As someone with OCD, I know very well that I frustrate the people who love me because they don’t and can’t understand what is going on in my head. As most well-meaning people will do, they try to get me to not give in to what OCD demands.
A lot of the things OCD demands look and seem very odd to anyone without OCD. They may even look crazy (basically, because they are), and many people try to help by rationalizing with OCD. Some things to know:
NEVER try to rationalize with someone’s OCD thoughts. The person with OCD already knows the thoughts are not logical, but cannot help but give in to the demands, so telling them how illogical the thoughts are will likely make the OCD sufferer angry, ashamed, and guilty. It may also likely trigger more OCD thoughts. So, please don’t do that.
The thing OCD sufferers obsess about are the scariest things to that person. So, telling them it is stupid or “just don’t do it” is also not helpful, and can do more harm than good.
Unless you are a therapist specially trained to help someone with OCD, please never joke or make fun of what the person is doing. It is extremely embarrassing and painful for the OCD sufferer and you will likely bring on more shame, guilt, and judgment.
There is legitimately a broken part of the OCD sufferer’s brain that causes the person to get stuck in a thought. Humans have between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day, so, naturally, some of the thoughts are going to be disturbing even for normal people. However, people without OCD just think, “weird thought,” and move on. The person with OCD things a terrifying thought and cannot let it go or get rid of it. They then to the compulsions in an attempt to stop the thought or stop the harmful thing from happening.
People with OCD are most unlikely to ever do the thing they are scared of. For instance, if I have this fear that I ran someone over with my car, I will likely go check a million times to make sure I didn’t. It doesn’t mean I want to do it; it is the scariest thing I can think of.
Most people with OCD have incredible empathy and a terrifying and paralyzing fear that they may have harmed someone when they have not or that their thoughts can cause harm to someone when they cannot. Most people with OCD are generally carrying around a lot of guilt and shame because of this.
What can you do to help?
If you do not have OCD, you cannot possibly understand the thoughts, so don’t try to. Instead, try to understand that the person you love is in pain and suffering the same way you would have a concern and care about a friend with a physical illness.
If your loved one is seeking treatment, you could help with that. If your loved one has found treatment, you may want to sit in on a session or two with the therapist if that is okay with your loved one.
Please try to be patient with OCD behaviors as much as possible. It is harder for the person with OCD – I promise. They feel tremendous guilt over your having to deal with their issue. Getting mad or impatient will only increase this guilt and likely trigger more OCD.
Please try to avoid doing any compulsions for the OCD sufferer. Reassurance is also a compulsion. Some assistance in certain circumstances is okay, but not regularly. For instance, when I knew I was in an OCD loop of fear and that everything I tried to do (like just put water in a cup) would be repeated so many times… I have asked my husband to do it for me, but on the regular, don’t do this too much.
I guess the main take away is this… mental illness is real. You know this if you are living with someone with OCD. You need to think about it like physical illness. The difference is that you can physically see physical illness. You would have empathy, compassion, and grace with someone who was physically sick, so please have the same for OCD. The person with OCD does NOT want this and is in pain.