Could you or someone close to you be struggling with the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, also referred to as OCD? All of us have life areas where we give extra focus, whether that’s keeping our car clean or paying more than necessary attention to having a nice yard or any number of other possibilities.
Mildly obsessive thoughts over wanting something to be a certain way leads to supporting actions. Most of us occasionally experience these. Observing these qualities in those closest to us can even be endearing. We may tease them about these little things that matter so much to them.
We’re mainly able to do this because these focuses don’t interfere in their lives in an unhealthful way. They’re just endearing quirks, really. In fact, this attention to detail can even be beneficial as specific tasks are completed with a unique level of care and attention.
Without knowing much about this mental health diagnosis, some may even say a person overly concerned about the cleanliness of their car, for instance, has OCD. Indeed, they may. But they equally may not. As we’ll see, that largely depends on the motivation behind why one keeps a clean car and whether this practice helps or harms their overall life.
What do OCD symptoms consist of when we boil them down? And what can you do if you suspect OCD could be interfering? Let’s take a look.
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that, more than anything else, is triggered by feelings of uncertainty. OCD strugglers want to know that the thing they fear most has absolutely no chance of happening. However, determining a way to establish complete safety proves impossible for them (as it is for us all). There’s always the chance, even if incredibly unlikely, that their greatest worry could become reality.
Because the slightest hint of uncertainty is unacceptable to those with OCD, they develop obsessions (all-consuming thoughts) and resulting compulsions (all-consuming actions) as an attempt to deal with these unknowns.
Unfortunately, these habitual and ingrained rituals cause the opposite of the desired result. The obsessions and following compulsions only create even greater feelings of uncertainty. This leads to ever-increasing, often debilitating anxiety. And ironically, the more anxiety experienced, the greater urge OCD strugglers have to continue their rituals which only keeps making matters worse.
Still, one-hundred percent certainty is what OCD strugglers try to achieve to their harm. There are many potential specific obsessions, although some are more widespread. For example, a common one is an obsession focused on avoiding all germs. Great lengths are taken in the form of actions (compulsions), from not touching door handles to repeated hand washing or avoiding public places.
There’s no way to completely guarantee some germs won’t make the OCD sufferer sick. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before the individual becomes ill despite all the preventative measures in the world. Compassionately imagine what struggling in this way during the age of COVID would feel like. Think of the incredibly heightened anxiety that would create!
Although obsessions and compulsions over washing and germ avoidance are the most recognizable OCD type to the general public, it certainly isn’t the only possibility. There are five main OCD categories with many more sub-types in each.
Here’s a summary of the five primary OCD types:
- A need for symmetry
- Repeatedly checking something (doors, locks and many other possibilities)
- Worry over mental or physical contamination
- Intrusive thoughts or ruminating
- Hoarding (Not always due to OCD)
How to Handle OCD
For people wrestling with OCD and those closest to them, it can often be difficult to know what will improve the situation. In light of that, here are some strategies to find relief from OCD as an individual and with the help of your therapist and family. Successful OCD treatment is rarely something you can simply muscle through without a significant support system in place committed to your mental wellbeing.
Get Your Family Involved with Your OCD Treatment
OCD can take a toll on the entire family. This is especially true since close family members often enable or further entrench OCD tendencies in their spouse, partner, child or parent while trying to do the exact opposite.
If someone were to come to you troubled by a problem, you would likely want to comfort them, reassuring them that everything would eventually work out. While this comfort or reassurance is helpful to people without OCD, it only fuels obsessive/compulsive behaviours in individuals with this anxiety disorder type.
Your loved one asks for reassurance so they will feel one-hundred percent OK and safe. You try to assure them everything will be fine, and that comfort may help for a time. However, they’ll soon return asking for the same reassurance. They again recognize there’s always a chance that things won’t go as they hope (despite all the reassurances to the contrary).
As a family member, it can feel counterintuitive to intentionally not give these comforts because it feels like a lack of compassion. However, it is the best thing in the long run for those with OCD. At the same time, it is always best for the family to work with a therapist about a specific strategy and timeline for removing reassurances. Simply taking them away without a treatment plan in place could cause way more anxiety for the OCD sufferer otherwise.
In his “Psychology Today” article entitled How to Avoid Enabling Your Loved One’s OCD, Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. shares the following:
“We typically assume that it’s good to reassure a worried person, but when OCD is driving the worry, reassurances actually reinforce the cycle of OCD. Any relief the person feels will be short-lived, quickly replaced by a rebound of the obsessive fear and new efforts to get reassurance. Lasting peace comes through learning over time to tolerate uncertainty.”
Work on a Plan with Your Family and Therapist
If you are personally committed to overcoming OCD, working with your therapist and family to make improvements will be vital. And since everyone’s OCD management plan is different, you’ll all have to decide what would work best for your given situation.
Should you simply stop reassurances altogether once you agree on seeking treatment? That may work well for some people with OCD but would be very traumatic for others. So, another option is to slowly work up to receiving no reassurances over time. Maybe you start with 20 minutes of no reassurances each day and eventually work up to several hours until you can manage the full day.
You’ll also want to discuss whether you’d like family members to call you out on your OCD tendencies or not. Some prefer this, and some don’t. Remember, these “confrontations” shouldn’t be perceived as a personal attack. Rather, it’s a joint effort to keep the “bully in your brain” in check. You’re all on the same team fighting a common enemy.
Ultimately, the fewer reassurances you receive, the less you’ll try to use them as an ineffective crutch. Over time, you’ll see significant decreases in your OCD anxiety as a result. Once you’re able to calm your obsessive-compulsive tendencies, you’ll find a lot of freedom!
Could You or Someone You Love be Struggling with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
If so, therapy can be a vital aspect of obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment if you’re beginning to notice signs of OCD. Whether the experience includes OCD symptoms in adults, teens or children, your therapist will help you come up with an evidence-based plan to better handle these challenges.
As you work with your OCD therapist and family, you’ll begin to find freedom from extreme anxiety. If you’d like to learn more about how The Relationship Centre can assist you and your family with OCD treatment, please reach out to us. You’re also welcome to book an appointment with us.