We’ve all heard the term: OCD, but what does it mean, exactly? And if we, or someone we care about, is suffering from it, what can we do to treat it, or help them with it?
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder marked by increased anxiety, which includes invasive and frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsions to repeat certain habits, beyond what is necessary or healthy.
What Does It Look Like?
Someone suffering from OCD will often feel compelled to repeat certain habits, in an attempt to alleviate stress. It is very difficult to resist these urges. When giving into these urges, there is a temporary relief experienced but the obsessions and compulsions return with greater frequency.
A common OCD behavior stems from a fear of disease and germs, where the sufferer may wash their hands, repeatedly, and even to the point of doing damage to their skin. They may also realize they are overdoing the ritual, to the point of feeling shame and embarrassment.
OCD can lead to problems at work, in school, and put undue strain upon relationships with family and friends.
The obsessive thoughts cause people to make a catastrophic assumption about the thought, which leads to increased fear and anxiety.
Some common obsessions include, but are not limited to:
- An abnormal need for order and tidiness
- Fear of uncleanliness
- Anxiety about important tasks: forgetting to lock the door or leaving the stove on
- Fear of uncontrolled thoughts: anger, sexual, or religious
- Anxiety over thoughts of causing harm to one’s self or others
- Fear of inappropriate behavior in public
- Perfectionism: especially an obsession with objects in the home or office (making sure they face the right way or are symmetrical)
- Fear of germs or contamination, usually manifesting as avoiding contact with others, or unclean surfaces
Then there are the compulsions: the attempt to control the anxiety or fear through ritualistic actions.
Some common compulsions are:
- Repeatedly checking to make sure the stove is off, returning home to check the door locks, or that the windows are closed and locked
- Manic, repetitive washing of the hands
- Repetition of certain words, phrases, prayers, or mantras
- Internal mental rituals and thoughts
- Constant cleaning of one’s living space
- Excessive time spent rearranging things, or putting them into a precise order
While giving into the obsession and compulsion sometimes offers temporary relief, in the end, this only reinforces the OCD, and makes it stronger.
How can spouses or parents help someone with OCD without enabling the disorder?
It is difficult to watch someone we care about suffer from any mental disorder. It’s frustrating and can make us feel helpless. You may feel compelled to help them, but what is actually helpful is often counterintuitive.
That being said, there are some things you can do, and not do, that are helpful.
What Not to Do
- Don’t tell them to “not think about it.”
- It isn’t helpful, because thinking is the problem. You can be assured they’ve already attempted to ‘not think about it.’ The more they attempt to suppress a thought, the stronger it becomes.
- Trying to relate doesn’t help.
- It’s natural to try to find a connection with them and their disorder. You might even suffer from it yourself, maybe to a lesser degree. But often, what you feel is OCD, may only be a surface level obsession. Many OCD obsessions are deep seated and can be extremely distressing. Sufferers often feel embarrassed. Offering up your mild obsession in an attempt to relate, might make them feel you are downplaying the seriousness of their OCD.
- Avoid attempting to reassure them.
- This is a very difficult one to avoid, because many OCD sufferers will seek reassurance. They may be worried they’ll hurt someone else and look to you to reassure them they won’t. But reassuring them will only give them temporary relief, and the obsession will return.
What CAN you do?
- Educate yourself.
- You’re doing that right now! The more you know about the disorder, how it manifests, and the common pitfalls, the better equipped you’ll be to help.
- Encourage them to accept uncertainty.
- Most obsessions come from a fear of uncertainty. The more they can embrace ’not knowing all the answers,’ the lower their anxiety will be. This is one of those counterintuitive mental tricks. When they seek reassurance, as mentioned above, instead of giving it to them, say, “Who knows?” or “Perhaps not?” Even ask if they think this may be their OCD seeking reassurance. They may not be happy with your answer, but it will go further to helping them than reassurance.
The best antidote is recognizing OCD and interrupting it: not doing what it says
Encourage them to engage in their normal activities, even when they are afraid to do so. The best remedy for many mental disorders is to face them and do the thing we fear the most, anyway. This is difficult, but effective. Encourage them to do the things they enjoy doing, even if they feel anxious about it.
“How about calling your friend and go to hang out with them?”
“You like walking in the park. How about that?”
Continuing to avoid these things, will only reinforce their fears and obsessions further. This only allows their OCD to control them.
Find a Therapist!
If someone’s OCD is deep seated, there may be little you can do to help yourself, or your loved one. They may very well need professional help. That’s why we’re here.
At RDU Counseling for Change, we have the specialists and experience to help with a wide range of mental health issues and disorders, including OCD. We offer services for individuals, couples, and families. We have options for Telehealth visits, as well as in house. If you live in the RDU/Wake County area, give us a call today and get on track to great mental health!