Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) requires a different level of understanding and patience. People with this disorder may struggle in doing day-to-day life activities because they need to do specific things to feel at peace. Receiving support from family and friends may definitely help OCD patients.
But, how do you really live with a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder? How do you support them?
1. Learn the signals
Firstly, you have to know the signals of OCD, which apply to both the person with the disorder and the people around them.
Often, people with this condition are not self-conscious of their thinking, so understanding the signals may help them regulate their thoughts.
In addition, people around a person with OCD can help support them by recognizing the warning signals of the condition, like watching their behavior change and asking what they are thinking .
One significant thing to note is that you should not dismiss the behavioral change as the person’s personality. Plus, the changes in behaviors are usually gradual for the condition.
Some signals to recognize are the following:
- Unexplained time of why the person spends alone, whether in the bathroom, choosing clothes, doing homework, and alike.
- Repeating certain activities over again and again.
- Often question themselves or self-judgment.
- Excessive need for assurance from themselves or the people around them.
- Doing simple tasks takes longer than usual.
- Always late or lacking time management.
- Worrying too much about minor things and small details.
- Overreacting to small things; severe to extreme emotional levels.
- Can’t sleep properly and commonly stays up late to do tasks.
- A total change in eating habits.
- Day-to-day life activities become difficult to do.
- Avoidance or isolation.
- Increased irritability and indecisiveness.
2. Setting expectations
A person with OCD may also see a change of any kind as something stressful, even the positive one. During the time of change, obsessive-compulsive symptoms tend to flare up.
To moderate stress, an obsessive-compulsive person may need to modify their expectations during the transition of change. In addition, family conflicts often add fuel to the fire, causing the OCD symptoms to become even more unbearable for the person.
For family or friends around, it is recommended to validate and encourage the person with OCD. You can emphasize that they are doing great and that change is a good thing for them.
3. Know that OCD symptoms have levels
The severity of obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms for each person is different. It is suggested to measure progress based on a person’s own level of functioning and not that of others, them versus the old them.
You may need to motivate the person for them to function at a highest level possible; however, pressuring them to function perfectly may only cause more stress which can lead to more symptoms.
Moreover, there is a wide variation among people with OCD in regard to the severity of their OCD symptoms. Similarly, the treatment for OCD varies on one’s severity. The key is to stay patient, as the improvements may be slow and gradual.
4. Stop comparing with others
We often hear about not comparing yourself with others because it can only destroy you–well, this statement is also applicable when living with a person who has OCD.
The progress of a person with the same treatment as another individual does not equate to both bettering themselves, at least most of the time. OCD involves behavior, and behavior is formed through one’s environment; unless the two people have the same environment, thinking, time of eating, experiences or people around them, maybe we may consider having the same improvements –but that is far from reality.
It is also better not to dismiss progress like “back at the start” during symptomatic times, as progress is not linear. Comparisons are misleading; they don’t show the bigger picture.
Instead of saying, “You’ve slipped up,” try to say, “Tomorrow is another day to try.” By doing this, you help combat self-destructive labeling of failure and out of control, which only often results in the worsening of OCD symptoms.
Most family members of people with OCD don’t understand the great effort it takes to accomplish a task, like keeping their shower to only five minutes or resisting asking for many reassurances.
Little progress may seem insignificant to family members, but it is actually a very big step to combat OCD symptoms.
5. Build a supportive environment
Criticism can only worsen OCD symptoms; hence, the more you can avoid criticizing, the better.
Recognizing and educating yourself about OCD can help build patience toward the person and a holistic, supportive environment. Giving constant encouragement and acceptance can ease OCD symptoms and prevent stress for them.
It is also best not to add in compulsions or an even tone of voice. You should explain that the compulsions are only a symptom of OCD and that you will not assist in doing it because you want them to resist as well.
6. Set limits
As you work together to lower instances of compulsions, family members should know that they have to be firm about the following:
- Having prior agreements about assistance with compulsions.
- The amount of time spent discussing OCD.
- The frequency of reassurance given.
- The number of compulsions infringes upon others’ lives.
Health experts reported that the mood of people with OCD dictates the degree how which they can divert obsessions and resist compulsions. Similarly, family members can determine when a person with OCD is “having a bad day.” .
A bad day for a person with OCD is not the same as a bad day for a normal person. Hence, people around them may need to back off or leave them in their own place, except when there is a potentially life-threatening or violent situation.
Meanwhile, individuals with OCD may be able to resist compulsions as they can on good days. Therefore, limiting or setting things can be effective as they set expectations ahead of time and not in the middle of chaos.
7. Follow prescribed medication and treatment
Always follow the medication instructions prescribed by a doctor. All medications can cause side effects that can get severe; hence, support your family member with OCD by making sure they follow the prescription.
Also, you can ask the family member with OCD to go along with them periodically to attend their appointments with the prescribing physician.
By doing this, you can be able to ask questions directly to a health professional. Ask about the side effects of some OCD medications and report any behavioral changes that you observed.
8. Communication should be clear and simple
Make your communication as clear and simple as possible, and avoid long, complicated explanations.
Most people with OCD consistently ask those around them for reassurance, which can be, “Are you 100 percent sure you locked the door?” or “Did I really clean well enough?”.
As you live with a person who has OCD, you have probably found that the more you try to prove, the more they disprove you. In fact, even the most well-explained reasonings and statements may not work.
9. Alone time is important
Family members of a person with OCD often feel like they need to consistently protect them by being with them all the time. The idea may become destructive for both family members and people with OCD.
Family members should also have their own private time, as do people with OCD, so they do not become too much dependent on them. You can do your own thing while still supporting them, such as simply messaging how they are and what they do to know if they are okay.
10. Do not revolve your life around OCD
Families or friends of a person with OCD often find it hard to stop engaging in conversations that talk about OCD and its symptoms. Whether reassuring or checking on, family members or friends may still remind the person about OCD.
Generally, it is often hard for family members to stop engaging in conversations around anxiety as it becomes a habit and a central part of their life. Remember that it is okay not to ask, ”How is your OCD today?” instead, ask, “How are you feeling?” .
11. Still follow the ‘normal’ family routines
As much as possible, your family should still follow the normally accepted practices within your home. For example, inviting your kids’ friends to your home may trigger the symptoms of the person with OCD as they think other people may bring contamination.
Moreover, families need to reverse all of the effects experienced in months or years of living with OCD as the person better himself.
The intention to always tolerate such obsessive-compulsive thoughts to avoid conflict may not be suggested, as obsessions and compulsions must be contained. It is necessary for your children to have friends in your home or that family members can use any sink, sit on any chair and alike.
By negotiating and limiting behaviors, family life and normal routines can still be preserved. Take note that it is in one’s best interest to tolerate the exposure to their fears and still be reminded of other people’s needs.
As a person with OCD begins to regain function, their wish to be able to do normal routines increases.