Breaking Obsessive Typing Habit Before it Becomes OCD

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Reader’s Question

I’ve never done anything like this before, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t know what to say…

So, I am an 18-year-old girl, currently in high school. I had a relatively rough childhood, but I got through it in one piece and there isn’t anything overtly unusual about me except for one thing.

I find myself compulsively filling in letters when I write and typing and retyping words on the computer. (For example, I just retyped the word “computer” five or six times before moving on and the word “five” about three.) I wouldn’t usually worry about such trivial things, but recently it’s come to my attention that these habits do actually affect me quite negatively, since it takes me a lot longer to write when I’m filling in all of my Es and As and other letters and retyping words like “Hello” six or seven times until I can settle.

I’ve read about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I’ve never had the overwhelming fear that something bad will happen if I don’t carry out these rituals; I just can’t stop myself from doing them, and if I somehow manage to, it bothers me until it’s all I can think about.

Is this something that I should be seriously concerned about or is it just a habit that I need to work harder to break? Most people think it’s just a peculiar habit, that it’s funny or cute, but I feel like it’s slowly gaining control of my life. And, at my age, I’d rather live for me and my goals than these urges that do nothing but hold me back and take up time that I really don’t have.

Thank you so much for your time.


Psychologist’s Reply

It’s great that you’re asking about this while it’s still funny and cute. Little habits can be worked with much more quickly and easily than habits that have grown out of proportion.

When you talk about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, what I hear you saying is that you recognize some of the things that comprise that disorder but not all of them. That is, you don’t have this disorder — yet. So addressing this problem now is a great way to prevent the development of the disorder and get to what’s at the bottom of it.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, at its heart, is about being anxious and afraid. Sometimes we’re anxious about something beyond our control, something so big we just can’t face it. When that happens, we find little habits like this to somehow control the anxiety and fear. They bring order to chaos. For example, you say you had a rough childhood. If that is something that is too painful or threatening for you to bear, then you may try little tricks like this to get control of yourself. In this way, the habits distract you from the real fear. They use up all your time so you don’t have a free moment to let the real fear in. And they use up all your energy on this thing that holds you back.

As a new adult, take your new self-control and take care of yourself. Talk to someone, maybe a school counselor, about getting some therapy for this. Breaking the habit might happen very quickly. Dealing with what underlies it may take a bit longer. So start now! You won’t regret it.

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