This is an open letter to those of you who are loving someone with OCD.
I can’t imagine how frightened you were when your loved one was first hijacked by OCD. Everything was suddenly turned upside down. I’m sure you were terrified that things would never be the same.
In the beginning, you tried to do whatever made your loved one less anxious. It hurt so much to see your child or family member in such agony. So you tried to end the horror as best you could.
Enabling and Reassuring Doesn’t Work
You offered constant reassurance and tried over and over to use common sense and logic to get rid of your loved one’s fear and worry. But that part of the brain didn’t seem to be functioning properly. (There’s no logic in OCD!) So you ended up talking and talking until you were blue in the face.
You complied and met every OCD demand because it just seemed easier. You even joined in on some of the rituals like saying “I love you” five times or washing your hands when they weren’t even dirty.
You kept the environment free of triggers and censored people’s words to keep them from triggering your child or family member. People stopped visiting because they didn’t want to make the situation worse.
You lost a lot of sleep and resorted to lecturing and giving the cold shoulder. You lost your cool many times. You thought, “This is so ridiculous. Just stop it!”
I hope you know that you were coming from a place of love, not doubt, when you cried. And a place of fear, not hate, when you yelled or walked away in frustration.
Your loved one has a problem with self-compassion. I don’t have to meet you to know you have the same problem. Maybe you weren’t always resourceful but you were always doing your best. Always.
In desperation or out of convenience, you kept enabling and reassuring. But, the relief was only temporary. OCD seemed to just get bigger and bigger. It robbed all of you of everyday pleasures and new experiences. The world got smaller with every passing day.
You thought all the reassurance would help ease the anxiety but it actually made it worse. The demands were getting more intense and frequent. Accommodating wasn’t helping anything other than providing one very brief moment of relief.
And then your prayers were answered. You found out that giving in was actually feeding OCD.
Gradually Stop Accommodating
You knew that if you stopped feeding OCD your loved one would protest. Things were going to get worse before they got better. You worried: What if we’re biting off more than we can chew?
You stopped giving in and your loved one cried, “Don’t you love me? Why aren’t you helping me?” Talk about being stabbed in the heart—ouch.
You got tougher and your loved one accused you of not understanding, “You just don’t get it! I’m all alone now.” Ouch, that hurt too.
You stopped enabling but your loved one put you to the test, and said, “Fine, “I’ll go without.” Oh no! So afraid. What if things get worse now?
Support Your Loved One, Not OCD
You validated your loved one’s feelings, “I know this is hard. I can tell this is causing you a lot of pain.” Validate. Acknowledge. But, don’t take away the pain. Soften into the pain. It’s hard to be anxious when you want to be anxious.
You also showed how much faith you had in your loved one’s ability to overcome, “You’re stronger than you think. I know that you can do this. It’s hard, I know. You’ve done hard before. You’re not alone. I’m going to help you boss it back. I’m not going to feed OCD anymore, but I will help you defeat it.”
As time passed you remained patient. You stayed the course and your loved one began to understand there would be no more avoidance. Your message was loud and clear: THE FEAR HAD TO BE CONFRONTED.
Your loved one had no other way out—but in. No more avoiding.
- OCD said, “Leave.” Nope, everybody stayed.
- OCD said, “Don’t go.” Everybody left.
- OCD said, “Avoid.” Everybody leaned in.
- OCD asked, “What if?” Everybody shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
- Your loved one sought reassurance, “Could this happen?” You put it back on them, “I don’t know.”
- “Will it be okay?” You shrugged, “We’ll deal with it. Whatever happens, happens.”
- OCD warned, “You’re getting too anxious. You can’t handle it. Do something.” You all said, “Good. We want that anxiety. We need to practice handling it.”
It wasn’t easy to Boss it Back. But feeding OCD wasn’t easy either. It was scary bossing it back, but feeding it was scary too. Both seemed like poison.
You picked the right poison. Which ended up being the antidote—the healing potion.
