What is the Difference Between Impulsive and Compulsive

The main difference between impulsive and compulsive is that impulsive behaviours involve unplanned reactions, but compulsive behaviours involve repetitive actions.

Impulsive behaviours are actions that have little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences. Compulsive behaviours are actions that are repeated continuously, despite the need to stop them. Both impulsive and compulsive actions are actions without thought, and they have the potential to become addictions, leading to serious damage to mental health.

Key Areas Covered

1. What Does Impulsive Mean
     – Definition, Behaviour, Examples
2. What Does Compulsive Mean
     – Definition, Behaviour, Examples
3. What are the Similarities Between Impulsive and Compulsive
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Impulsive and Compulsive
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Behaviour, Compulsive, ImpulsiveDifference Between Impulsive and Compulsive - Comparison Summary

What Does Impulsive Mean

Impulsive basically means showing behaviour in which you do things suddenly, without careful thought. Impulsive behaviour is characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the results. In fact, in psychology, we call this type of behaviour impulsiveness or impulsivity. People usually engage in impulsive behaviour because they seek positive or pleasurable results, like relief from emotional pain. However, long term impulsivity can result in negative consequences like emotional distress, self-harm or regret.

Furthermore, impulsiveness can be a part of someone’s personality or a component of a disease like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disease), bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or substance use disorders. In addition, an impulsive person is usually considered to be rash, unstable, and unpredictable.

Difference Between Impulsive and Compulsive

Figure 01: Impulsive People tend to be Violent and Aggressive

Examples of Impulsive Behavior

  • Taking drugs
  • Being violent and aggressive
  • Frequent emotional outbursts
  • Binge eating
  • Sexual addiction
  • Overspending
  • Abruptly changing or cancelling plans
  • Joining and quitting a lot of groups

What Does Compulsive Mean

Compulsive basically means doing something a lot and inability to stop doing it. Compulsive behaviours are actions that are repeated continuously – even when you want to stop this action, you cannot. These behaviours generally have negative outcomes and lead to conflicts. Moreover, even common activities like shopping, eating, exercise, washing hands, sex, or talking can develop into compulsive behaviour.

Key Difference - Impulsive vs Compulsive

Figure 2: Excessive Hand Washing is a Compulsive Behavior

Examples of Compulsive Behavior

  • Excessive cleaning and washing
  • Hoarding
  • Checking everything repeatedly (door lock, stove, phone, etc.)
  • Obsessive orderliness (arranging everything in a particular order)
  • Following an extremely strict routine
  • Gambling

For those engaged in compulsive behaviours, these actions may offer distraction, provide a sense of control while acting as a safety valve. Although engaging in compulsive behaviour may bring relief to them, this behaviour is often unpleasant and may make them frustrated and ashamed. Furthermore, compulsive behaviour may be genetic, but it can also arise as a result of trauma, abuse or a stressful event.

What are the Similarities Between Impulsive and Compulsive

  • Impulsive and compulsive actions involve acting without thought and often have negative outcomes.
  • Moreover, these have the potential to become addictions, leading to serious damage to mental health.

What is the Difference Between Impulsive and Compulsive

Definition

Impulsive behaviours are actions that have little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences while compulsive behaviours are actions that are repeated continuously, despite the need to stop them.

Nature of Action

While impulsive behaviours involve unplanned reactions, compulsive behaviours involve repetitive actions.

Origin

Moreover, compulsive actions arise in response to a perceived threat, but impulsive actions arise in response to a perceived immediate gain or benefit.

Examples

Frequent emotional outbursts, violence and aggression, binge eating, abrupt change of plans, etc. are some examples of impulsive behaviours whereas hoarding, excessive cleaning, obsessive orderliness, etc. are examples of compulsive behaviours.

Conclusion

Impulsive behaviours are actions that have little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences while compulsive behaviours are actions that are repeated continuously, despite the need to stop them. The main difference between impulsive and compulsive is that impulsive behaviours involve unplanned reactions, whereas compulsive behaviours involve repetitive actions.

Reference:

1. “Compulsive Behaviors.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, Available here.
2. “Impulsivity.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Feb. 2020, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “1300528” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “4906750” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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