When a friend has OCD, it can be confusing.  The symptoms may seem to appear slowly and become more and more noticeable over time.  Or maybe you haven’t been friends very long, but you’ve come to realize your new friend suffers from OCD. Either way, you may be drawn into his or her OCD behavior.  Being a real friend involves having the courage to stop participating in rituals or avoidance behaviors.

Maybe you’ve found yourself doing some of the following to try to help your friend:

  • Getting involved in rituals by checking door locks, helping decontaminate clothing, food or even entire rooms;
  • Providing constant reassurances when he or she seeks reassurance about something;
  • Giving or buying him or her items needed to carry out rituals, such as soap for hand washing;
  • Allowing/helping your friend avoid certain stimuli that trigger OCD symptoms, triggers, such as taking a longer route to a destination to avoid a feared location;
  • Tolerating delays associated with ritual completion, such as waiting in the car to drive to school while your friend completes a washing ritual in the house; or
  • Trying to have rational conversations or debates with him or her about the OCD behavior.

If you’ve found yourself doing any of the above, you’ve probably learned by now that none of this will actually make OCD stop.  In fact, participating in OCD rituals actually allows or enables them to persist and even become stronger.  

Protecting a friend from the negative consequences of obsessions and compulsions may also decrease motivation to get treatment.  If you and your friend drive to school together, for example, and you’re constantly waiting for her in the car while she completes washing rituals in the house, she’s going to continue performing her rituals.  If you start driving to school without her, however, and she’s late to school, it may motivate her to seek treatment. 

To help your friend gain control over OCD, you have to change how you interact with that person and stop reinforcing OCD behavior.  You can be supportive of your friend who is suffering, but stop supporting the disorder.

How Do I Stop?

It’s important to talk with and remind your friend that participating in the rituals may make him or her feel better temporarily, but that it doesn’t help decrease the symptoms in the long term.  In fact, it makes the symptoms worse. 

Discuss with your friend the ways you’ve been accommodating the OCD and how important it is to work together as you start to decrease your participation in rituals.  Try to help your friend understand that you’re doing this because you care about and want to support him or her.  You’re not doing this to be mean or spiteful; you want him or her to overcome OCD.  

It’s also important that you not feel as if your friend’s OCD is your responsibility.  And don’t feel guilty if you don’t participate in his or her rituals.  Remember that if you do get involved, you aren’t helping that person –  you are reinforcing the OCD and are part of the problem rather than the solution.

You may also want to attend a local support group meeting that is open to friends and family members of  OCD sufferers (or an online support group) to learn how others in your position have stopped accommodating OCD behavior.  It’s very possible that people in your group may have had guidance from their loved one’s cognitive behavior therapist and can share their experiences and knowledge with you.

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