Can we quantify compulsive behavior?

Lesson 22 of Recovery Nation says:  Consider a very simple ritual that you have engaged in.  It then prescribes a series of exercises aimed at measuring it.  Here’s my response.  I’ll be interested to see where this leads, in future lessons.

Regarding unhealthy rituals, the one that continues to trouble me from time to time is compulsively tidying the house or engaging in “to-do list” tasks, even at the expense of focusing on more important or urgent things or at the expense of focusing on relationships.

Identify three or four elements of that ritual (e.g. physical sensory stimulation; danger; orgasm; accomplishment). Accomplishment and power seem to apply. The former is about the feeling of having done something. The latter is, I think, about control, control of my own life and world. Perhaps I use tidying as a self-soothing mechanism when I feel overwhelmed by change, unpredictability, or competing demands.

For each element, assign a relative number for the amount of stimulation you think you derive from this particular element. These numbers are relevant only to you and in relation to other elements that you experience. On the scale of one to three, I think both accomplishment and power would rate a three.

For each element, consider the effects of each of the three filters on the stimulation derived from that element. Does it increase the stimulation? Decrease the stimulation? Have no effect? Have a mixed effect (as in, sometimes it increases, other times it decreases)?. How can I apply time, intensity, and habituation to accomplishment and to power? Instead of using the term “stimulation,” I think it makes more sense to think of these elements of compulsive tidying or compulsively following my “to-do list” as contributing to my sense of relief or satisfaction.  

So, when applying the time filter to the accomplishment element, I think time does progressively increase my sense of relief from the compulsive behavior. The longer I do it in a given session, the more relieved I am. Perhaps I’d give time about a seven, on the scale of one to ten. What about habituation? Does my relief resulting from the compulsive behavior decrease as I become more accustomed to it? I don’t think so. I have not experienced that. So, I’d give habituation a one. How about intensity? Does my relief increase when I am able to focus more intensely on the compulsive tidying or “to-do listing?” I think it does increase somewhat. Maybe I’d give intensity a five.

Let me try to apply the three filters to the power element now. Do I feel a greater sense of control as I spend more time on a given session of tidying or to-do listing? Yes, I think I do. I’d call that a ten, perhaps. Similarly, I give intensity a ten for this element. What about habituation? Does my sense of relief from tidying and to-do listing decrease as I become more accustomed to it? I don’t think I’ve felt or observed that kind of effect. Perhaps I’d give a rating of one to the habituation filter for the power element.


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