The Secret Life of Mental Compulsions in OCD

May 16, 2023

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A Therapist’s Perspective on How to Break Free

Jenna here, OCD and anxiety specialist, ready to dive into the not-so-lovely world of mental compulsions. For those of you who don’t know, mental compulsions are a sneaky part of OCD that can be just as debilitating as their more obvious counterparts. In this blog post, I’m going to break down what mental compulsions are, how they can wreak havoc on your life, and most importantly, how you can break free from their grasp.

What are mental compulsions?

Mental compulsions are the mental rituals or strategies that individuals with OCD use to try to neutralize or lessen the anxiety caused by their obsessions. For example, someone with contamination OCD may constantly question whether they washed their hands enough, while someone with harm OCD may constantly check to make sure they haven’t harmed someone else. While these compulsions may not be visible to others, they can be just as time-consuming and distressing as their more obvious counterparts.

Why are mental compulsions a problem?

Mental compulsions can be particularly insidious because they can be done in secret, without anyone else realizing what’s going on. This means that individuals with OCD may be suffering in silence, too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help. Additionally, this can be just as time-consuming and disruptive to daily life as physical compulsions, and can even prevent individuals from pursuing their goals and values.

How to break free from mental compulsions?

Breaking free from mental compulsions is not easy, but it is possible. Here are a few strategies that can help:

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. By learning to observe one’s thoughts without getting caught up in them, individuals can reduce the power of their compulsions.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP): ERP is a form of therapy that exposes individuals to their fears and teaches them to resist the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors. By gradually confronting their fears and learning to tolerate discomfort, individuals can break free from the grip of rumination.
  • Non-engagement strategies: If you haven’t heard of non-engagement strategies before, I 10/10 recommend looking into Dr. Lisa Levine’s work on these strategies.  In addition to non-engagement strategies, you may find some benefit in practicing defusion.  Saying things like “I just had the thought that..” in front of the scary thought can be a helpful and practical step. 


Mental compulsions can be just as debilitating as their more obvious counterparts, but they don’t have to control your life. By using strategies like mindfulness, ERP, and non-engagement, individuals with OCD can overcome this and lead a more fulfilling life. If you’re struggling with OCD, remember that you’re not alone.  These are so tricky, sneaky, and difficult to get a grip on! 

That’s why I have so many other resources for you these compulsive mental behaviors and what to do about them.

Check out these podcast episodes:

‘Pure O’ and Mental Compulsions in OCD – Part 1

‘Pure O’ and Mental Compulsions in OCD – Part 2

Check out this blog post:

Ruminating: The Cockroach of Compulsions

Check out this masterclass:

Sneaky Rituals with Kristina Orlova

Remember, you can do this! I’m here for you every step of the way.

– Jenna

This blog is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as mental health or medical advice. The information provided is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional advice of your own professional mental health or medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical or mental health professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

© 2023 Jenna Overbaugh, LLC

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