I Group Everything in 3s…What is That?

Reader’s Question

I am a 24-year-old female and for as long as I can remember I have grouped things into 3s. I do it with letters in words, words in sentences — even in conversations with people I will mentally pause them after 3 words, then play, then pause. I do this with billboards as I drive past them and in my night time ritual, I will make up sentences and go through it grouping the letters 3 at a time. I can only end the sentence if it falls on a 3. I would love to know why I do this and why nobody else I know understands me.

Psychologist’s Reply

Counting, grouping, and other mental rituals are often associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While you’ve described a few of the behaviors, I suspect there are maybe hundreds of other three-group rituals you engage in during the day. In OCD, some folks group or count things, some have religious rituals, some have left-right preferences, some have physical rituals involving body movements, etc. You will notice that these mental rituals increase when you are under stress. Of mental health problems that can become disabling, OCD is one of them. In extreme cases, the individual becomes overwhelmed by the requirements of the rituals to the point that they can’t attend school, leave the house, work, or participate in relationships.

There is a variety of treatments for OCD. The first step is consultation with a psychiatrist. OCD is associated with low levels of a brain neurochemical called Serotonin. As Serotonin decreases in the brain, we have more OCD symptoms, our brain speed increases, we can’t sleep, have no sense of humor, etc. Several medications are recognized for their ability to improve OCD symptoms. Psychotherapy is the next step and several cognitive-behavioral programs are known to improve OCD symptoms. I recommend starting a treatment program as soon as possible as these symptoms will not disappear on their own.

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