Mental disorders can undeniably have a terrible effect on families. Having OCD is definitely not easy, but being a family member to someone with OCD is difficult too. Especially when you are neither able to feel what the sufferer feels nor able to understand what to do. If you want to be supportive, you could end up enabling the OCD rather than providing the right support. If you are frustrated because of your loved one’s Harm OCD, no one can blame you, but it may worsen his condition. (I have used the pronoun he to refer to the sufferer of Harm OCD. The pronoun is used for the sake of convenience only. The concepts apply to all genders equally, though). But the fact that you continue to want to help the sufferer through this struggle is commendable. So, here are some things that you should know.

Education in OCD is a must: OCD is a poorly understood disorder and to help the sufferer, you need to educate yourself on how OCD works. Educate yourself on what you can do, what you can’t, what you can say, what you can’t and what you should believe and what you shouldn’t. The more information you have, the better prepared you are to handle the disorder.

It is no one’s fault: It is not your fault that the sufferer has Harm OCD. Sometimes when you do something to trigger the sufferer and he blames you for it, it might seem like you can do nothing right. But I repeat, it is not your fault. At the same time, do understand that it is not the sufferer’s fault either. Neither you, nor he should consider yourselves on the opposite sides of each other. Both of you are on the same side, against Harm OCD. Neither should the sufferer’s compulsions be enabled, nor do you have the permission to be mean or rude to the sufferer because of your frustration. What is understandable is not necessarily justifiable. So, both of you need to be kind and compassionate towards the other because both of you are suffering.

The sufferer is not in control: Or let me say it differently. The sufferer is not in control right now. Whatever is happening to the sufferer is because his Harm OCD is in control. He does not want to feel the way he does. He does not want to behave the way he does. His Harm OCD forces him to. You may notice that the sufferer is not really happy. If he really liked behaving the way he does, wouldn’t he be happy? He isn’t because he doesn’t want to behave that way, but is unable to stop.

It is not your responsibility to fix the sufferer: In your concern for the sufferer, when the sufferer comes and offloads his anxious thoughts on you, you may end up using words like ‘Don’t worry, we will fix this’. This is neither true nor correct. It is offering the sufferer a false reassurance that you know how to fix it, which is not true, and as you will learn going forward, a compulsion for the sufferer. And, it is not correct because if you believe it is your responsibility to fix the sufferer’s Harm OCD, it may make the sufferer also believe that it is indeed your responsibility. He may depend upon you unreasonably to get him out of it and he may blame you if you are unable to do so.

Also, if you are not able to help him through it, you may blame yourself and go down a rabbit hole of guilt that could have been avoided. You may begin to feel inadequate for not being able to help the sufferer. These are traps that you should watch out for and avoid. 

The sufferer is harmless: Believe it or not, whatever happens in Harm OCD does not indicate that the sufferer has become an evil person even though it may seem like that sometimes. It is quite the reverse. OCD affects a person because he has strong beliefs about a particular aspect and OCD tries to negate those beliefs.

So, when the sufferer confesses to you about getting the urge to harm a child, it may be Harm OCD’s way of trying to negate his goodness. Harm OCD seems to say to him ‘Do you really think you are a good human being? Why do you get thoughts of harming a small child then?’ The sufferer loses the ability to distinguish between a real thought and an obsessive thought, and begins to question himself. The thought causes anxiety and he may want to confess to you to get some relief that he is not a vile person. And he is not. He is a good person whose Harm OCD is playing tricks on him.

You need to make time for yourself: In addition to being available for the sufferer, make sure you make time for yourself as well. Seeing the sufferer suffer may make you feel guilty about having a good time yourself. This is particularly true of parents who do not want to see their child suffer alone. But remember, you need to recharge yourself for two people. So, be kinder to yourself than you would usually be. Go for a drink with friends. Go watch a movie. Go spend time with your parents. Go spend time on your hobby. Guilt-free. Your suffering will not help the sufferer. Your suffering may however cause you more harm.

You need to have patience, have faith: OCD is frustrating. But you need the most patience when the sufferer seems to be triggered and unmanageable. Remember, if he could help it, he would not do what he is doing.

Saying the wrong things should be avoided: It might seem difficult to control your temper or frustration with the sufferer sometimes and you might end up saying something you may regret later, but they may make the sufferer’s Harm OCD worse. So, you should definitely stay away from statements like:

  • If it feels wrong to you, then maybe we should consider your morals or ethics.
  • I am beginning to lose faith in your desire to get better.
  • Stop being so negative all the time
  • How can you think that about children/your parents/me (the object of the sufferer’s harm thoughts)?
  • How come I don’t have similar thoughts about you?
  • Maybe you should ask your friends if they feel the same way as you do.
  • How about using Google to see if you are right or wrong?
  • You seem to have become a terrible/evil/vicious person, for having thoughts like this.
  • Other people have it worse. What are you complaining about?
  • Your thoughts are irrelevant.
  • Don’t worry, everything will be alright.

Keep these points in mind to help the sufferer with his Harm OCD. Given the nature of this disorder and the impact it can have on people, it is easy to lose sight of these points and end up ruining a loving relationship that could otherwise have been salvaged with the right help. Make sure that this does not happen to you and the sufferer. Be better prepared.

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