If you, your child, or a loved one has lived experiences with OCD, then you might have noticed that OCD doesn’t just impact the diagnosed individual. OCD starts off small, with compulsions here and there, until suddenly, you may realize that your entire family or support system is at OCD’s mercy, making big, uncharacteristic adjustments and changes to suit the OCD.
This is a common experience. When you love someone and see them suffering, your natural reaction is to do whatever you can to make it better. Unfortunately, in the case of OCD, this has the opposite than desired effect. The more you accommodate the OCD, the more controlling it gets, causing further strain and anxiety on the diagnosed individual and their loved ones.
Here’s the problem, though – we don’t even realize that we’re accommodating the OCD most of the time! The line between support and accommodation can be tricky, but it’s an important line to establish to be as helpful as possible to the OCD recovery process.
So, let’s define that line a little, shall we? Here are 3 ways that you may be accommodating OCD…and not even recognize it.
- Making obsessions and compulsions easier and more accessible.
A lot of individuals get sucked into accommodating OCD in this way without even realizing it. Think about it: have you ever bought a Costco-sized bottle of hand soap for your loved one and bustled straight back to Costco to purchase more (or even have a backup bottle handy) even though the soap didn’t last nearly as long as such a quantity should? Or, have you ever looked inside your closet and realized that all your black clothing is way at the back, forgotten and unworn?
You love that black shirt, but you also know that your loved one will be sent into a frenzy of compulsions if they see you wear it. And the frequent purchases of jumbo bottles of hand soap are seriously beginning to hurt your wallet, but they need it. You’re not blatantly encouraging your loved one to engage in the compulsion. Still, you’re facilitating it by helping them avoid their fears or providing easy access to the supplies they need to fulfill their compulsion.
2. The “it’s just easier” mantra.
“It’s just easier for me to go to the store later.” “It’s just easier for me to not invite that person over.” “It’s just easier for me to cut back on my hours at work.” “It’s just easier for us to skip that trip.” “It’s just easier for me to do it for them.” Sound familiar?
This is a form of accommodation that may especially hit home for parents and guardians of children with OCD. You know that particular activity or circumstance will trigger your loved one’s OCD, so you decide that “it’s just easier” to avoid it altogether. And you might be right – it probably is easier to avoid all those things. The only problem is, every time you use that “it’s just easier” phrase, OCD gains a stronger foothold and takes more control.
Avoiding situations that will cause your loved one distress may feel like support, but it actually reinforces the OCD. Rather than creating opportunities for your loved ones to stand up to fear and learn that they don’t need to engage in compulsions for their anxiety to come down, they lean into avoidance – which is precisely what the OCD wants.
3. Providing reassurance.
Reassurance could possibly be one of the most challenging habits to shake, mainly because it is a natural, human response that everyone does. When someone says they’re worried, you tell them there’s nothing to worry about. When someone asks you if you remembered to turn off the lights, you assure them that you did. When someone says they think they might be dying because they have a strange pain in their neck and Google says it’s likely sore muscles, but it could also be a life-threatening hemorrhage, you tell them they’re not dying. And when someone is worried that maybe they were a bit mean to the customer service person, you tell them that they totally weren’t. These are the kinds of conversations we have every day, whether or not you have a child or a loved one with OCD. And the reason we continue to provide reassurance to others is that it works. Once you tell someone that they were definitely not mean to the customer service person, they feel better, and you both carry on with your day as if nothing happened.
Reassurance is so common that it can be hard to identify when thinking about family accommodation because, of course, you’re going to reassure your loved one when they tell you their scariest worries and fears. Except – that simply doesn’t work with OCD. When an individual with OCD asks for reassurance, they’re really looking for certainty. They want to know for sure that everything is okay in an attempt to lower their anxiety. But, the anxiety only comes back again and again… and again. Before you know it, you’re spending your days in a constant cycle of reassurance, and that individual will never learn to stand up to fear and break through the OCD cycle.
Now, we know that these forms of accommodation are not something that can easily be stopped overnight. It takes determination, planning, and communication. However, it is essential to know what these different accommodations look like so that you can begin recognizing them in your relationships with loved ones diagnosed with OCD. Once you can identify them, you can start the process of ending them. And, of course, OCD North is always here to help with that.
A special note for parents and guardians: if you would like additional support as you care for a child with OCD, we encourage you to join our virtual support group! Facilitated by a parent, the support group is a great space to cultivate connection and community. Additionally, it’s the perfect place to discuss the different ways family accommodation can show up and learn what strategies others have found helpful to combat accommodation!
Here’s the info:
Who is this for?
This group is for parents and caregivers of children or adolescents with OCD.
When and Where?
The last Thursday of every month is from 7-8:30 pm. The first date is May 27, 2021.
For information or to register, contact us at:
Read About Our OCD Treatment Options.
Our clinicians are OCD and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) specialists. We understand OCD as it manifests in the pediatric and adult populations, families, schools, and the workplace. We utilize ERP to break the cycle of OCD individually and systemically to help you achieve your goals. Read more about our services.