The catastrophes have ended. Life has returned. No more tiptoeing. Your loved one still has weird thoughts. But, they’re fewer and fewer.
There are still triggers but nothing a good shrug or “yup” can’t fix. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Honestly, I’m really happy today because I’ve learned that a number of kids, near and dear to me, have returned to school this week with nothing more than a tiny little hiccup. (I’m thankful for the hiccups because they will only build more skills and cause more mastery.)
What About Those Who Are Still Being Accommodated?
I’m thinking now of those who haven’t been set free. Family members who continue to accommodate and reassure. There’s not a lot of bossing it back going on but, there’s a lot of tension. It feels like a hostage situation, I know.
Perhaps you have OCD and are reading this, realizing the ways YOU are being accommodated and enabled. Whether you’re requiring your family to accommodate you, or just passively allowing it—how’s it working out? Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Go get it!
If you are a family member who is enabling, write down all the ways you are doing this—feeding OCD. Rate each one in terms of which ones you think would have the least impact on your loved one’s life if you stopped doing it.
Discuss the list and your ratings with your loved one. Then ask him or her to rate the same list and to “feel free to add to the list” any missed accommodations. Compare the two lists and acknowledge all the difficulties your loved one faces.
The next step shouldn’t be done unless you’re prepared to follow through. I recommend you do this with the help of a therapist who specializes in OCD. An OCD therapist will tell you that accommodation has been tied to poor treatment outcomes. A nonOCD specialist is likely to get caught in the trap of reassuring your loved one a lot.
You can also find expert help and guidance in several books. There are numerous books to guide you through the process too.
Loving Someone With OCD
There are some people with OCD who will threaten harm to self or others if they are not enabled. Do not be held hostage with this threat. If your loved one makes such a threat or goes on a hunger strike, take your loved one to the emergency room or call 911 immediately. Don’t mess around!
But, in many cases, your loved one will (begrudgingly) go along with this plan. They don’t want to live like this either! A 25-year-old feeding OCD for almost 10 years now, was asked by someone else’s parent, “What do you wish your parents had done differently?” He answered, “Not accommodate me.” WOW!!! High Five!
Explain Why Things Have to Change
Explain to your loved one the current method of accommodating isn’t working. “There’s only temporary relief and that’s not good enough! At this rate, we’re all just hamsters in a wheel.” Try to gain permission to stop the enabling. It can be done gradually by withdrawing some of the easier accommodations.
If you don’t get permission to stop, that’s okay. Your loved one will probably be overwhelmed by this conversation but in their heart, they know it’s what’s best.
You’ll be tested. Mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. Explain if they don’t want to participate in the planning you’ll be picking the accommodations that will be stopping yourself. Look at the calendar with your loved one and write down the day you are going to stop each accommodation.
An Example of An Accommodation
Let’s use the example of contamination fears. Are you opening doors for your loved one so that s/he can avoid germs? This is an example of YOU feeding OCD. It’s one thing if your loved one, unfortunately, chooses to feed OCD, but why are you? Your loved one might still feed OCD by using a Kleenex to open the door but at least you’re no longer reinforcing the fear!
What If You’re the One with OCD?
If you’re the one with OCD being accommodated, do yourself a favor! Get your life back by telling people who love you to stop enabling you! With calendar in hand, sit down with your enablers and say, “This is the day you’re going to stop this accommodation. I’ll need your encouragement but please stop feeding my OCD.”
Accommodating someone with OCD and offering plenty of reassurance is usually the mistake everybody makes in the beginning. If you conduct a cost/benefit analysis on accommodating you’ll discover the costs outweigh the benefits.
Hopefully, you’ll continue to get more informed about how enabling someone with OCD is actually…disabling. Just start with gradual changes and you’ll make good progress.
As always, your comments are welcome and really make my day. But, in addition to commenting, if you know someone who’s coping with OCD share this post with them!
Nobody’s healed until everybody’s healed!