People who have OCD didn’t do something to cause it. And it isn’t caused by the way parents talk with their children or don’t talk with them. It’s not caused by how children are disciplined or not disciplined or how they were toilet-trained. It doesn’t matter if both parents work, if mom is a stay-at-home mom or if the parents are divorced or remarry. Even the worst parenting in the world doesn’t cause OCD. OCD is a neurobiological disorder, not a condition that is caused by action or inaction.
However, if a person is genetically predisposed to OCD or has a subclinical case of OCD, a stress “trigger” or trauma may precipitate symptoms. For someone who already has OCD, stress or a transition may worsen symptoms.
Here are some common misperceptions about the cause of OCD:
- STRESS. Stress doesn’t cause OCD, although symptoms sometimes begin after a severe trauma, such as the death of a loved one. Other stress triggers include the birth of a sibling, a marriage or divorce, a move to a new home or new community, a transition to a new school or new school year, or even a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or tornado. And if OCD symptoms are already present, stress can worsen those symptoms. Anxiety, fatigue and illness – even the stress associated with positive events, such as holidays and vacations – can affect OCD.
- ILLNESS. Childhood illnesses do not cause OCD, although there is growing evidence that severe bacterial or viral infections such as strep throat or the flu may trigger the sudden onset of symptoms in children who are genetically predisposed to OCD.
- PARENTING. As previously indicated, there is no evidence that the way parents guide or discipline their children causes OCD. Parents should not be blamed when a child exhibits symptoms of this disorder.
- FAMILY ACCOMMODATIONS. Although family problems don’t cause OCD, families may unintentionally have an impact on the maintenance of OCD symptoms. To decrease the distress a person with OCD experiences, family members frequently accommodate OCD behaviors. For example, they may provide verbal reassurance when the person requests it, conduct rituals with or for the person or provide items he or she needs to carry out rituals, such as soap for hand washing. Although they usually mean well, family members may actually be enabling the individual with OCD, and symptoms worsen, rather than improve. OCD symptoms may also worsen if family members react to a person’s rituals with criticism or hostility. Family members need to develop special skills to help their loved one overcome and manage the disorder.