OCD: Supporting a Loved one with OCD

By: Sanjita Ekhelikar

It can be devastating to see a loved one suffer through a mental illness. This holds very true for loved ones of individuals afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. OCD is a ruthless anxiety disorder that traps people in repetitive thoughts or rituals. The disorder is characterized by irrational thoughts, or “obsessions,” that people have, which are addressed through “compulsions,” or behaviors to appease the thoughts. Obsessions and compulsions can range from concern over hygiene or safety, resulting in recurrent handwashing or checking locks on doors, or clarifying meanings with other people, which result in repeating words and phrases. An attempt to resist the compulsion leads to extreme feelings of anxiety, which are extremely unpleasant.

Individuals with OCD are constantly fighting their minds every single day, and fighting the urge to give in to the compulsions while also experiencing anxiety. As a family member or loved one of the effected individual, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to best be supportive and help the significant other overcome their OCD. Here are a list of tips to support a loved one struggling with OCD:

  1. Do not accommodate the OCD. A large part of this illness involves the individual asking for reassurance or wanting to continuously repeat an action or phrase until the OCD is “satisfied.” While it may seem like giving them the reassurance is the nice thing to do, this actually worsens the condition. Reassurance may remove anxiety for a short amount of time, but allows the OCD to continue to take over and keeps the individual under the control of OCD.
  2. Uncertainty is key. When presented with the previous situation about being asked reassurance, the best thing to do is leave the individual with uncertainty. This will result in them feeling anxiety, which may be hard to see, but is crucial in their resisting the compulsions and in the long run overcoming the OCD. When asked for reassurance, simply do not respond, or say “this could be true, but I don’t know for sure.” Uncertainty = anxiety = healing.
  3. Be compassionate. While you should be firm in not giving reassurances, be compassionate, empathetic, and understanding of your loved one. OCD is tiring, and the individual does not want to be asking you for reassurances or fighting with their mind. Be caring and loving to them.
  4. Educate yourself! The more you can learn about OCD, how it works, and its symptoms, the more effective you can be in helping your loved one and in tackling the illness together.
  5. Maintain your own life. It can be a natural thought to want to take time from work or school to help a loved one with OCD and to be around them. Do NOT do this – it is important to take care of yourself, have your own life and space, and not cater everything around the OCD. Your loved one will feel guilty if you are giving up things to take care of them, and you will soon tire out and not be effective in helping. OCD can be a trying disease to overcome, but with the correct treatments and proper support, it can be overcome. By knowing the best ways to be supportive of your loved ones, you can facilitate the process of their working towards a life free of OCD.

If you or someone you know is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit http://www.counselingpsychotherapynjny.com/.

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