How Family Members Can Help an OCD Loved One

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, known as OCD, has been the subject of humor in movies and TV shows. But in reality, the compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts of this anxiety disorder can literally make life a living hell — both for the OCD individual and for their family members. If someone you love has OCD, there are a lot of ways you can offer your help and moral support without enabling the disorder.

Seek Education and Support

One of the most important things you can do as the family member of an OCD loved one is to educate yourself on this illness. OCD isn’t just a matter of having a quirky or picky personality; it’s a serious psychiatric condition that can impair a person’s ability to work, form relationships and lead a satisfying life.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as many as one out of every 40 people will meet the criteria for OCD at some point in their lives, which means that it’s not uncommon to live with someone who has this disorder. Symptoms of OCD include:

  • Persistent thoughts or mental images that interfere with daily activities
  • Fears or anxieties that must be resolved through ritualistic behaviors
  • The compulsive need to arrange objects or put things in order
  • An obsessive concern with sin, guilt, danger or wrongdoing

Many people who have OCD are ashamed or afraid to let others know about their symptoms. The more you know about OCD, and the more thoroughly you understand this disorder, the more likely you are to be a compassionate, understanding audience when your loved one is ready to talk about their experiences. At the same time, you should seek support for yourself and the rest of your family by taking these important steps:

  • Talking with a therapist about OCD
  • Taking a class or reading educational materials about anxiety disorders
  • Joining a support group for people with OCD and their families
  • Getting therapy, if necessary, for your own anxiety.

Don’t Enable the Behavior

According to the International OCD Foundation, many families unconsciously do things to enable a loved one with OCD. If you play into your loved one’s obsessions or compulsions, you may unintentionally make the behavior worse. Here are a few of the ways that you could be accommodating your family member’s OCD behavior without realizing it:

  • By cleaning the house or arranging objects in a way that reflects your loved one’s obsessions
  • By supporting your loved one’s behaviors financially (e.g., buying special foods for someone with complicated eating rituals or buying extra cleaning supplies for someone who cleans compulsively)
  • By making changes in your own work schedule or social life so you don’t upset your loved one’s routines
  • By participating in ritualistic behaviors or adjusting your habits to accommodate behaviors
  • By overlooking your OCD loved one’s attempts to self-medicate, like drinking or abusing prescription drugs.

Support Your Loved One’s Recovery

It’s crucial for your OCD loved one to know that you support his or her recovery 100 percent. If you have any doubts about whether your loved one is capable of recovering and leading a healthier life, talk to a therapist about your fears. It could be that you’re hesitant to see your son, daughter, sister or parent strike out on their own and risk failure in the “real” world.

As part of your loved one’s recovery plan, you should participate in different forms of treatment, including:

  • Classes
  • Family events

With the right treatment, including antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, your loved one has a strong chance of recovery. But your love shouldn’t be contingent on the success of a treatment plan. Let your OCD family member know that no matter what the outcome of therapy may be, he or she has your unconditional love.

Create a Healthy Home Environment

According to the Nemours Foundation, there is a strong relationship between genetics and OCD, indicating that this anxiety disorder runs in families. That’s why it’s so important for you and the rest of your family to participate in educational events and counseling sessions. In order to build a healthy home environment, you must confront any tendencies of your own to dwell on obsessive thoughts or fears.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder often goes hand in hand with addictive behaviors, like heavy drinking or illicit drug abuse. To create a stable, life-affirming home, you must address substance abuse as a potential problem. At Axis, we offer dual diagnosis treatment for individuals struggling with psychiatric disorders and substance abuse. We encourage you to call us for information and referrals if you or someone in your life has a problem with drugs or alcohol.