Compulsive behaviors are behaviors that feel out of control. We might feel like we “have to” engage in them, engage in them a specific way, or “can’t stop” doing them even if we want to.
Compulsive behaviors are often connected to a desire to feel better. They can also be thought of as issues related to hunger, such as hunger for increased pleasure, relief, connectedness, belongings, novelty, or change.
Sometimes called process addictions, behavioral addictions, or “non-substance related behavioral addiction,” compulsive behaviors can look many ways. Really any behavior can become a compulsion or process addiction. Some common examples include:
-cheating or affairs
-internet or social media scrolling
-pathological working (being a “workaholic”)
Process addictions happen when someone feels addicted to the behavior (ex: “I can’t stop until I find the perfect video”) or the feeling that comes from completing the behavior (ex: completed a purchase, orgasm, or binge). This is different from chemical dependency, but maybe not as much as you might think.
Our brains release “reward” chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin when we engage in pleasurable activities. This can become cyclical for some people, leading to a situation where more and more of the behavior is needed to achieve results (ex: maxing out credit cards or finding yourself looking at more extreme pornographic content over time). While there is some debate about whether or not you can be “addicted” to shopping or pornography, the word “addiction” isn’t really that important. Consider how you relate to the behavior as a guide. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Do you feel a strong impulse to engage in the behavior?
Do you feel out of control to reduce or prevent the behavior?
Find yourself continuing to engage in the behavior despite serious consequences in your life?
Feel a sense of tension leading up to engaging in the behavior?
Notice using the behavior to cope with tough feelings?
Feeling guilt or shame after the behavior? Keeping it secret?
Feel like you cannot stop?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing a behavioral or process addiction or a behavioral cycle that feels out of control. Whatever you call it, relief is possible.