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Is it normal to be obsessed with numbers?

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In every literate society, numbers are an aspect from which we cannot escape. They are everywhere: on the doors of the houses, on the license plates of the cars, when making the income statement ...

But they are not just written. They are also in our mind, in the form of favorite numbers, that give us fear or a preference when doing things, such as making sure the front door is closed twice.

All this is part of the daily life of many people. However, there are those who seem that the numbers have taken control of their lives and they even wonder: Is it normal to obsess over numbers?. Let's try to answer this question.

  • Related article: "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): what is it and how does it manifest itself?"

Is it normal to be obsessed with numbers, or is it a problem?

Numbers are a fundamental aspect in our lives, no matter how much aversion to mathematics we may have. They are everywhere, like letters forming words. Regardless of what our profession is or what hobbies we have, at some point of the day we have to see numbers, either to do a call, count the money, pay, make the income statement or any other activity in which aspects have to be dealt with numerical.

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But not only are they written, but they are also in our minds. We all have some kind of behavior and thinking related to numbers. A classic example is having to check the door two or three times to make sure it is properly closed. Another could be having to buy four packs of tuna at the supermarket, not one more and not one less.

These behaviors can be easily justifiable. Checking twice if the door has been closed makes sense, checking that the door is indeed closed. That of the tuna packs may simply be because it is thought to be the exact amount to last the week or until the next purchase. But let's face it, on many occasions it is because we have a certain preference for those amounts. The problem is when we do not speak of two or three, but of 50, 60, 130 ...

It can also happen that we are obsessed with the number itself, that is, the symbol and what it represents. In a certain way it is normal that we have a favorite number and another that we associate with bad luck, in the same way that there are those who have a favorite color. Culture has a very strong weight behind this election. For example, in Spain and other European countries 13 is the number of bad luck, while 7, 9 or 11 are those that are seen as good luck.

Having a favorite or unlucky number is not a very important thing, until it becomes an obsession. Avoid at all costs going through a door with the number 13 or wanting our phone number to carry, yes or yes, a 7 are aspects that, however slight they may seem, limit the life of those who suffer from this obsession. What if they invite us to a house with the number 13? Didn't we go in? What do we say to who has invited us?

Looking at these small introductory examples, it is not difficult to get used to the idea that, although thinking in numbers, both as a symbol or doing X amount of actions, is normal but with certain limits. If we go too far, if thinking about numbers becomes an obsession that limits our lives a lot, we have a problem. Normal is to double check the door, it is not if we check everything 10 times before leaving home. This is called arithmomania, closely related to OCD.

  • You may be interested in: "What is an obsession? Causes, symptoms and treatment "

OCD and arithmomania

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts, recurrent and persistent that produce worry, apprehension, fear and concern, in addition to behaviors repetitive. Among the main characteristics of OCD we usually find aspects such as anxiety about hygiene, order and symmetry, closing the door twice... aspects that can be included in obsessions or compulsions

Between the most common obsessions associated with OCD we have: fear of contamination, fear of causing harm to others or that, through action or inaction, harm will be done to beings dear, obsessions with sexual content, concern for health, need for order and symmetry, religiosity excessive ...

Regarding compulsions, we can find repetitive behaviors such as washing hands or brushing teeth, opening or closing doors, touching an object with the hands, giving tapping your feet on the floor, placing objects in a specific order or checking if things are as they should be (closed doors, electrical appliances disconnected ...). Also in compulsions we find repetitive thoughts such as praying, counting numbers or repeating words silently, over and over again.

The obsession with numbers is called arithmomania And it is, in essence, it is obsessive-compulsive disorder but with a special obsession with numbers. People with this disorder have a great need to count their actions or objects their environment, making sure that they have been counted or carried out by a certain number of times. It may also happen that the patient develops a complex mental system in which he assigns values ​​or numbers to people, objects and events, compulsively seeking a relationship between them to make them consistent.

People with this disorder can keep a count that can be done loudly or softly, and can even take more than one count at the same time (p. g., be counting street lamps, red cars and dogs). This count gives them security and, if they don't, they may start to think that something bad will happen., in the same vein as the rest of the TOC.

Some examples of obsession with numbers

Mentioning all cases of arithmomania, both associated with obsessions and compulsions, would give us a list as long as the number of numbers is infinite. There are obsessions with absolutely any number, transformed into all kinds of compulsions. If something characterizes OCD, it is that each person who suffers from it has different pathological thoughts and behaviors, and being obsessed with something as extensive as numbers makes it even more different. Here are a few examples of obsession with numbers.

