Supporting Someone with OCD
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a neurobiological disorder. This is a physical condition that is manifested psychologically through unwanted, distressing, and intrusive thoughts. The person with OCD attempts to eradicate the obsessive thoughts through overt and/or covert rituals.
To gain some awareness of what the person with OCD is going through imagine the following scenario: It is a beautiful sunny day, and you decide to go to your local zoo and take a stroll. Once at the zoo you buy a soda, and begin walking through the aviary. While observing a parrot a loudspeaker comes on, and a voice shouts, “A tiger has just escaped from a pen and is on the loose. Run for cover!”
What might you feel at that moment? You can’t see the tiger, but WHAT IF the tiger is just around the corner? It would be easy to understand why a person caught in this scenario would panic and focus on getting to safety. This scenario provides an idea of how a person with OCD may feel. Fearful obsessive thoughts create anxiety and can lead to panic. The individual with OCD engages in a compulsive behavior, in order to eradicate the obsessive thought. Initially, compulsive behaviors tend to give relief from the obsessive thought. With time, however, the compulsion loses effectiveness and has to be done repetitively until it too becomes an obsession.
OCD is not only difficult for the person with it, but also for the family. It is important for family members to educate themselves regarding this disorder. As family members begin to gain a better understanding of OCD, they become equipped with tools to support the recovery process.
Here are some suggestions on ways to support a person with OCD:
- Criticizing the person with OCD will increase their symptoms. Instead, target the OCD. For example, rather than saying, “Would you just stop this nonsense?,” you might say, “I am sad and frustrated at how the OCD is affecting you.”
- Encourage the person to accept the obsession rather than fight it. To understand this concept think about someone having a broken arm. Would it make sense to fight or struggle with the broken arm? Of course not! Rather, a person would accept the fact that their arm is broken, and work around it, while it is healing. Likewise, when an obsession is stuck in a person’s mind it is important to accept the obsession, while attempting to redirect one’s thinking and action to something else.
- Compliment any successful attempt to accept the obsession without engaging in a compulsion.
- Focus attention, when possible, on positive elements in the person’s life to assist the person in seeing a broader perspective.
- As a family, develop a plan with the person who has OCD. The plan’s focus is to counter the downward spiral of OCD, and limit the family’s involvement in the person’s compulsions. Participation in the compulsions reinforces the OCD cycle.
- Clear communication is important so each family member can set appropriate boundaries to maintain their own mental well being.
- When possible use humor to lighten the load. Laughing together over the absurdity of some OCD symptoms can help the person become more detached from the disorder, but it’s only funny if everyone can participate in the humor.
- Lowering stress in the environment can decrease OCD symptoms.
- Seek the help of professionals when OCD becomes unmanageable.
- Hold on to HOPE. The person with OCD may enter very low periods, and encouragement is very important.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
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