As the research literature clearly demonstrates, those with a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are individuals who possess a strong genetic predisposition for developing this condition.
However, there are several environmental factors that play a major role in the maintenance of OCD symptoms. These factors typically include the manner in which one’s family members and significant others interact with the person who has this psychiatric condition.
For example, a child growing up in a family system that overly stressed the need for a “spotless living environment,” performing tasks in a “mistake-free” fashion, and voiced expectations that one’s belongings and household items always remain “perfectly arranged” may contribute to the future development and maintenance of OCD — particularly in the case of an individual who may already be genetically vulnerable concerning the acquisition of this disorder.
In addition, family members or significant others living with someone with OCD may find it difficult to understand how to respond and interact with this individual, and thus may behave in a way that only serves to inadvertently strengthen specific symptoms.
Therefore, seen below is a list of suggestions for family or friends living with someone who has a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
These guidelines are meant to improve relationships and promote a better understanding between those who have OCD and the people they live or interact with on a regular basis.
These suggestions should also be used in conjunction with the help of an experienced family therapist who is knowledgeable within the field of OCD.
LOOK FOR REPETITIVE BEHAVIORS
Although these types of behaviors can be seen in hundreds of examples, in the case of OCD they typically involve obsessional slowness, repeating words or phrases, checking and re-checking objects and situations, etc.
These behaviors usually result in frequently being late for school, work, or social events.
Those with OCD have a strong need to ask questions geared toward ensuring that they have performed certain tasks is a “just right” or “mistake-free” manner, and may also revolve around the theme of being a “perfect” spouse, parent, employee, etc.
Should these types of questions frequently occur, briefly answer the inquiry, being certain to disengage from repeatedly feeding into this chronic need for reassurance.
MODERATE STRESS & FAMILY EXPECTATIONS
No matter what the specific cause is for your loved one’s OCD condition, research shows that stress will consistently exacerbate OCD symptoms.
Therefore, make a reasonable effort at minimizing undo stress within the home, work, or classroom environment.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO MISLABEL
Watch for behaviors such as spending an excessive amount of time engaging in academic and work assignments, or daily routines such as bathing, washing hands, brushing teeth, getting dressed, getting out of bed, cleaning one’s room, etc.
Rather than labeling these behaviors as “quirky” or “that’s just him,” consider the possibility of OCD and encourage seeking the advice of a mental health professional.
REWARD DIRECTION, NOT PERFECTION
OCD symptoms will fluctuate from day-to-day. Don’t remind your friend or family member that he or she “had a great day yesterday, so why are things so bad today.”
The intensity of OCD symptoms are, by their very nature, variable. Look at the big picture, and reward positive trends in behavior. Remember, a 30-minute shower is better than a 45-minute shower.
DO NOT ENABLE
Because you care about your family member or friend who has OCD, you will be tempted to “help” with this condition.
However, do your best to not participate in rituals (e.g., going out of your way to purchase atypical sanitation products), and be careful not to encourage the AVOIDANCE of situations which may trigger symptoms.
Exposure to these situations will go a long way toward overcoming specific types of rituals.
EMPHASIZE ROUTINE, NOT RITUALS
Family routines are important; they keep things running efficiently. However, do not modify routines in an attempt to accommodate OCD.
For example, canceling having guests over for dinner in an attempt to avoid contamination fears will only serve to strengthen particular symptoms.
At the same time, be sure to preserve your healthy routines. The more you do so, the faster problematic symptoms will diminish.
ATTEND A SUPPORT GROUP
OCD is one of the most common, as well as complicated, conditions to understand. As a friend or family member, no one expects you to fully grasp the cause or treatment for this disorder.
Taking part in an OCD support group will go a long way toward facilitating healthy communication and productive behavioral interactions between you and the person you care about, who suffers from OCD.
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit anxietytreatmentinclinevillage.com to learn more.