1. Odd and even numbers

There seems to be a special obsession with odd and even numbers, being some seen as those of good luck while the others would bring bad omens. Usually it is the pairs that bring good luck. One of the most common explanations is that, as they are pairs, they can always be divided by two and that is a very good thing, according to the logic of a person obsessed with these types of values.

2. Preference or fear of prime numbers

Prime numbers are those that can only be divided by one and by themselves. Some of them are 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19... Since these numbers are so unique they can be seen as especially beneficial or, on the contrary, numbers that give very bad luck.

3. Check things using a pattern

Within this compulsion we can find ourselves constantly checking if the doors have been closed, the lights, the alarm deactivated... turning on and off several times, always following the same pattern. For example, open and close the tap using the pattern 1, 2, 3, 4 (open and close; I open, open and close; I open, open, open and close; I open, open, open, open and close), thinking that if I don't, something bad is going to happen.

4. Activating and deactivating anxiety number

There are cases of people who associate one number with anxiety and another as a kind of "anxiolytic" for that same symptom. For example, associating the number 3 with stress and 7 as relaxation making that, when seeing the first number (going through a portal with the number 3, see a license plate with that number ...), have to say 7 times "seven".

5. Number that can not be missing in the day to day

Obsession with a number to be in your life. For example, being obsessed with 3, asking for a hotel room with that number or a multiple, always having 3 blocks ...

6. Touching things with both hands a specified number of times

There are people who need to be touching something with both hands the same number of times when, by chance, one of them has touched something. For example, walking down the street and accidentally touching a lamppost with your right hand. This forces the person to touch that streetlight three times with his left hand and two more with his right.

7. Count the letters of the words

The obsession with numbers is not exclusively about numbers. It is also extrapolated to letters which are sometimes seen as the counterpart of numbers. For example, there are cases of people who hate a certain number, let's say 4, and avoid using every word that has that many letters, avoiding words like "love", "only", "turkey"... having to replace them with "filia", "individual" "gallinaceous" ...

This can be especially troublesome if the feared number is very low. (from 1 to 3) since the most used words in any language are usually the shortest, including grammatical particles (p. eg., of, the, in, ...). Since the person cannot use them, his language can become very difficult to understand or make use of words and expressions that make his language very grand.

8. Drive at a speed ending in a specific number

This is especially dangerous. The person feels the need to drive at speeds ending with the same digit, or go at a speed above or above the speed limit X number of kilometers.

9. Count the steps

Go constantly counting the steps. For example, be counting steps from 1 to 10, ensuring that, upon arrival at the destination, you have finished step 10 of the last count.

10. Complex math operations

Some people with OCD perform really complicated arithmetic operations, of all kinds that we can imagine, just by crossing certain values.

Let's take a clear example of this: be walking down the street and see the numbers of the license plates of the cars, add their digits and add another operation, for Example 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, followed by the number of our telephone number and DNI, assign a value to the letter of the DNI and multiply it by the result that has been obtained.


Obsessing over numbers is quite common, but in terms of health and quality of life it is not normal. It is one thing to have a favorite number or have some kind of daily mania, and another is to have to make X number of times the bed, to believe think about the number 3 we will have a very bad day or start doing arithmetic calculations simply by coming across numbers by the Street.

What Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder-related syndrome, arithmomania is a disorder that must be treated by a professional. It can involve a high degree of interference in the daily life of the affected person, since he can waste a great amount of time doing the compulsions to calm his anxiety. In addition, as the disorder worsens, the person will become more disconnected from his environment, which will not understand why he has such an obsession with numbers.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bloch, M.H.; Landeros-Weisenberger, A.; Rosario, M.C.; Pittenger, C.; Leckman, J.F. (2008). "Meta-analysis of the symptom structure of obsessive-compulsive disorder". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 165 (12): pp. 1532 - 1542.
  • Grant, J.E. (2014). Clinical practice: Obsessive-compulsive disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine. 371 (7): pp. 646 - 653.
  • Rhéaume, J.; Freeston, M.H.; Dugas, M.J.; Letarte, H.; Ladouceur, R. (1995). Perfectionism, responsibility and Obsessive-Compulsive symptoms. Behavior Research and Therapy 33 (7): pp. 785 - 794.

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