Increasing Awareness Of OCD: Part V – When Someone You Love Has OCD

Misti Nicholson, PsyD

When Someone You Love Has OCD

Recognizing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in a loved one is not always easy as symptoms are often confused with other disorders. The following warning signs may be indications that your loved one is struggling with OCD:

  • Significant periods of unaccounted for time (often this time is spent privately engaging in rituals or compulsions)
  • Avoidance
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Change in eating patterns
  • Repeating tasks or behaviors
  • Taking a longer than usual amount of time to complete seemingly simple or routine tasks
  • Excessive concern for detail
  • Asking the same questions repetitively; seeking excessive reassurance
  • Irritability (meltdowns in children)
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Tardiness
  • Uncharacteristic, emotional responses
  • Requiring increased amounts of time to complete everyday tasks

As a family member of someone with OCD, you may feel confused and helpless. The first step is seeking support from a mental health professional and educating yourself about OCD. The more you know, the more you will be able to effectively help your loved one. There are many great books available about OCD. The following books may be particularly helpful:

Books for Individuals with OCD

Books For Parents

Books for Children with OCD

OCD affects the entire family and research tells us the way the family responds is very important. Much of OCD treatment often seems counterintuitive and well intentioned loved ones can act in a way that reinforces symptoms. Learning to identify family accommodation behaviors is often a critical component of treatment.

The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) outlines the following examples of family accommodation behaviors:

  • Participating in the behavior. You participate in your family member’s OCD behavior along with them. Example: You wash your hands whenever they wash their hands.
  • Assisting in avoiding. You help your family member avoid things that upset them. Example: You do their laundry for them so that it is cleaned the “right” way.
  • Helping with the behavior. You do things for your family member that lets them do OCD behaviors: Example: You buy large amounts of cleaning products for them.
  • Making changes in family routine. You alter the way your family usually does things: Example You change the time of day that you shower or when you change your clothes.
  • Taking on extra responsibilities. Example: You go out of your way to drive them places when they could otherwise drive themselves.
  • Making changes in leisure activities. Example: Your family member gets you to not leave the house without them and this affects your interests in movies, dining out, time with friends, etc.
  • Making changes at your job. Example: You cut back on hours at your job in order to take care of your family member.

At first, it may feel like these behaviors are helping your family member, but over time, these accommodations hinder progress. Family contracts can often be effective tools for reducing family accommodation behaviors. However, it is essential that goals are clearly defined and agreed upon by everyone involved.

With proper treatment, most people experience significant reduction in their symptoms. OCD Support Groups can also be helpful, particularly if a loved one refuses treatment. Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services is partnering with Hill Country OCD to provide free, professionally led support groups for children, adolescents, and adults with OCD and their loved ones. Our mission is to make effective OCD treatment and support accessible to as many people as possible. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is another great resource that offers support for family and loved ones.

For more information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD Treatment at Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services please call (512) 246-7225 or email us at [email protected]. We are currently accepting new patients at our Round Rock and Austin therapy offices.

If you have any additional questions please contact us at 512-246-7225. If you are ready to get started, please visit our client portal.