Helping Your Parents Understand OCD

mom and daughterThis post first appeared in February 2013….

I tend to write about obsessive-compulsive disorder from a parent’s viewpoint because, well, I’m a parent whose son has OCD. But what if you’re a child, teenager, or young adult (or even “older” adult) with OCD and you want to discuss your illness with your parents?

It’s not easy.

Every parent-child relationship is unique, with its own set of  issues. Even in the best of relationships, parents will likely “mess up” and say or do the wrong things at times. I still cringe every time I think of the first thing I said to Dan when he told me he had OCD: “Are you sure, Dan? You never even wash your hands.” Pretty unbelievable, huh?

This comment, I’m sure, only solidified what Dan already suspected. His mother needed help. It was important that I become educated about OCD. So he handed me a book to read (not my favorite so I won’t endorse it here) which gave me an inkling of what he was experiencing. It was a smart move on his part, and one I’d recommend to adult children who want to help their parents understand their OCD. Educate them any way you can. Give them a book, point them to a website, have a conversation.

I know, that last one is tough. I suggest talking with parents during a calm, uneventful time, preferably when everyone is in a good mood. You might begin by telling them how much you appreciate their support and love (assuming you are getting that from them), and then bring up the issues you feel need addressing. Maybe they have preconceived notions about OCD that just aren’t true. Maybe they are saying things, or acting in ways that are hurtful to you. I know I always appreciated it when Dan “set me straight” or voiced his opinions. He was able to help me see things from his viewpoint, which is not always easy for parents to do. I wish he had spoken up even more.

I don’t believe I’m alone in saying that one of the strongest emotions felt by parents when they find out their child has mental health problems is guilt. Somehow it is our fault. Whether this is true or not isn’t even important; we believe it. I think guilt has the potential to work both ways. In some cases, it might make the issues harder to talk about, as parents would rather sweep it all under the rug and just pretend everything is fine. In other situations, feelings of blame might spur a desire to really understand what you think you’ve done to your child, so you can hopefully remedy it.

Of course, sometimes a conversation with parents, for so many different reasons, is just not going to happen. Maybe it’s too hard for you to talk about your OCD. Or maybe you are not on speaking terms, are dealing with a strained relationship, or just don’t see eye to eye. In these cases, maybe it’s best to just agree to disagree. The only behaviors any of us can change are our own, and those with OCD need a lot of strength to work toward recovery. I believe expending energy trying to change others rarely, if ever, works.

All of us, especially those who are suffering, just want to be heard, understood, and accepted by those we love the most. If you are not getting what you need from your parents, hopefully other family members, friends, and loved ones can fill the void. Support from those who care about you will surely help as you move forward in your fight against obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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10 Responses to Helping Your Parents Understand OCD

  1. Jacqui says:

    Thank you for your candid sharing of the real struggles on both sides of a parent-child relationship, no matter the issue. It’s validating to know “we’re not the only ones feeling such guilt and confusion.”

  2. jbuchana says:

    My parents feel guilt so strongly that it’s almost impossible to convince them that I have a (several) mental illness. Bipolar, OCD, GAD, ADHD. I think this stems back to around 1966 when they took me to a child psychiatrist for depression. I don’t know what he told them, but after two visits we never wet back. It’s one of my clearest childhood memories, but they deny it ever happened.

    • I’m sorry your parents have trouble accepting your illness. I guess at this point you just really need to do what’s best for you, as you can’t change how they think or feel. I wish you all the best!

  3. Dc Covachiet Farani says:

    glad you liked my article.I’m sorry about your son and I’m glad he’s all right now. Sometimes certain things happen that the whole family gets involved and becomes a great life lesson. I have been through a difficult time, and I know how you felt. Thank God and my willpower and my family together, overcame and I feel great.
    Anything,
    take note of my carolina.covachiet@gmail.com email
    Kind regards,
    Carolina Farani ( Daily News Service)

  4. nancy says:

    I remember sitting at a computer after looking up OCD, because I suspected that this was the problem my daughter had. She was 12 and her hands were red as could be- like red gloves. So she WAS washing and I finally noticed the problem. This began a search for answers (that continues to this day). Mostly I recall a huge weight in the pit of my stomach when the symptoms described matched her problem. I guess I never felt guilty about her having OCD. I’ve felt guilty about how I’ve responded to it at times though. But I’d say my main feeling was fear and anxiety about how she was going to live her life.
    We were extremely angry with each other in the family for a long time. Our responses were all mixed up-the teen years, not finding great help for a long time, sadness, and really different ways of responding to the problem. There were just the 3 of us and we finally went to a family counselor that helped us sort out boundaries…but the OCD remained.
    It took a long time to get to the point of telling the extended family and some friends about this, too. Not everyone is trustworthy for this kind of sharing, but I think overall it is better to get it out there. Things are better now (she has her symptoms under control to a certain extent, is married and lives a decent life in her own home) and I’d say that for my daughter and I we have a bond because of all we’ve been through.
    Mainly, I think people should get info and hang in there until they get the right treatment. Forgive people that don’t get it. it is a very hard thing to grasp. But press forward to the healing process.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Nancy. I know that “weight in the pit of my stomach” well. I think you give a lot of good advice and I’m glad to hear your daughter is doing well now. You sound like a great mom :).

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