The World Health Organization recognizes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as one of the most debilitating mental health disorders. Someone with OCD constantly grapples with distressing, intrusive thoughts, attempting to soothe them with seemingly perplexing rituals and compulsions.
Hence, living with someone with OCD, family or otherwise, is no easy feat.
On the one hand, you want to do everything you can to help them and make them feel safe and comfortable. But while you’re doing so, the monster that is OCD will likely claim you as a casualty as well.
Moreover, there might be instances where you think you’re helping out the sufferer, but you’re actually perpetuating the OCD cycle.
Indeed, navigating living with someone with OCD can be tricky. However, these ten tips may help make things easier.
Educate Yourself About OCD
People with OCD understandably find it difficult to talk about their condition with others. Hence, you can lift this burden off their shoulders by educating yourself on the ins and outs of OCD, including the causes, triggers, symptoms, diagnosis and testing process, and treatment options.
You already have a rudimentary introduction to OCD: it is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. But if you want to peel back the layers, there are countless online resources you can employ to understand more about OCD.
Some useful websites for information about OCD are:
- International OCD Foundation
- Impulse Therapy
- Beyond OCD
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
Heed the Warning Signs
The symptoms of OCD are vast and uneasy to detect. The intrusive thoughts that fuel OCD in the form of ideas or mental images aren’t easily noticeable since you can’t read someone’s mind. Moreover, some sufferers are so ashamed of their obsessions that they do their best to hide them.
But if you pay attention, you can easily pick up on some indicators that the sufferer’s OCD is flaring up. These warning signs include:
- Repeating certain tasks, actions, or words over and over again, usually excessively.
- Disproportionate reactions to seemingly minor things
- Constantly seeking reassurance about past events, actions, or words.
- Constantly avoiding leaving the house out of fear of something bad happening
- Significant changes in eating habits
- Constantly being tired or sleep-deprived
- Disappearing for long periods of time without an explanation
Make Periods of Change Easier
People with OCD don’t like change, good or bad. Periods of transition can be extremely stressful for OCD sufferers because they entail a lot of uncertainty. But while you may be able to adapt to these uncertainties, your loved one with OCD can’t help but feel anxious and fearful.
However, change is a natural and necessary part of life. So, instead of letting them stay in their comfort zones, you must help the sufferer navigate this change through support, validation, and encouragement.
Celebrate Small and Big Milestones
Overcoming OCD is all about changing thinking patterns and behaviors by developing healthy habits. However, developing these habits isn’t easy as it requires the sufferer to act against their instincts.
Hence, whenever a person with OCD resists their compulsions, it is a cause for celebration. Whether they spent less time in the shower or didn’t arrange everything in a perfect line, you must validate and appreciate their efforts to encourage them to do more.
Avoid Accommodation Behaviors
Accommodation behaviors refer to behaviors that oblige the OCD sufferer’s obsessions and compulsions. But while it seems like you may be helping your loved one by entertaining their obsessions or participating in their compulsions, you are actually perpetuating the OCD cycle.
Hence, you should avoid accommodation behaviors at all costs, including:
- Participating in OCD behavior, such as washing hands or performing checking rituals.
- Enabling rituals and compulsions such as stocking up on excessive amounts of cleaning and sterilization products.
- Constantly providing reassurance to temporarily soothe the sufferer’s obsessions
- Modifying your routine or rescheduling your plans around the sufferer’s OCD needs.
Set Your Boundaries
When a loved one gets diagnosed with OCD, your first instinct is to help them out in any way you can. You strive to be more understanding and accommodating to their OCD needs.
But you must be careful not to go too overboard.
You can’t restructure your entire life to accommodate your loved one with OCD. Sometimes, the OCD sufferer may ask something that interferes too much with your daily routine or makes you uncomfortable.
For example, someone with relationship OCD might ask you to talk to their partner to ensure nothing is wrong. But if you feel uncomfortable inserting yourself in other people’s relationships, you are allowed to set that boundary.
Encourage Them to Seek Treatment
Without the appropriate treatment, OCD symptoms only worsen with time. However, the treatment for OCD is exceptionally difficult for the patient, and many are unable to see it through.
The foremost treatment option for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. The end goal of these therapy sessions is to teach the sufferer how to better respond to intrusive thoughts and urges. The patient then needs to practice these skills in their daily lives until they become a habit.
Hence, you should not only encourage your loved one to seek treatment but also help them practice these skills and see their treatment course through to completion.
Offer to Regulate Medication
Medication is often prescribed as a supplementary treatment to ERP therapy. However, some people with OCD might find it difficult to regulate their own medication. In fact, their medication can become another subject of their obsessions.
To make things easier, you can offer to help regulate their medication.
Don’t Focus Too Much on OCD
OCD has this way of completely taking over the sufferer’s life. Eventually, you’ll find that you’re talking about OCD more times than not, even if it’s well-intended.
For example, you might feel compelled to ask the sufferer, “how is your OCD today” or tell them about a breakthrough OCD treatment option.
But try not to bring up OCD unless it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, just wait for the sufferer to bring it up themselves.
Consider Using a Family Contract
OCD has far-reaching effects on the sufferer’s relationships, including friends, family, and other people in their life. Hence, overcoming OCD requires that everyone living with the sufferer must work together to navigate it.
Family contracts enable family members (or friends and roommates) to work through OCD together with the sufferer. It helps you learn how to respond to the OCD demands in a more productive and helpful way.
While OCD is undoubtedly difficult for the sufferer, it leaves its mark on the people in their lives as well.
If you’re living with someone with OCD, it’s important to help them feel safe and comfortable. However, you need to avoid certain accommodation behaviors that not only perpetuate the OCD cycle but also put you in distress.
Instead, you need to strike the perfect balance between being accommodating and putting your foot down.