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Obsession vs. Compulsion: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sawaira Riaz || Published on December 21, 2023
Obsession is a persistent, intrusive thought or idea, while compulsion is a repetitive, often irrational, behavior driven by an urge to alleviate anxiety.

Key Differences

Obsession refers to recurrent and persistent thoughts or impulses that are intrusive and cause distress. Compulsion, on the other hand, involves repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023
Obsessions are often experienced as unwanted and can significantly disrupt a person’s cognitive processes. Compulsions are actions taken to reduce the anxiety or discomfort caused by these obsessions, even if they are logically understood as unnecessary.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023
The content of obsessions can vary widely, including fears, aggressive thoughts, or symmetrical needs. Compulsions might manifest as behaviors like excessive hand-washing, checking, or ordering items in a certain way.
Huma Saeed
Dec 21, 2023
In terms of psychological impact, obsessions can lead to significant distress and interfere with daily life. Compulsions, while meant to counteract this distress, can become time-consuming and equally disruptive.
Harlon Moss
Dec 21, 2023
Both obsessions and compulsions are key components of disorders like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), where they form a cycle of intrusive thoughts followed by ritualistic behaviors.
Harlon Moss
Dec 21, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Nature

Persistent, intrusive thoughts
Repetitive behaviors or mental acts
Huma Saeed
Dec 21, 2023

Purpose

Often cause distress or anxiety
Aimed to reduce anxiety from obsessions
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Manifestation

Mental (thoughts, fears)
Behavioral (actions, rituals)
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Awareness

Usually aware they are unreasonable
Often knows the behavior is irrational
Janet White
Dec 21, 2023

Impact

Causes mental distress
Causes disruption in daily life
Harlon Moss
Dec 21, 2023
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Obsession and Compulsion Definitions

Obsession

Unwanted Impulses.
He had an obsession with checking the door multiple times.
Janet White
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

Driven by Anxiety.
He had a compulsion to arrange his books in a specific order.
Harlon Moss
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

Mental Fixation.
His obsession with numbers manifested in counting everything.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

Repetitive Behavior.
His compulsion to wash his hands was exhausting.
Huma Saeed
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

Intrusive Thoughts.
His obsession with perfection often caused him anxiety.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

Uncontrollable Urges.
Her compulsion to count steps interfered with her walks.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

Persistent Ideas.
Her obsession with cleanliness affected her daily routine.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

Ritualistic Acts.
She felt a compulsion to check the stove repeatedly.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

Recurrent Fears.
Her obsession with germs kept her from socializing.
Aimie Carlson
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

Irrational Actions.
His compulsion to avoid cracks in the sidewalk was time-consuming.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

The act of compelling.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

(Psychiatry) A pattern of unwanted or intrusive thoughts or urges that recur persistently, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

The state of being compelled.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

The quality of being obsessed.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

An irresistible impulse to act, regardless of the rationality of the motivation
"He felt an animal compulsion to flee the hotel and the city" (Paul Theroux).
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

An idea that engenders a compulsive or irrational preoccupation, or the preoccupation thereby engendered.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

(Psychiatry) An act or ritual that a person feels compelled to perform repeatedly, often to reduce the distress caused by an obsession.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

An activity or entity that inspires a compulsive and potentially unhealthy fixation, or the fixation thereby inspired.
Editing Wikipedia started as a hobby, but it's turned into a complete obsession of mine.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

An irrational need or irresistible urge to perform some action, often despite negative consequences.
During the basketball game, I had a sudden compulsion to have a smoke.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

Influence or control by evil spirits without possession.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

The use of authority, influence, or other power to force (compel) a person or persons to act.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

The act of besieging.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

The lawful use of violence (i.e. by the administration).
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

The state of being besieged; - used specifically of a person beset by a spirit from without.
Whether by obsession or possession, I will not determine.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

The act of compelling, or the state of being compelled; the act of driving or urging by force or by physical or moral constraint; subjection to force.
If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion.
With what compulsion and laborious flightWe sunk thus low.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

An excessive preoccupation of the thoughts or feelings; the persistent haunting or domination of the mind by a particular desire, idea, or image.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

An urge to do or say something that might be better left undone or unsaid
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

Any driving motive; a compelling goal; - not necessarily implying a negative judgment, as does sense 3; as, the coach was obsessed with winning the state championship
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

An irrational motive for performing trivial or repetitive actions against your will
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

Something that causes an obsession{3}.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Compulsion

Using force to cause something;
Though pressed into rugby under compulsion I began to enjoy the game
They didn`t have to use coercion
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

The state of being obsessed.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

An irrational motive for performing trivial or repetitive actions against your will
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

Obsession

An unhealthy and compulsive preoccupation with something or someone
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 08, 2023

FAQs

Is compulsion always related to obsession?

Often, but not always. Compulsions can sometimes exist independently.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Are compulsions always physical actions?

No, they can also be mental acts like counting or praying.
Huma Saeed
Dec 21, 2023

Can obsessions change over time?

Yes, the nature of obsessions can change or vary.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Can children have obsessions?

Yes, children can experience obsessions.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Can obsessions be positive?

Typically, they are distressing, but some people may channel them into productive activities.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Do obsessions always lead to anxiety?

They often do, but the level of anxiety can vary.
Aimie Carlson
Dec 21, 2023

What causes obsessions?

Obsessions can be caused by a variety of factors including stress, genetics, and brain chemistry.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Is a compulsion a type of addiction?

No, they are different, though they can sometimes appear similar.
Harlon Moss
Dec 21, 2023

Are compulsions always noticeable?

No, some compulsions can be discreet or internal.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Can stress trigger compulsions?

Yes, stress can be a trigger for compulsive behaviors.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Are compulsions always harmful?

They can be, especially if they interfere with daily functioning.
Janet White
Dec 21, 2023

Can compulsions be prevented?

Early intervention and therapy can help manage compulsive behaviors.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Can compulsions be treated?

Yes, through therapy and sometimes medication.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Can compulsive behavior be learned?

Yes, it can sometimes be learned or influenced by external factors.
Janet White
Dec 21, 2023

Is obsession the same as being passionate?

No, obsessions are involuntary and distressing, unlike a passion or interest.
Aimie Carlson
Dec 21, 2023

Can medication help with obsessions?

Yes, certain medications can help manage symptoms.
Harlon Moss
Dec 21, 2023

Are obsessions a sign of mental illness?

They can be a symptom of disorders like OCD, but not always.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Do people with compulsions lack self-control?

It's not about self-control; compulsions are often beyond voluntary control.
Aimie Carlson
Dec 21, 2023

Is having a hobby considered an obsession?

Not usually, unless it becomes distressing or interferes with daily life.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023

Do obsessions have a rational basis?

They may seem irrational, but to the person experiencing them, they feel very real.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 21, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sawaira Riaz
Sawaira is a dedicated content editor at difference.wiki, where she meticulously refines articles to ensure clarity and accuracy. With a keen eye for detail, she upholds the site's commitment to delivering insightful and precise content.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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