior from her. Did I ever. OCD has genetic components so I may have very well gotten it directly from her. She was never diagnosed; she refused to see a doctor for the last 20 or 30 years of her life, but I get sad when I think about all the years someone might have saved for her if she had known.

Mental Compulsions

I digress. Mental compulsions. Mental compulsions are any mental rituals or mental actions that are used to rid of any anxiety or negative feelings associated with an obsession or intrusive thought. They only occur in the mind and they are extremely covert; Mine was mistaken for severe depression for 20 years. Even after I learned of OCD and mental compulsions, I thought that I only had one until recently.

They can be hard to spot, to be sure. Some examples of mental compulsions can include:

  • Needing constant reassurance
  • Mental Checking
  • Repeating silent prayers or mantras
  • Silently repeating words, images, or numbers
  • Making mental lists
  • Ruminating

The list goes on and on. There is no limit to the human mind and what it can come up with in times of distress.

What I would like to do for you today is to show you some of the mental compulsions that I have and how they present in my life. As I said before, I didn’t even realize that many of these things were mental compulsions until recently. We’re constantly learning new and amazing things about ourselves.

brain, mind, psychology

1. Ruminating

It’s important to remember that rumination in itself is a compulsion. It is an incessant worry; an obsessive line of thinking that just won’t stop. But it’s different than intrusive thoughts. Ruminations aren’t objectionable to your morals in the same way that intrusive thoughts are, so we tend to allow them to happen. They ride us instead of being rejected by us.

I’m a notorious worrier. I am an over-thinker of the highest order. I talk myself out of things that are good for me and into things that are bad because I have to think about every scenario and inevitably become obsessed with the worst possible circumstance. I realize now that I developed a compulsion to ruminate early in my life; possibly as early as kindergarten. It’s such a huge part of who I am that it’s almost hard to believe that it’s a disorder and not just me, being “nervous,” like my grandma.

I tend to ruminate about the things that have caused me intense emotional damage. When my OCD is bad, I cycle through the same painful situations; looking at them from every angle, imagining new ones, and constructed new conversations in my head. It is so easy to let it consume you…it feels so big when it’s happening. It feels impossible to stop. Ruminations are my main mental compulsion.

2. Repeatedly telling yourself that you’re okay.

This surprised me when I found out that it was a compulsion. It makes a lot of sense, now that I know, but I had no idea. I do this a lot, especially during intense anxiety. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and I start trying to convince my brain that I’m okay. “You’re fine. Just breath. You’re safe and at home. Everything is fine.” You get the idea.

3. Repeatedly wishing things were different.

For me, this compulsion surfaces when I feel completely out of control and suffocated; when the pain is too much to take. I start wishing things were different; that I’d made different decisions, taken a different path…veering right when I should have gone left. We all have regrets, but with OCD the regrets can swallow you up and it isn’t uncommon to wish away the things that hurt.

I knew someone who was stuck in a home with prolonged abuse. She told me that she used to wish that her abuser would die. She would feel massive amounts of guilt over the thoughts…she wasn’t the type to wish death on people. The guilt that she felt was another hold that her abuser had on her, but she couldn’t help but wish that things were different and she was so helpless that she thought the only way things could be different was if the abuser passed away.

4. Making mental lists.

Honestly, I didn’t think that I made mental lists and I still don’t think that I do it very often…but let me tell you a story. A little over a decade ago, I was in a bad car accident. I was okay, but my car was not. More than anything, it was scary. I was turning left when it happened and, for at least a month after the accident, I wouldn’t turn left. I would go completely around the block so that I didn’t have to turn left.

I’ve been turning left again for many years, but I’m still wary. If I have several errands to run at once, I will mentally run down a list of questions. Where is each place in relation to the others? Will there be a lot of traffic? Will I have to turn left? If I do have to turn left, is there a light anywhere that I can get to? I then formulate a plan on which places to go to and what order to go to them based on whether or not I need to turn left. I compulsively make mental lists to stop the thoughts that I might be in another accident.

