I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was diagnosed some years ago. I knew for years before that that I probably had OCD, but getting diagnosed validated that. One thing I struggle with is repeating. I thought it was because of my OCD, but I’ve never had that clarified for me. Repeating is something I’ve struggled with for years, so understanding that it is a part of my OCD has been incredibly helpful to my mental health.
For a long time, I felt bad about my obsessive need to repeat myself, or indulge in other repetitious actions. My repeating is frustrating for others. It’s frustrating for me, as well. I have decided to write about my experience with repeating because until I understood that it was a part of my OCD, I often blamed myself for not recognizing when I was engaging in repetitive actions and thought patterns. I want others who are engaged in repeating to understand they are not alone, and their family members to have a better understanding of what repeating is, so they know it is not their family member’s s fault.
Through research, and more importantly, my own experiences, I’ve learned that both obsession and compulsion are involved in repeating. Repeating is often caused by obsessive thoughts or feelings, which lead to compulsive actions. This makes a lot of sense for my own compulsion to repeat myself.
I can explain repeating best through my own experience, and how it manifests for me. It will be different for each person, especially since the compulsive part of repeating can manifest in a few different ways. In my case, repeating typically manifests through the action of verbal repetition. Sometimes it also manifests when I’m reading. I will be afraid that I missed something, and reread paragraphs over and over again. Both are ways that repeating can manifest for those with repeating obsessions.
Repeating can also occur through physical actions. This is how most people understand repeating as it relates to OCD. A lot of depictions of OCD focus on this kind of repeating. This involves repeating actions such as opening and shutting doors, turning off and on the stove, and other physical manifestations. This kind of repeating often happens based on numbers. For example, a person may feel compelled to open and shut the door four times before they feel comfortable leaving the house. I sometimes engage in repeating that involves physical actions, but that is not usually how the compulsion works for me.
There are other ways that repeating occurs, but I’m primarily going to focus on verbal repeating in this article, as that is what is most common for me. Usually, my repeating manifests when I’m talking to others. My brain works to where I say whatever I need to repeat, and then I often immediately move on to thinking about something else. Instead of focusing on the repetition, my brain is often focused on the other conversation I’m having, which is part of why it’s hard for me to recognize when I’m repeating.
My need for verbal repetition manifests the most when I need something from someone else. As someone physically disabled, the need for assistance is a common occurrence. So let’s say I need help moving my leg. I will start repeating the request, and not even realize I’m asking for it. I won’t even be aware that I’m repeating myself, as I talk about other things at the same time.
For me, repeating manifests almost subconsciously. It is not until someone says, “Okay, I heard you. You need help ______” that something in my brain clicks and I can stop repeating myself verbally. The other person must acknowledge that they heard what I’m repeating, or I’m not aware I’m even repeating it. Sometimes, I might be aware I’m repeating myself, but I can’t control the fact I am repeating the request. Typically though, I repeat without thinking about it or having any control over it.
This can be very frustrating for somebody who doesn’t know why I’m repeating myself. They may think that I don’t think they are competent at doing what I ask or that I’m impatient. At the same time, I’m not really aware that I’m repeating myself. It’s only when I’m told that I’ve been repeating something that I become aware of it, and I can be more conscious of trying to stop the repeating from occurring.
It also seems like once what I’m repeating is validated, my brain will stop the compulsion to repeat myself. It is really when I become aware of the fact that I’m repeating, that I’m able to stop. That means it has become very important for me to make sure that anyone who is helping with my care is aware that I might repeat myself It is important for them to understand why it is happening, and also how they can accommodate me, so neither of us become frustrated.
In my case, it’s been about compromise. My family, especially, needed to understand that I might start repeating. It’s their job to inform me, and they know that once they do that I usually will stop. If I don’t stop, they will try to recognize that I can’t help it, and their understanding that it is a part of my OCD has made my repeating easier on them, as well.
I also have made the commitment that I recognize sometimes people have bad days, and that my repeating can be frustrating for all of us. If someone is dealing with a headache, especially migraines, which some of my family members deal with, my repeating can sometimes be grating. I can accommodate them, and recognize their frustration in these moments.
In my family, it has taken two-way communication, to where I’m not blamed, but I can also recognize how my repeating can sometimes be frustrating for others. If I find it frustrating, why wouldn’t others be frustrated as well, since they must hear it? It’s not my fault, but it’s not their fault either. It’s important not to blame anyone for a disability, and that is most especially true in how people respond to frustrating actions, such as repetitive behavior.
I know a lot of people are probably going to wonder about whether they must disclose to everyone that they have OCD, and that they are repeating. That depends on you and your specific situation. I’ve spoken with people with OCD who are able to hide their repeating behaviors. Others have spoken about how they find their repeating to be disruptive. The answer for me, personally, is that I have chosen to disclose on a need to know basis. If I’m interacting with someone and there’s a good chance I will experience repeating, I feel it’s important for them to know, so they don’t get confused when it happens.
Repeating doesn’t always happen, and certainly not with everyone,. If you know what is going to trigger repeating behavior, you may have an idea of who you need to tell. This may be a bit trickier if you are still trying to understand what causes such repetition. I cannot dictate whether it is good to disclose in your particular situation. For some of you, disclosure may not be safe. It may be frustrating to also have to label yourself in such a way, so ultimately disclosure is up to you. You know yourself best, so please follow your own intuition on this.
If you have OCD and engage in repeating in any form, I hope you know you are not alone. A lot of my experiences with OCD have been learning that how I experience OCD is not my fault. There is not a lot of understanding of OCD, especially when only certain kinds of repetitive behavior are portrayed in the media. While understanding is the first step in recognizing why you are repeating, what you decide to do to handle compulsions associated with repeating is individual to you and your life.
There is a wide variety of thoughts on how to deal with compulsive actions associated with OCD. Some people prefer a medical route, and other people feel the medical profession is abusive. I’ve experienced both, and I believe both are completely valid. Please use this article, not as a form of diagnosis, but to further understand how repeating can manifest, and what repeating is. I hope you find this article useful to you.
I am not a medical professional. This article is based on my expertise as someone with OCD and repeating compulsions.
Image Description: A black background with purple lettering reads, “What is Repeating?” There are two purple lines under that.
Thank you for this article. I’ve exhibited this verbal behavior for years and couldn’t figure out why or what. It is very frustrating for all.