After my son Dan was diagnosed with OCD, I was determined to do whatever I could to help him. Always a believer in mother’s instincts, I followed mine, and did whatever was necessary to keep his anxiety down. Woops. As I explain in this article, there is a fine line between helping and enabling, and what I was doing was enabling my son. Turns out following instincts when dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder is not always such a great idea. Once Dan began Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy, he realized how important it was that we not enable him, and he’d actually let us know when we inadvertently did. He knew what he needed from us, and by communicating it, he allowed us to help him.
Fast forward about a year. Dan is now taking a reduced course load in college and living with us. His OCD, while not as bad as it was, is still in control a lot of the time, and he seems listless and depressed. He is sleeping a lot, and is anxious all the time. It is upsetting and frustrating to me to see him this way, though I try to not enable his OCD. Still, I don’t demand he help out around the house, or do much of anything, for that matter. How can I insist he take out the trash? He is having such a tough time. Realizing we need guidance, my husband and I, along with Dan, meet with his therapist.
After expressing my concerns over Dan’s lack of interest or involvement in anything, his therapist turned to him and said, “Dan, what do you think your parents should do?”
Without hesitation he replied, “I think they should push me more.”
While I was surprised at Dan’s answer, I was even more taken aback by the fact that it had never crossed my mind to ask him that very question myself. Why not? If he had a broken arm, or the flu, I would have asked him what he needed to feel better. Why didn’t it occur to me that the person who might just know what is best for Dan is Dan? In the past, he had been honest about what he needed. While I wracked my brain trying to figure out how I could help him, I never once asked him.
I learned a valuable lesson the day we met with Dan’s therapist. It is important to ask our loved ones who are suffering what they need. Everyone deserves to be listened to. At the very least, we are showing them respect, opening up the lines of communication, and letting them know their insights are valued. And who knows, we just might be surprised at some of their answers.