How to Spot the Difference between a Ritual and an Obsession

Guest blog by Jake Knapik, Corporate Mobility Consultant for The Expat Kids Club

Rituals can be a powerful and important aspect to any person or family. We, either consciously or unconsciously, thrive on rituals to help keep things structured and meaningful. These are even more meaningful during a time of emotional growth; holidays, deaths, transitions and celebrations are just a few examples of when we as humans embrace and thrive on rituals. However, there are times, that rituals can warp and become all-consuming forms of coping.
It is not uncommon that children and adolescents can become obsessed with rituals to help them cope and reduce their anxiety. This can be in everyday life, or around extremely stressful times, but the main focus is that the ritual has grown from a helpful tactic to a necessary evil to feel “better”. As a clinician, I specialize in the treatment of Pediatric Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and have seen first had the negative impact these obsessive rituals can have on the child and their family.

OCD is very different from healthy rituals. Obsessive rituals, unlike healthy rituals, are done as the sole way to help the person reduce their anxiety and feel “safe”. For example, an obsessive ritual would be the NEED for the child to have Mom/Dad put them to bed in the exact order, each night or the consequence being the inability to sleep and intense fear! This could also manifest in an obsession around connecting with friends or family in their previous home out of a fear for their safety or reassurance of the child not feeling “forgotten”. Unlike this obsessive ritual, a healthy ritual would be setting up structured time to call friends and family for a certain amount of time.

What to do if you think your child has developed some unhealthy obsessive rituals? First off, reach out to a specialist to help you come with the best way to reduce their need for this unhealthy obsession and to develop some new ways to cope and process their emotions! You can also begin by making small changes to their obsessive rituals to help show them that they can break this obsession without their fear coming true. Lastly, model flexibility in your own day-to-day functioning! The goal is to show the child that you can manage what the world can throw at you without the need for these unhealthy obsessions!

Overall, rituals are an amazing and beautiful experience that you can share with your loved ones! They keep us rooted in our heritage and culture and allow us to share emotional experiences with each other.