5. Reviewing thoughts, feelings, conversations, or actions.

Reviewing is another of my main compulsions. I review a scenario or a conversation over and over again. Fight with a friend? I’m going to examine every word of it over and over, agonizing overtone and meaning. Something awful that happened in the 5th grade? Let’s look at it from every angle and imagine how it might have been different.

Several years ago, in the middle of a mental health crisis, I had to put my dog to sleep. I had decided to stay with her until her last breath and I would do it again. She deserved to have me by her side in her most vulnerable moment. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw that day. The life leaving her body was violent and loud. She stretched and shuddered, gasping for breath. The assured me that she felt nothing, but it was traumatizing.

My reviewing compulsions ensure that I have to go through every, single agonizing moment of that day. It replays in vivid detail. Her eyes, devoid of life; a spark there one moment and gone the next. Her tiny body, lying on the blanket that I had brought with her; a blanket I couldn’t bring myself to bring home. It was soul-crushing and my brain won’t let me stop reliving it.

brain, think, psychology

6. “Undoing” things mentally.

Changing the outcome in your mind. Who hasn’t done it? For someone with OCD, it becomes a compulsion to imagine the alternate endings; mentally changing the things that they regret or which caused them pain. I often imagine that I was stronger and stood up for myself in situations where I was treated badly. I imagine having confrontations with the people who enabled my abuser. Those are only some examples of undoing.

7. Figuring out and overthinking.

I feel like this goes hand and hand with rumination. As I said before, I overthink like a pro. Every situation, interaction, and scenario; I will run it over and over in my brain. Thinking of all the worst possible outcomes for any given situation. I replay conversations in my head, sometimes reconstructing them how I wish they went; saying all the things I forgot to say at the moment. When I’m stressed, I’m constantly trying to find a way out of it, even if there is no way at that moment.

I’ve gotten a lot better about this. I try to take a deep breath and ask myself, “Can you fix this right now?” If the answer is no, and it usually is, then I just let it go. I don’t allow myself to dwell on it. I can’t let my good days be ruined by things that I can’t fix. It’s easier to do now that my medications are right and I’m building healthier coping mechanisms.

8. Isolating to avoid triggers.

Here’s the thing. When I was going through a years-long battle with my disorders, I isolated myself. It only made matters worse and I knew it, but I couldn’t bring myself to socialize or ever go to work functions. I work from home, even in non-pandemic times, so being at home just felt comfortable. At that time, I saw the world as lonely, scary, and full of hurt. I wanted no real part in it.

I lost friends during this time. Thing is, the more they pushed me, the more isolated I became. At first, I was just isolated from the world but then I started actively isolating myself from the people that made me feel uncomfortable. Thing is, I didn’t need tough love or for someone else to tell me to snap out of it or get better. I wasn’t ready to be better. I was on a journey and I could only receive help when I was ready for it.

9. Arguing with the intrusive thoughts or OCD.

This is a big one for me. Let me tell you. When these thoughts start, I will silently scream at the thoughts. I tell them to shut up, they are wrong, and I cuss them out. These are mental compulsions. They say that it’s the compulsion that feeds the OCD; that you should let yourself feel the thoughts. I don’t know how I feel about that…the thoughts are awful and when I can’t control them, telling them to fuck off seems like as good an alternative as any.


This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start in trying to explain how sinister mental compulsions can be. Without the proper knowledge, it is hard to control behaviors and habits that you don’t even realize you have. I hope that I’ve helped you learn something new today, maybe even about yourself.

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2 thoughts on “MMH: 9 Covert Mental Compulsions

  1. I do many of these…and I think my mom has some of these, too. Hers was never diagnosed/treated, so it helped to make a toxic combination. She was so obsessed with the idea that I was going to be the crazy genius who couldn’t relate to the world…that she overparented my social development. It fed my reviewing of experiences to the point of obsession, so instead of helping, I was terrified of even being in school and making a social faux pas. (I’m empathic. I just needed to feel confident that my tribe existed.)

    Thanks, as always, for your posts!
    Erin Westphal recently posted…Words Hurt as Much as HandsMy Profile

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