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5 Things to NEVER Say to Someone in OCD Recovery (and what you can say instead!)

By: Shaina Charles

The topic of OCD recovery is a pretty big deal at OCD North because that’s what we’re all about! Our mission is to help individuals and families overcome OCD. We know that recovery is possible because we get to see it all the time. But, for the person who recently received an OCD diagnosis for themselves or their child or those who’ve struggled with OCD for years – recovery can seem almost impossible.

Just for the record, let us say this, loud and clear: OCD recovery is possible. It will take work, and you will face challenges, but you absolutely can recover from OCD and live a life that is unhindered by anxiety or uncertainty!

Now, for the person who is not on an OCD recovery journey but knows someone who is – you have an essential role to play, too! Every person working towards recovery needs a strong support system. OCD impacts families, friends, and support systems. If you aren’t careful, you may find that OCD has taken over – and we surely don’t want that.

A part of being a strong support person is knowing what to say – and what not to say. A doozy for sure, but we’re here to help with that. Here are 5 Things to NEVER Say to Someone in OCD Recovery (and what you can say instead!).

  1. “You still have OCD?”
    We advise against saying this for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s downright discouraging. A person working towards OCD recovery has to come to terms with the fact that the journey takes time. Comments such as this can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and make one feel rushed.

    Secondly, asking a person if they still have OCD implies that it is their fault that they have the disorder in the first place. OCD, like other mental disorders, is a sensitive topic – there is a lot of associated stigma and shame. Adding to those painful feelings certainly won’t help the process go any faster; instead, it adds to the feelings of frustration one experiences when they aren’t progressing as quickly as they had hoped.

    Instead of asking if your friend or loved one still has OCD, ask them how you can support them in their recovery journey or if you can be a listening ear for them to vent.

  2. “Just ignore the thoughts.”
    Trust us, individuals experiencing the effects of OCD would love nothing more than to ignore intrusive thoughts. That’s why people engage in rituals, to begin with – to try and ignore or avoid intrusive thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Unfortunately, trying to avoid or ignore these thoughts only makes them come back stronger.

    An essential part of OCD recovery is learning to face discomfort and anxiety rather than ignoring it. Instead of telling your loved one to ignore the thoughts, encourage them to acknowledge the thought instead. Even though it will be uncomfortable, acknowledging the thought opens the opportunity to sit with the uncomfortable feelings until they subside. That’s what recovery is all about!

  3. “I’m sure nothing bad will happen to you.”
    Reassuring someone when they’re facing something that causes them distress is an automatic response. Why would you want someone to feel those awful feelings? Here’s the thing, though – when it comes to OCD, reassuring your friend, child, or loved one only makes things worse in the long-term. 

    When an individual experiencing OCD asks for reassurance, they are really searching for a sense of certainty. They want to know that everything will be okay. That doesn’t fly in OCD recovery because, to recover, one must sit with feelings of uncertainty and learn that their discomfort will decrease without the help of rituals. Offering reassurance ruins that opportunity.

    Instead of offering reassurance, it’s best to help your loved one lean into those uncomfortable feelings. Give an ambiguous answer, such as “maybe it will, maybe it won’t,” “that’s a possibility,” or even a straightforward answer like, “I can’t discuss this with you.” Doing so ensures that your loved one has nowhere else to turn except straight into the face of their worries and fears. The perfect place to be when working towards recovery!

  4. “That’s a bad thought. Do you think you’re dangerous?”
    Please, please do not say this to your loved ones when they open up about their intrusive thoughts and fears. Firstly, your loved one is already terrified by these thoughts, and it’s kind of cruel to add fuel to the fire by confirming their worst fears. Secondly, labelling their thoughts as “good” or “bad” feeds the OCD. Individuals living with OCD emphasize their thoughts; believing that a thought is “bad” could get them stuck – obsessing over the thought, getting distressed, and frantically engaging in rituals to combat that anxiety. Thirdly… it’s just kind of rude.

    Instead of inquiring about your safety, or labelling your loved one’s thoughts, try empathizing with them. Agreeing that the intrusive thought they’ve shared is indeed frightening or challenging can help validate their experience. 

  5. Have you tried ___? It’s supposed to help you get rid of anxiety.
    Yes, they’ve tried. We don’t know how you were planning to fill in that blank, but trust and believe – they’ve tried. While you likely have the best of intentions offering various remedies to help your loved one, it’s important to remember that OCD is a serious, valid mental disorder. Unfortunately, OCD cannot be fixed with breathing exercises, teas, or other wellness tricks (drats). 

    Besides, it would be best if you remembered that the main goal of OCD recovery is not to get rid of anxiety. On the contrary, recovery is all about learning how to tolerate anxiety. So, in the case of OCD, breathing exercises or remedies to reduce anxiety aren’t what we’re going for. Instead, offer to sit quietly with them while they acknowledge their thoughts and feelings and wait for that anxiety to subside.

If you have found any of these tips helpful, we encourage you to share them! The more people that understand how to help their loved ones conquer OCD, the better the recovery process will be.