As we know, OCD and other emotional struggles not only affect us they affect our loved ones. We sometimes can do more harm than good when trying to “help” ourselves or someone else. We may continue to harbor our struggles by continuing to feed the cycle. Whether this is OCD, or some other struggle, we often do things that are counterproductive. When dealing with depression, it can be common to want to isolate or to not leave our home. We see that this is usually not helpful, however it may feel better in the moment, so we can continue to do it, again and again. OCD is very similar and depression and OCD often go hand in hand. We try to fix our anxiety or obsessions by performing compulsions. It may help “fix” or lower the anxiety for a short time but we know that another OCD situation is just around the corner. We feed that monster over and over and this just increases our misery.
Having a loving family member or friend for OCD support is a real blessing. I know this first hand. It is very common for this person to get tied up in our OCD rituals. OCD can exhaust the person that has it as well as their loved ones. It’s human nature to want to help a loved one in a tough spot. A person with OCD may have months or years of tough spots. We see that a loved one is often feeding the OCD by helping them give into the rituals. If a person with OCD feels that their hands are contaminated, they may go wash them excessively for several minutes to try and rid themselves of this icky feeling they are experiencing. That is a classic example of giving into the OCD by performing a ritual. If this same person asks their spouse or friend to provide them reassurance that their hands are clean, then the process is the same. We are still feeding the OCD by helping our loved one with a mental ritual. The ritual could be hand washing, or it could be asking someone if we locked the front door and if “we did it right?” The result is still the same, giving the damn OCD what it wants. More rituals and compulsions. If someone has a child with OCD, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of giving reassurance or “helping” their child perform more rituals. We often have no idea we are doing it and feel that we are just trying to help our loved one who is struggling. The more experience or insight someone has into OCD, the easier it becomes to identify what is OCD and to start chipping away at these rituals. OCD will split hairs and likes to be certain, it hates the gray area of uncertainty. That being said, loved ones and sufferers can often try to walk that line of trying to figure out what exactly is OCD and what’s not. Let us be aware that this too can become just another OCD situation. I have found in my practice, and in my own life, that I treat these moments like they are OCD, regardless if they are OCD or not. The goal here being continuing to live with uncertainty and pushing ahead in a direction I value. Our loved ones still need to eat, get to work, get to school, shower, or maybe take a pill. We all have needs. So if someone can “help” their loved one with a ritual and that makes the day or the moment a little smoother, we can see how this would be an easy thing to get caught up in. If our loved continues to be throttled by this ridiculous OCD beast it can break our hearts so we may continue to try and “help” their suffering by giving into the OCD. The more we realize that we might be feeding the OCD by helping someone check, say a certain prayer, wash, or count to 10, the more we want to back away from these accommodations. Again, we don’t want to help feed the beast by participating in the compulsions and rituals. We can love the person and be supportive but not continue to contribute to the OCD. I know first hand that this is easier said that done, but I promise, it’s possible. There was a terrific book written on this topic. I have listed the book title and authors below. Working with a therapist that specializes in OCD and is trained in Exposure and Response Prevention can be very helpful, not only for the person with OCD, but as well as their support system.
OCD can be meticulous and sneaky. A person with OCD may ask a loved one the same question, 8 different ways, seeking that reassurance that may shut the OCD up for a very short time. “Maybe they didn’t hear me right?” or “Let me rephrase what I’m trying to say.” “Are you sure you saw me wash my right hand as well?” It’s heartbreaking and exhausting, for all parties involved. We want to continue reminding ourselves that we didn’t ask for OCD to show up and to try to run our lives. Let’s try to talk to each other, with compassion and support, and remember that the OCD is the one that doesn’t deserve our attention. We can give the OCD attention, as a team, by not giving it the attention it wants. More useless overanalyzing and rituals.
October 8-14, 2017, is the International OCD Foundation’s OCD awareness week. I wanted to share this as a shout out to all the loved ones out there who continue to be by their loved one’s side. THANK YOU FOR THAT! Let’s work together as a team to help stamp out stigma while we continue to move forward. Hang in there, there is hope. Jeremy Rudd
Loving Someone with OCD Help for You and Your Family