Obsession vs Compulsion: Difference and Comparison

Obsessions are feelings or emotions that cause disturbances in an individual’s daily life. These disturbances might ultimately result in wasting an individual’s time in the daily routine.

Conversely, compulsions are the responses to obsessive thoughts produced by the mind to get rid of such thoughts.

Key Takeaways

  1. Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted thoughts or images that cause anxiety or distress.
  2. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts performed to reduce anxiety related to obsessions.
  3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves both obsessions and compulsions, interfering with daily life and functioning.

Obsession vs Compulsion

Obsession refers to persistent and intrusive thoughts, ideas, or images that a person experiences and cannot get rid of. Compulsion refers to repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels compelled to perform in response to their obsessions or to reduce their anxiety or distress.

Obsession vs Compulsion

Obsessions are the repetitive ideas or thoughts that one might face. These feelings can cause a change in the routine of a person.


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The fact that is disturbing about obsessions is that a person will know about the changes in the behaviour and that the obsessions are ultimately a waste of time, but still, the individual won’t feel the urge to discontinue those habits. On the other hand, compulsions are the resulting behaviours of obsessions.

These emotions can make a person quite ritualistic as well as instil fear in the mind that if a particular task is not performed, the individual might face some difficulties up ahead in the day.

Comparison Table

Parameters of CompulsionObsessionCompulsion
Range of Emotions Obsessions are way more disgusting than others because it causes stress, anxiety, and depression at times. Since compulsions are a cure to the former, they cause relief and sometimes happiness of the feeling that one has got rid of a terrible feeling.
Extent of Danger These can be more dangerous as they pour a lot of emotions into the mind and can be perturbing. They are not dangerous but can be worrisome if they a person repeats the same habit multiple times.
Taboo Behavior Acting violently at normal things, fear about sexual emotions being wrong, etc. Checking everything multiple times, being ritualistic at the slightest of things
Types They are mostly related to contamination, sexual thoughts, violence, illness, etc. Mental compulsions, cleaning compulsions, checking compulsions, etc.
Other diseases Mental disorders like depression, obsessive jealousy, eating disordersCompulsions don’t cause diseases but result in doing a single task multiple times like washing hands twice/three before eating

What is Obsession?

To be obsessed about something means to adopt some habits which seem to instil in the mind a feeling of disgust, fear, or anxiety. One does not want to experience those feelings, but they come into the mind somehow.

There can be different forms of obsessions. Obsessions towards contamination can cause a person to be more concerned about the body fluids going out of the body in the right way.

One doesn’t need to worry about them getting out of the body in the right way because the body is going to work as naturally as it does, but still, these kinds of obsessions might lead to a rise or dip in the hormones of the body. Obsessions about taboo behaviours can be extremely disappointing at times.

The person might be forced by the mind to be indulged in activities like behaving violently towards others even when not needed, sexually inclined thoughts that a person does want to think of, and even the thoughts that one can offend God by some actions. Obsessions towards some things might seem to be very engaging and enjoyable.

But eventually, those emotions are a waste of time. People fail to realize that too much of something might lead to a disaster at some point in time.

What is Compulsion?

Compulsions can help an individual to get rid of obsessions. Of course, these compulsions are a fantastic way to steer out some negative emotions in the body.

But these feelings too might bring a sense of fear at some point that if not done, something ill-omen might happen on the same day. Since the compulsions are responses to obsessions, they might take up a lot of time.

The person will probably enjoy the moments, but repeating these behaviours can keep the individual in a single work and waste a lot of time. Compulsions bring relief to a person’s mind as they help to get rid of the obsessions and are short-lived.

Behavioural compulsions might bring some bad habits to a person. For example, if a person is going out, he checks the lock of the door multiple times.

Now, this habit might seem good at times but is sustained for a long period, people around the person might be irritated by these acts. Performing some tasks that are necessarily not needed before doing something is another example of compulsion.

The compulsions, on the one hand, help to get rid of obsessions, but on the other hand, these emotions or behaviours are one of the prime reasons that make an individual ritualistic, superstitious or mythical.

Main Differences Between Obsession and Compulsion

  1. Obsessions can force one to think of something unpleasant and full of distress, while compulsions help to get rid of the obsessive thoughts that come to one’s mind.
  2. Obsessions being distressful thoughts last for a longer time, while the compulsions are short-lived as compared to the former.
  3. Obsessions might lead a person to think that he/she is suffering from a disease, even when the person is in a good state of mind, while compulsions might lead to a person checking his/her body multiple times even when the person is alright.
  4. Purely obsessive thoughts might lead to a strike in blood pressure as it shocks the mental stability of a person, while compulsive thoughts can be managed by explaining to the person that it is normal to behave likewise in some situations but not all the time.
  5. Purely obsessive thoughts can lead to a disorder named OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), while compulsions are a way of treating the disorder.
Difference Between Obsession and Compulsion
  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cpp.292
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