When my son Dan’s obsessive-compulsive disorder was severe, he was so imprisoned by the disorder he could barely function. Not surprisingly, he was also depressed. Typically a mild-mannered young man, he would occasionally snap at me if I annoyed him or refused to enable him. These episodes were infrequent, and throughout his illness, Dan remained remarkably even-keeled.
This is not always the case.
A good number of people with OCD experience intense bouts of anger, or rage. While there aren’t a lot of statistics available, this study concludes that fifty percent of patients with OCD experience “anger attacks.” Not only can this be upsetting for the person experiencing rage, it can also be frightening for loved ones witnessing this potentially violent behavior. Rage in those with OCD can occur at any age, from young children to older adults.
For those who have even a basic knowledge of OCD, it’s not difficult to understand (at least to some degree) where this rage might come from. For one thing, those with untreated OCD are compelled to perform compulsions to keep their world (and possibly everyone around them) safe, and if these compulsions are interrupted or hampered in any way, it can feel equivalent to letting someone die. These feelings are real, and they can be intense enough to propel the person with OCD into panic mode – and then rage.
There are other possible causes of rage in those with OCD, including but not limited to:
- reaction to medication
- frustration with life and/or OCD
- constant high levels of anxiety
- Dealing with “Just-Right OCD” or perfectionism
So what do we do when our loved ones with OCD experience rage?
First and foremost, everyone in the home has the right to feel safe – and this is unlikely if you live with someone who regularly flies into a rage. The person with OCD should be working with a therapist who uses ERP therapy to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and can also help your loved one better manage his or her emotions. In most cases once the OCD is under control, the rage will disappear. If the person with OCD is an adult who is refusing to get help, you might want to consider creating a contract.
A rage can involve screaming, hitting, biting, throwing things, and attacking oneself or others. If it ever escalates to the point where you fear for your safety or the safety of your loved ones, you should reach out immediately for help. You can call 911 and make it clear you are dealing with a medical emergency, so that the person with OCD is brought to a hospital, and not to the police station. This is something that nobody ever wants to do, but unfortunately is sometimes necessary.
Once again we see the irony of OCD. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder strive to bring order, certainty, and safety to their world, yet the more they become a slave to OCD, the more the opposite happens. A good therapist can help those with OCD see the truth and encourage them to fight this tormenting illness with all their might.