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What to Know if Your Family Doesn’t Understand Your OCD Recovery Progress

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is difficult and complex, but even more so when living with your family. Often my family will say, “You’re having therapy, why aren’t you better yet?” Oh my, if only it were that easy. The first thing I have to say about this is: put yourself in my shoes. Many of us live with these obsessions and compulsions for years before even getting a diagnosis, let alone finding help. Even then, therapy isn’t foolproof. In fact, therapy is very distressing for most people, as it makes you face up to things you may actively avoid. So if you have finally built up the courage to ask for help (believe me, it’s not easy) and attend therapy, there is nothing more disheartening than hearing, “Why aren’t you better yet?”

For some people, the change they experience in their symptoms may be mild or not at all. For others, they may feel a change emotionally; instead of debilitating anxiety through not completing a compulsion, they may feel less stressed during the completion of their compulsions. Or perhaps their mood is simply lifted, and they feel more optimistic about the future and facing their OCD head-on. Either way, for the person living with OCD, this is huge progress.

For example, if someone is out and trying to do their shopping but is so worried about contamination that even with gloves on picking up an item is very distressing, how do you think they would feel if they managed to pick up two items, managing to stave off a panic attack in the meantime? Would you call that progress if you knew how it felt? If you experienced it personally, I guarantee that you would. To the outside observer, it would seem like nothing has changed. To the person with OCD, they may have done something that they haven’t done in years. So, to then hear negativity is very discouraging. Saying “why can’t you just do it” is not helpful. At all.

As difficult as it may be, I do believe communication is key. You need to properly explain to your family how your OCD affects you, and how it impacts your daily life. If they do not know the full impact, they will not understand what equates to progress for you. Let them know that their disregard for your progress hurts. Unfortunately for many, even explaining it to your family will not be enough as they have no way to understand what OCD feels like. I would encourage your family to read up on obsessive-compulsive disorder to try and have at least a little understanding of the challenges you face. Perhaps keep a diary of progress that you notice as and when it happens. Then you can keep accurate updates on your progress.

I understand that for families it makes things remarkably difficult. You may be irritable, depressed, constantly stressed, anxious, twitchy, fearful and much much more, and your family may be worried about “setting you off” or “triggering” you. However, if you are able to come to an understanding with your family, they may understand your progress better and family life will be easier.

I hope this helps at least a little and good luck. For more information, you can contact me on my blog, OCD and ME.

Photo by Thibault Debaene on Unsplash

Originally published: February 3, 2021
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