How to Support Someone With OCD

I think it’s probably fair to say that many of us have some level of fear around the holidays and Covid. Is being vaccinated enough? Will we unknowingly expose or be exposed? Is it worth the risk? How do we best mitigate the risk?

These concerns are not unique to those with OCD. What is unique to them, however, is the lengths they’ll go to in order to be 100% sure about things: excessive hand washing, mentally reviewing and replaying past events comparing riskiness, endless researching, seeking reassurance repeatedly, excessively checking their own symptoms.

If you’re going to be around someone with OCD, the first way to support them is to ask them what they need. Simply ask them, “how can I best support you?”

OCD is a spectrum illness, so it’s not one size fits all. And where someone is in their recovery journey affects what they need at any given time.

Are You Accommodating Their OCD?

Becoming aware of your own behavior is really key, because that’s what is in our control. We want to be aware of how you may be accommodating their OCD so we can communicate supportively. Accommodation is anything someone does to relieve the person’s distress. While we intuitively want to help someone feel better, doing so can actually keep them stuck in the longer run.

Behaviors that accommodate OCD can include:

  • Offering reassurance
  • Buying specific soaps
  • Engaging in their sanitation rituals
  • (Re)arranging plans to accommodate their distress
  • Engaging in their checking rituals

If (when) you notice they’re struggling, acknowledge their distress (“I see this is really hard for you”) and ask them how you can support them without making their OCD stronger (“How can I help you ride this out?”).

Finally, try to focus on what’s important and take the spotlight off their illness. This is not a time to discuss their treatment, therapy or behaviors. Instead, express how much you’ve missed being together, sharing meals, participating in family traditions.

Flexibility in our thinking, actions and feeling is key. Remember not to judge yourself.

Regardless of the holiday season, these tips are the same.  

If you want to talk further about a specific situation, please reach out.