Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) sometimes seems to have become little more than a funny punchline. When people are straightening up they might say things like, “Oh I’m a bit OCD when it comes to clutter so I have to keep things tidy.” Or when they’re fixing their hair they may joke that it’s their OCD that makes them fussy about getting it exactly right. It’s an accepted form of apologising for certain behaviours, or for even just being a little busy.
But OCD is anything but a joke to the people who suffer from compulsions that are so difficult to control. In many cases those compulsions can make otherwise simple areas of life stressful and challenging. People who have severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can suffer from lack of sleep because their compulsions keep them up for hours. They may suffer in the workplace because their compulsions won’t let them leave the house until certain tasks have been performed over and over. One small thing that would help sufferers of OCD is a more developed awareness and appreciation of what OCD is and how it affects individuals.
Because OCD sufferers are conscious of the fact that their behaviour makes little sense to many people, they often keep their feelings of shame, anxiety and uncertainty to themselves. That leads to social isolation which can then make the compulsions worse. Family and friends, then, can help considerably by being sensitive to the damaging nature of OCD. By offering greater patience and support, they can assist sufferers in better managing their compulsions, reducing their sense of anxiety, and offering them some much needed relief.
For many people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), however, there is little relief from a constant fear caused by their compulsions and how people will react to their behaviour. People are understandably worried about being seen as “different.” And they may fear the compulsions because they don’t understand why they struggle to handle their own behaviour. Cognitive behavioural therapy can help people with OCD learn to see their compulsions for what they are and change the way they think about those compulsions. Cognitive behavioural therapy has been very successful at presenting sufferers with the tools they need to identify their thoughts and see how their actions can be improved. Once people have developed a better understanding of their own behaviours, they can start to confront their difficulties, and evolve more constructive responses to them.
How to help a loved one with OCD
If you spend a lot of time close to a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it can be stressful and frustrating. Nevertheless, it is important to remain calm and avoid calling out their behaviour – OCD sufferers largely recognise that their behaviour causes stress, but the nature of compulsion is that despite this recognition, they feel unable to do anything about it.
Instead you should aim to be supportive and help create a positive emotional environment for them. Finally, where their behaviour could directly affect you – such as by causing you to be late or by involving you in their recurrent actions (eg mopping a clean floor) – avoid becoming a participator in their rituals and thereby reinforcing their compulsions.
If you would like to book an appointment with The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, contact us today.