When Instincts are Wrong

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

This week I’m sharing a post from 2011 (wow, I’ve been blogging a long time!):

I’ve mentioned in at least a couple of my posts that you should trust your instincts when helping a loved one deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Turns out that’s not always true – especially when dealing with family accommodation.

Family accommodation refers to a family member’s participation or assistance 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 routines, 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 might 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 our son Dan began proper treatment. This is where the instincts came 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.

A light bulb moment occurred when my husband spent an afternoon shouting basketball scores to Dan in another room because Dan’s OCD would not allow him to view the television. It was at this 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 our son. 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. We worked as a team (though all the very hard work was his) to beat his OCD.

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13 Responses to When Instincts are Wrong

  1. April says:

    Thank you so much for your blog. This is a tough one. My son is seventeen and deeply in the throws of OCD (refuses treatment). We try our best not to accomodate his OCD, but very often, when we don’t, our life turns into a extreme, chaotic, emotional breakdown, which is beyond belief. Sooo hard . . . . .

    • Hi April, Thank you for sharing, and believe me, I feel for you. I’ve said before (https://ocdtalk.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/ocd-is-messy/) that living with OCD is a lot more difficult than just writing about it. I know how hard it can be to not accommodate. I’m wondering if you or other family members have talked with a specialist who could help you ease into “not accommodating.” Just a thought. I wish you and your son all the best and hope to hear from you again.

  2. parentsfriend says:

    Shared. – partnerring instinct with critical thinking is EFTI’s game plan.

  3. Lorre Mendelson says:

    What a great blog. I was diagnosed with OCD after my then boyfriend, now husband, recognized my symptoms and I saw a psychiatrist. We both became aware through lots of hard work, of how we both contributed to my symptoms. We went to my new therapist together who was an OCD specialist and learned ways to not “accommodate” or “enable” my symptoms and how I had to honor his not participating in my rituals. We put our intentions and love into this decision. He did so in a loving way and still does to this day. If I want reassurance about something, he pays attn. to his feelings about it and if it feels like OCD, he just says, I’m not comfortable with that. This is a family disease and I have seen horrible advice given to relatives such as leaving the person with OCD if they refuse treatment. I would encourage wether you have OCD or are a family member of someone with OCD, see an OCD specialist. Let them guide you and help you in not getting pulled into our tornado of panic and anxiety. As I told my husband, do what you need to to take care of yourself. Oh, yes, today is our 16th wedding anniversary. I could never have predicted this! Jon Grayson, OCD specialist, at an OCD conference, gave me some great info. right after I was diagnosed. I asked him what the next step was in my healing. He replied “you have to be willing to live a life of uncertainty”. no small feat for someone with OCD. I am so grateful for having been able to move on with my life and, well, Have a life! Best, Lorre Mendelson

    • Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Lorre, and how lucky you and your husband are to have each other. I always love hearing from people who have been able to rise above their OCD and create a good life for themselves…….it gives those who might be struggling hope!

      • Lorre Leon Mendelson says:

        Thank you Janet. There IS hope. I believe in a western medicine way we do need to fight the “dragon” that is OCD and for me, at some point, I needed to embrace it in a Buddhist way. I am very fortunate and know this healing can happen for so many of us with the right treatment. OCD docs that I have met and spoken with are wonderful. Best, Lorre

  4. nonny says:

    I have been suffering from OCD for 26 years so petrified lowering my Ativan for 6 months down to 1 mg for over 3 weeks feel so much worse

  5. Julie says:

    Great blog. I didn’t realize I accomodated so much until I heard a lecture about accommodations at an OCD conference so I am impressed that you figured it out on your own. Thanks for sharing your stories!

    • Thank YOU, Julie! Yes, it took a while, but we did eventually figure it out. Accommodation is a huge issue for family members, and while we often think we are doing the right thing, we are not. I think that’s why it’s so important to talk about. Hope to hear from you again!

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