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Living with Someone Who has an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

written by: Darlene Zagata • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 7/31/2010

Living with someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder can be challenging. It is important to acknowledge the disorder and become educated about it. Learning how to manage your own stress can be effective in coping with a family member that has obsessive compulsive disorder.

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    What is OCD?

    Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by compulsive behavior and obsessive thoughts. People with OCD develop ritualized behaviors that are acted out in repetitive actions such as repeated hand washing. The person who repeatedly washes his hands generally has an irrational fear of germs or contamination. There are several other repetitive behaviors that the affected individual may perform such as repeatedly checking the door to make sure it is locked or arranging items in a particular manner. People with OCD may also have irrational fears such as fearing that something bad will happen if they throw something away or if something isn't done perfectly.

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    OCD's Effect on Families

    Living with someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder is particularly difficult when that person doesn't acknowledge his behavior and/or the family members do not understand the illness. In many cases, the affected individual does recognize that his fears and behaviors are irrational but simply cannot control them. This inability to control the compulsion leads to irritability and frustration. The irrational thoughts of OCD can affect all areas of life, interrupt the ability to focus or concentration and interfere with school or work. Obsessive compulsive disorder can disrupt relationships especially if the ill person tries to get his family members to behave in the same way or starts making demands that prevent them from living their lives fully due to the affected person's irrational fears. The person with OCD may take perfectionism to an extreme or may focus excessively on one particular aspect such as religion to the point of fanaticism. Such behaviors can be extremely stressful for family members.

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    How to Cope

    The first step in coping with OCD is to become educated about the disorder. Learn everything you can so that you are properly informed about the condition and acknowledge that it is an illness rather than just odd behavior. Understand that your loved one can't just stop the behavior because you tell him too. He is not doing it just to defy you. People often become irritated with the affected family member's repetitive behavior because they do not understand the nature of the illness, which is why becoming educated is so important. Encourage the person with OCD to seek treatment if he has not done so already. Take an active part in the treatment. Join support groups and go to group meetings. Talking with other people who suffer from OCD or live with someone who does can be very therapeutic and beneficial for affected individuals and their family members. Don't let anger and frustration get the best of you. OCD is an illness; treat it as such. Be patient with your ill loved one and keep a positive attitude. Don't criticize the obsessive compulsive person. Keep in mind that his behavior is a symptom of his illness not a character flaw. Be supportive but don't engage in the ritualistic behavior. Lastly, keep a good sense of humor. People with OCD often realize the humorous aspects of their behavior. Humor can relieve tension as long as it is not used in an insulting way.

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    Self Care

    You can get so wrapped up in someone else's illness, whether physical or mental, that you forget to care for yourself. Living with someone with OCD can increase your stress levels which can lead to fatigue, headaches and other physical symptoms. Take time for yourself. Get adequate rest. Maintain a supportive network of friends and family members. Take a walk or do other activities that help you relax and de-stress. People who suffer from OCD may become isolated so plan fun activities that involve the whole family. Activities such as yoga, meditation or qi gong can be effective for relaxation and stress relief.

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    References

    OCD: Coping and Support

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/DS00189/DSECTION=coping-and-support

    OCD: Help for Partners and Families

    http://www.camh.net/About_Addiction_Mental_Health/Mental_Health_Information/OCD/ocd_help.html

    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

    http://helpguide.org/mental/obsessive_compulsive_disorder_ocd.htm

    Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

    http://www.everybody.co.nz/page-83449c79-1749-4de0-a91a-3b936e837139.aspx