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Some thoughts seem to never leave us alone and they keep taking us away from experiencing the present. Maybe they look like existential doubts, doubts about our behaviour and decisions, or mental images on past and future events. This way of thinking is associated with ambivalent feelings: we try to avoid them and we feel the need to ruminate on them at the same time. We are taking about obsessive thoughts, which are a way in which anxiety may manifest itself, representing the need to recuperate some control.

Every so often, obsessive thinking is coupled with controlling actions such as: repetitions (e.g. checking several times that the door or the car it’s been locked); perfectionism (e.g. reading a mail over and over before sending it, to check for mistakes); superstitions (e.g. setting the radio volume on some particular digits or repeating some mental actions). These, are called compulsive behaviours and they also trigger ambivalent feelings: we would like to stop them, but somehow, we can’t. Likewise, also compulsive actions represent a need to control the events and avoid any possible negative consequences of our actions.

When there are both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour, this situation has been labelled as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is often linked to an inner difficulty into accepting one’s own mistakes, imperfections and negative feelings.

Whatever the label, obsessions and compulsions are symptoms of anxiety, and they should be treated as such. However, anxiety with somatic symptoms more accepted in our society, whilst there is still some stigma against anxiety with mental and behavioural symptoms like those, and most people who suffer from those feel embarrassed to say that openly.

Should you realize that you keep on thinking always on the same topics and that when you do so, you might go on and on for quite some time, or should you realize that you are checking too many details about your actions, you don’t need to think that you are somehow awkward as a person, but rather, realize that you are anxious about something, and maybe you’ve always been. Something makes you feel vulnerable and stressed and with the help of a therapist you can make sense of your mental and behavioural pattern, and learn how to let go and feel in control.

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