When Instincts Are Wrong

I have mentioned in at least a couple of  my posts that you should trust your instincts in regard to helping your loved one deal with OCD.  Turns out that’s not always true…..especially when we’re talking about family accommodation. Family accommodation, for those of you who have not dealt with OCD directly, is when a family member participates or assists in the rituals of their relative with OCD. Some common examples of family accommodation  include reassuring (continually answering questions like, “Will I be okay if I do this or don’t do that?”), altering a family’s plans or routine, and giving in to your loved one’s OCD related requests. By accommodating in these ways, we are basically adding fuel to the fire. While we may help reduce our loved one’s anxiety in the short-term, we are, in the long-term, prolonging the vicious cycle of OCD. Many studies, including this one, conclude that more family accommodation leads to more severe cases of OCD, and more distress among families.

My family and I were as guilty as can be when it came to accommodating, especially before Dan began proper treatment. This is where that instinct I am talking about comes in. As a mother, I just wanted to make everything all right and relieve my child’s pain. That was my instinct. So if  Dan wanted to sit in a certain seat or eat only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at midnight, I let him. What harm could it do? Turns out….plenty. By allowing these rituals to continue, I was validating his irrational thoughts, lowering my expectations of him, and giving him no incentive whatsoever to fight his OCD.

When my husband spent an afternoon shouting basketball scores to Dan in another room because Dan could not look at the television, even I knew that was wrong. It was at that point that we realized what we were doing was wrong and it was time to go against our instincts. “You want to know the score, Dan?  Then come watch the game!”  was the assertion that began our conscious attempt not to willingly accommodate him. I say “willingly” because it was often hard to know what was OCD related and what wasn’t. When Dan wanted to do errands at  1:00 PM instead of 11:00 AM, was it really because he was busy, or was that just what his OCD was dictating at the time?

We’ll probably never know how much we unknowingly accommodated him. But it wasn’t a problem for too long. Once Dan began his intensive ERP Therapy and understood more what needed to be done to free himself of OCD’s grip, he made sure to let us know whenever we were inadvertently accommodating him.

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2 Responses to When Instincts Are Wrong

  1. Jude says:

    I have been following your recent posts and have decided to go back to the beginning as I find your blog really helpful, as my 14yr old is struggling with OCD. We are waiting for her to begin treatment.

    I know I am currently accommodating my daughter’s OCD but until she starts CBT she has nothing else to reduce her anxiety. One of the main things she asks for reassurance about are Use by and Best before dates on food, she worries about getting food poisoning. Every meal I give her, she asks if it is OK. And I reassure. I don’t give her food that is past it’s date, even though I would eat it and know it t be safe, as she would ask me and I would have to lie and say it was OK if she was to eat it. At this stage I think it I better to do this, so that she knows she can trust me, until she has learnt another way of dealing with her OCD.

    • Thanks for sharing Jude and I am so sorry your daughter is having such a rough time. I think it’s great that you realize you are enabling and I hope when she starts exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, you can discuss with the therapist how you can best help your daughter. If she won’t be starting for a while, perhaps you could start a dialogue with her about enabling, and agree to only reassure her a certain number of times…anything to start reducing the accommodating, which only serves to make her OCD stronger. I know it’s not easy, and I wish you both all the best as she begins treatment.

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