Compulsivity is associated with alterations in the structure and the function of parallel and interacting brain circuits involved in emotional processing (involving both the reward and the fear circuits), cognitive control, and motor functioning. These brain circuits develop during the pre-natal period and early childhood under strong genetic and environmental influences. In this review we bring together literature on cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes in compulsivity, based mainly on studies in patients with obsessive–compulsive disorder and addiction. Disease symptoms normally change over time. Goal-directed behaviors, in response to reward or anxiety, often become more habitual over time. During the course of compulsive disorders the mental processes and repetitive behaviors themselves contribute to the neuroplastic changes in the involved circuits, mainly in case of chronicity. On the other hand, successful treatment is able to normalize altered circuit functioning or to induce compensatory mechanisms. We conclude that insight in the neurobiological characteristics of the individual symptom profile and disease course, including the potential targets for neuroplasticity is an unmet need to advance the field.