I’ve received several questions about how to help someone you love with OCD. So I’ve been doing some reflecting on my own journey, and some research, and I hope what I’m sharing here can be of help.
Even if you’re reading this and thinking, “But I’m the one with OCD,” this can still be helpful in stepping into the shoes of those who want to support you, and giving you perspective on how to feel supported yourself.
First, if you want to talk to someone you love about your concerns, I want you to consider the following:
Think about if you were the one struggling with OCD ~ how would you want to be approached about it?
My guess is that you’d hope the one approaching you had the highest intentions at heart. You’d hope that they genuinely wanted to understand your experience. You’d hope that they let go of any judgements or assumptions they might have, so that they could truly and deeply listen, in order to understand. You’d hope they embraced a loving curiosity. You’d hope to feel safe, and know that they loved you deeply, and would stand by your side, no matter what. You’d hope that they listened to you when you shared what your goals were with getting mentally healthy, and what help you did or did not want.
Thinking of things from this perspective can help you not only generate ideas for how to support someone, but it can offer you a vital thing: compassion.
And if you’re already supporting someone in your life who is struggling with OCD, everything I’m sharing here can also apply. So here we go:
Ways to Support Someone you Love who has OCD
#1 Aim to really understand what they’re experiencing, as best you can.
Do your best to understand your loved one’s OCD ~ Express to them that you are there for them, and you want to understand so that you can be the best support possible.
- You can ask them to share what it feels like…
- You can ask about what the thoughts are that scare them…
And just listen.
Have a conversation. Maybe you’ve already talked a ton about this, but I mean a truly open-hearted, deeply listening, connected conversation. As if you know nothing at this point and want to learn it all:
- What does it feels like?
- What are the hardest parts?
- What’s the most frustrating?
- What are their fears about what other people think?
- What part hurts the most?
- What’s the thing so far that’s helped the most?
- Where do they want more support?
- Where do they want more knowledge?
- Ask what they’re hoping for!
- What do they want ideally?
- Where do they hope and dream to be?
#2 Be in it together.
Let them know, “We’re gonna figure this out.” “We’ll get through this.” I can’t tell you how much it helped, in the journey from OCD and perfectionism to mentally healthy, to know that I was not in this alone.
#3 Get educated.
It’s really important that you have a solid understanding of what OCD is ~ it’s a thought disorder, where thoughts that normally wouldn’t bother someone become intrusive in a sufferer’s mind. Understand that you may never fully grasp how it feels and what it’s like to have OCD, but by having the knowledge, you’ll be better able to wrap your head around what’s going on, and know how to respond.
OCD is incredibly distressing and can be debilitating, however there isn’t currently adequate help out there in terms of those who specialize, so it’s super important for someone who is suffering to be a self-starter and really do the work to educate themselves and choose the route to mental health that makes the most sense for them. It will be different for each person, with some overarching tools that seem to work across the board.
Also, know that OCD is becoming more and more understood and educated on in clinical settings and otherwise, however it’s generally still widely misunderstood, undiagnosed, or confused with OCPD, which is a personality disorder and not an anxiety disorder. There is overlap between the two, but they themselves aren’t the same thing.
#4 Be clear on the difference between a person and their OCD.
It’s important that you view them as who they truly are at their core, and not “broken” or that there’s something wrong with them. Believe me, they’ve probably already got that part handled!
Share with them that you love all parts of them. Emphasize that you know how hard this is and that this is only a part of who they are. Sharing this in a way that feels true to you can help create empathy and support.
#5 Take care of yourself too.
Take care of yourself!! It’s important to recognize that even though you’re a source of support, you also need to be supported as well. A relationship where someone has OCD can be tiring, heartbreaking, frustrating ~ It’s vital that you’re filling up your cup past full, so that all your energy isn’t depleted. Although taking a step back at times may sound hard because you always want to be there, this is actually the loving thing to do.
Supporting someone is as much about supporting YOURSELF as it is about supporting them.
Aim to find your own balance between supporting them, but not facilitating the behaviors, and taking the time you need to take care of yourself. I promise, this will only lead to positive results.
Sometimes we get caught in the thinking that the more you do, the better. But it’s actually the quality and not the quantity that will make a difference. If you can help at a level that feels good to you, and not draining, you will be way more effective. This might mean doing less than you are doing right now, but so long as it’s coming from this loving place, stepping back where needed will ultimately have positive results.
#6 Remember it’s not your job for them to recover.
It’s also incredibly important to remember that your loved one’s recovery is their responsibility and theirs alone. If you take on the responsibility of this in any way, you actually inhibit their growth. There is a way to be there for them fully supporting them, while also recognizing that it is up to them to do the work, motivate themselves, and WANT to grow, learn, and break free. That is their job.
Your job is to see them for who they truly are – their highest self and not a disorder – and to make it aware that your love isn’t going anywhere. It’s your job to deeply listen so that you can understand their current experience. It’s your job to understand what it is that they want, and offer help where it’s wanted on both the giving and receiving sides. And it’s your job to take care of yourself. But it’s not your job to get them to recover. That is their job.
#7 Give yourself some credit.
If you’re reading this, that means you have a giant heart. I’m sure it’s been frustrating and heart-breaking to watch your loved one suffer… OCD hurts all involved, not just the person who’s suffering, and you’re taking steps right here and now in the direction of healing.
The fact that you want to do your best to help is worthy and deserving of so much credit, so make sure to acknowledge all the ways you’ve been showing up. Having the right support means the world and all the difference to someone who’s suffering. Even if there’s still a road ahead, know that you’re making a difference.
I think this is an incredibly important topic, and I’ll be sharing more on this in the coming months. Take these guidelines and try them out. See which are the most helpful. I’d love to hear how this is helping and what other questions you have. Comment below or on the Facebook page to share.
Sending you so much love, and cheering you on big time!!