With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, today and Wednesday we will look into the family aspect of OCD, specifically focusing on how (and if) it’s possible to prevent involving our family members and loved ones in our OCD.

So many times, having a mental illness affects every single person in the household. Talking about OCD in particular, I’ve found that, when treatment is not being embraced or even begun, the OCD often demands attention from everyone. When it’s not understood or controlled, the person with OCD frequently involves their family members in their compulsions, even forcing them to do compulsions of their own. The sufferer often seeks reassurance from friends, loved ones, and family members as well to “ease” the anxiety.

Over this post and one on Wednesday, we will briefly look at both of these types of “family involvement” and see how they play out and what can be done to avoid having the family unwittingly support the OCD.

Compulsion Sharing

When the OCD demands that a certain compulsion be performed to “appease” an obsession, it sometimes doesn’t actually matter to the affected individual who does the compulsion, just that it is done.

For me and my contamination OCD, I will (still) ask my daughter in particular over and over again if she has washed her hands after going to the bathroom. I have made her go back to the bathroom and wash if I didn’t think she did it or didn’t do it thoroughly enough. When my OCD was super bad, I wouldn’t let my husband into the bed one night until he washed his hands after handling what I think was dirty laundry/underwear. He pushed back, saying he was going to sleep on the couch then, but I also didn’t want him to sleep on the couch with “dirty” hands. We were at an impasse and pretty mad at each other. I felt like he HAD to go wash his hands. There wasn’t any other option.

For those who have checking OCD, they might enlist the help of someone else to “double check” that the oven is off, the lights are off, or the door is locked before they go somewhere or go to bed.

Family feelings

The problem with these kinds of habits is that it makes the OCD a family affair, and not only is it not helping you fight back against your OCD, but it isn’t fair and is probably creating frustration, misunderstanding, and fissures in your relationships.

I know from my personal experience that my husband at first thought that helping me with my “compulsions” would enable me to get over my concerns. He thought something along the lines of, “well, sure, if I help her clean this or do that thing then she will know that it’s okay and will get over that fear or anxiety.”

But, as I wrote about last week, the obsessions aren’t actually fully appeased by the compulsion. The OCD lies to you by saying that doing the compulsion will fix everything and make life better. Since this is a lie, it follows that involving a family member in your compulsions will not help make you feel better either.

So what do you do? How do you separate your family members from your OCD compulsions?

Let me tell you, it’s hard, but you simply have to stop asking and seeking that help. You have to bite your tongue and break the habit. Like I said, I’m still failing in some respects with this, especially when it comes to my children. But OCD compulsions become habit, and breaking habits takes willpower and determination.

Stop asking loved ones to do your dirty work. First work on that, and then try to do your own exposures and stop doing that dirty work for yourself too.

It can be so uncomfortable. Sometimes it might help to explain to your loved ones what you’re thinking and going through. For example, “I really want to ask you to do [this] but I know I shouldn’t. It’s really hard for me, so I need some extra patience right now.” But don’t let them do it, even if they offer, thinking it will ease your anxiety or stress.

Sometimes I really want my husband to do something to “help” ease my OCD anxiety and even get mad at him when he refuses (that’s the next step: train them to gently refuse your demands if you do ask them), saying or thinking “If you loved me, you’d do it!” But that’s the OCD lying again. Family members need to know that, when it comes to mental illness, yes, compassion is important, but it’s also time to show a little bit of necessary tough love.

Which brings us to the next topic, reassurance… on Wednesday!