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How do I help a loved one with OCD.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

OCD can be extremely distressing and can lead to significant personal, occupational and social distress. In those suffering from OCD, behaviour learned to prevent distress fail, and lead to significant disruptions in daily life.  If your loved one is suffering from OCD, it can be a confusing and distressing time for you as well. This article can help you deal with the situation better.

Imagine you are a grown adult who is independent in all aspects of life, education, occupation, finances and what not. But, picture this,  you know the front door is locked. It is an everyday automatic action, but OCD is like one of those little cartoon devils that appear on your shoulder telling you that you must check again, and again and again till the devil is satisfied.  No matter how foolish the compulsion is, you cannot ignore it, your mind will just not let you. Checking temporarily silences the devil, but it’s back bigger and stronger each time.

Your loved one is going through a similar struggle. The thoughts are something they can’t control and the compulsions seem to offer the only relief, even if temporary.


Try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. Understand that they are distressed and would love it if obsessive thoughts stopped. They do not want to spend hours on indulging in apparently useless behaviour as well. Unless we are able to empathize without judgement, it is often difficult for us to find the right words to use to help them.

“Imagine being stuck with this terrible problem. You are unable to concentrate on anything but these nagging thoughts. You are incredibly distressed and people don’t seem to understand.”

Express concern and offer help

Remember that OCD is the enemy here. While it’s easy for us to say, “Just stop!”, we need to understand that there is a very real disorder causing the behavioural issues. We need to be considerate about what and how we communicate. Avoid direct instructions and trivializing statements, it makes people feel guilty. Communicate in a way that displays care, affection and genuine concern. Check-in on how they are feeling, try not to pry into their thoughts unless they want to share it with you.

“How are you feeling”

“Is there anything I can do to help”

“I can see that you are distressed, do you want to talk about it”

Understand OCD

The more you learn about OCD, the more likely that you will be able to help. One very significant fact that you need to remember is that none of us can control the thoughts that come to us, we can only control what we do in response to those thoughts. In OCD the thoughts themselves become so distressing and intrusive that they tend to dictate action as well. Help your loved one take control of their actions and the thoughts will diminish gradually. Try to read up and understand OCD and its treatments, it will help you relate to your loved one better. When family members and friends are more informed about OCD, it is easier to be supportive and understanding. What is OCD.

Heavy handed tactics do not work

Very often, family members try to enforce behavioural changes with a strong arm. Threatening or blackmailing people to stay away from compulsive acts can increase distress and interfere with healthy relationships. While it is very important to express how you are feeling, it is essential that you don’t end up making the sufferer feel guilty or helpless.

Don’t reinforce OCD

While it is important to be empathetic and kind, do not let that translate into enabling behaviour. Taking part in OCD rituals, undertaking tasks that they avoid and taking over all their responsibilities can end up worsening OCD. Be very communicative about how you feel and assertive in regard what you can help with. If you are already deeply entwined in the rituals of your loved one, plan a gradual withdrawal of your involvement in the same. Encourage and reward responsibility and self-efficacy. Encourage them to challenge compulsions when they can.

Encourage them to get professional help

OCD requires treatment in the form of psychotherapy, medication or both. People may be reluctant to take help due to various reasons. It may help your loved one if you can find a doctor who can help. Treatment for OCD can be challenging. During treatment, they may feel tired, helpless or agitated, they need your support during this time. Help them adhere to medication and appointments.

Take care of yourself

You might feel angry, resentful and burnt out. There is often a sense of helplessness that descends upon people who love and care for those with mental illness. Sometimes we end up directing our anger toward ourselves and those who are stuck with the illness. You have to remember that you need to take a step back, make sure that at least some of your needs are met before you try to help someone. Make sure you are eating right, make sure you have enough sleep and try to get in touch with supportive friends and family. If you are unable to manage the distress, take help from a professional. Dealing with caregiver burden.

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