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Performing Rituals

 

Explanations > Behaviors > Coping > Performing Rituals

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?

  

Description

Rituals are pre-defined sequences of activity. When faced with a difficult situation we may indulge in some form of ritualized activity rather than face the situation just now. In this way, we may avoid the problem for a few seconds and sometimes for much longer.

These rituals can be small physical actions, long scripts of speech or more complex combinations of behavior.

Example

When faced with being dismissed from a job, a person wrings their hands and talks about how hard they work and how events conspire against them. It is an excuse they have used a number of times before (and repeated in their heads many more times again).

When asked a question for which I do not have an immediate answer, I clear my throat and say something like 'I'm glad you asked that question...'.

Discussion

Rituals take time to perform. This puts off an uncomfortable immediate future. This may give us enough time to gather our thoughts and calm down a little. It may also be a desperate act to try and put off the inevitable, even for just a few moments more.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often takes this pattern to extreme, endlessly and needlessly repeating a ritualized behavior such as washing or counting things. In paying detailed attention to these actions, the person with OCD manages to put off anxious thoughts or actions indefinitely.

So what?

Notice the ritual actions you are performing and notice the anxiety that may have triggered this. Wonder whether you should act in other ways.

You can also prepare a number of harmless small rituals to give yourself time to think when faced with tricky situations where a few seconds to gather your thoughts will be useful.

See also

Avoidance, Substitution, Displacement

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