How to help yourself or a loved one break the cycle of compulsive behavior

The dictionary defines a compulsion as an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act. It is to do something in spite of the fact that you know it does not make good sense, it is wrong or even dangerous to you and others. The following are suggestions on how to break the cycle of compulsive behavior:

Seek understanding. Those who struggle with compulsive behavior describe similar patterns of experience and emotions that contribute to their problems. They often seek fulfillment of appropriate needs through inappropriate means. When those needs remain unmet, they feel even more frustrated, dejected and isolated. Finding resources to gain understanding of the problem and to find the right solutions is critical to breaking the cycle.- Trust in the Lord. The Savior has promised: "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27.)

Know your enemy. It is important to know the thoughts, places and temptations that lead to your compulsive behavior and to avoid them.

Seek help from others. If your behavior is out of control, relying on the strength of others can help you start the process of getting back in control. Your bishop has the right to be inspired and act as an instrument of the Lord in your behalf. If needed, he can help you identify appropriate professional resources consistent with the teachings of the Savior.

Work to control your thoughts. Actions spring from thoughts. If you think about doing something long enough and intensely enough, the likelihood of your doing it is greatly increased.

Develop new habits. Make a list of goals. Focus your thoughts and energy on taking the steps to make improvement. It is often especially helpful to work initially on the physical aspects of your life - diet, exercise and sleep.

Take smaller steps if needed. Identify a small part of the problem and learn to be successful in controlling that thought or behavior. Then pick another to work on. Remember that compulsive behavior can be very difficult to break and will require concerted effort to overcome. Ask a trusted friend to help you monitor your progress.

Admit who is harmed. Make a list of persons harmed by your behavior, and do what you can to make amends.

Pay attention to your successes. When you are successful in overcoming a part of the problem, focus on your success and celebrate it. - Jim Lewis, Commissioner's Office, LDS Social Services

What we did:

Potential medical problem

Recognize this as a potential medical problem. Encouragement, faith, prayers and priesthood blessings are important to everyone. But a person with obsessive compulsive disorder can no more "snap out of it" by trying harder than a person who is blind can regain his or her sight by counting blessings.

Seek the best medical help. Follow your instincts very closely. If a doctor presents ideas contrary to the gospel, beware.

Realize obsessive compulsive disorders cause high levels of stress. It's important to keep this under control by eliminating other stresses at home, work, etc.

Don't forget to have fun.

Remember John 9:1-3: "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." - Name withheld, Oklahoma

Two battles

A person with this type of problem has two battles to face, not just one. First is how the habit started in the first place. The second is finding a way to recognize the habit so that you can start preventing it. To handle the emotional component, a lot of outside helps, such as support groups and counselors, can be necessary and can help shorten the process of recovery. But, in addition to these, or at least as a starting point, the following things can help:

Pray for a sincere understanding of the emotions and the patience to work through the issues. Thank Him for being there to listen and to help.

Keep journals of the times when you exhibited the behavior. Try to write down the feelings that you had before the episode started, during the episode and after the episode.

Learn to identify the episodes. Until you can see it happen, there is almost nothing you can do to successfully break the habit.

Watch for the situation that triggers the episodes. As soon as you see the situation, start praying. Ask the Lord to be there for you and to help strengthen you in this struggle.

Focus on your eternal nature. You are precious and special in His sight.

Remember, it will take time, and there will be failures as well as successes. I can tell you, though, it works. - Jan DeLucien, Reston, Va.

Attack the root

The following may apply:

People become frustrated with themselves or others if they only try to attack the top of the weed - the compulsion - and not the root, only to have it spring back. Once the root is gone, the need for the problem goes away.

The labeling we have for ourselves and others as "bad" or "weak" is self-defeating. Self-respect must be maintained if people are to have the motivation, courage and strength to change.

The ideas expressed in this letter addresses the pain many feel, but because we as a society don't talk openly about traumatic events, often people are left to themselves to deal with huge holes in their hearts, the silent "walking wounded." Very often these are the people who develop compulsive behaviors and feel no hope or understanding of how they got there or how to get back. Simple knowledge helps a lot.

Name withheld, Utah

Involve others

Overcoming a compulsive behavior begins with recognizing that the behavior is compulsive and that it is a problem. A strong desire to overcome the behavior is also essential.

People who have compulsive behaviors would do well to read Moses chapter 1 to relearn who they really are, especially verses 2, 6, 12-13. What the Lord said to Moses and what Moses said to Satan about being a son of God in the similitude of His Only Begotten applies to the addict as it does to any other son or daughter of God, though most addicts have a hard time believing it about themselves.

The person suffering from a compulsive behavior must substitute a positive behavior in place of the compulsive one, not just eliminate the problem behavior. Christ-like service is the best substitute. - Steven L. Teeples, Chubbuck, Idaho

How to checklist:

1 Trust the Lord; pray for help, strength; realize worth.

2 Seek understanding; know what triggers compulsion.

3 Seek medical help, counseling, if necessary.

4 Give yourself time; make goals, note small successes.


Jan. 27 "How to be more effective in your occupation."

Feb. 3 "How to remain in love with your spouse despite the rigors of life."

Feb. 10 "How to help young men honor the priesthood."

Feb. 17 "How to help children overcome shyness."

Feb. 24 "How to be an active contributing member of your community."

March 2 "How to make your home safe for children, other loved ones."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2121 or use internet E-mail: Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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