Helping Someone You Love
Information for Friends and Family

Helping a Friend Who Has OCD

You probably have strong emotions about the wedge that OCD has driven into your friendship.

When your friend has OCD, it can be hard to watch his or her suffering. You may feel as if you’ve lost a friend—the person who has OCD is often so consumed with OCD that there is no time for the friendship anymore. And with the changes that occur with OCD, your friend may not even seem to be the same person you knew.

It’s natural to have strong emotions about this situation. Feelings can range from frustration, resentment, anger to embarrassment and disappointment.

This section is designed to give you practical information you can use to help you cope with changes in your relationship and help you support your friend through diagnosis and treatment.

Understanding What’s Behind The Problem of OCD

If your friend has OCD, he or she isn’t performing rituals and other frustrating behaviors deliberately to upset or annoy you. People with OCD can’t stop just because you want them to.  When OCD is present, OCD is in control—not your friend.

Because OCD is a neurobiological anxiety disorder, your friend’s brain isn’t functioning the way the brain does in a person who doesn’t have OCD. People with OCD are no more at fault for having the disorder than those who have other medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Individuals who have OCD live with the result of the brain sending continual “error messages,” leading to constant uncertainty, including worries and fears that go well beyond what most of us will ever experience. Their anguish is real.

It can be very frustrating for you to watch your friend performing ritualistic behaviors, repeatedly asking questions or even ignoring their family members or you.  It’s not done on purpose.  It’s a coping mechanism – all compulsions are coping mechanisms and they are performed in an attempt to stop their obsessions.

You can learn more about obsessions and compulsions as well as treatment for OCD in the OCD Facts and Individuals sections of this web site.

You can greatly enhance your friend’s chance of recovery from OCD by NOT accommodating OCD behavior.

Your Role as A Friend

Families and friends often accommodate OCD behaviors.  Family members seemingly “automatically” adapt to their loved ones’ disorder by helping them perform compulsive rituals or helping them avoid things that would be upsetting.  Sometimes this accommodation is described as “just trying to keep peace in the family.”

As a friend, you can also fall into the trap of accommodating OCD by taking part in rituals, or offering to do a task that the OCD sufferer wants to avoid. If this sounds like your situation, you may also think that, if you stop being involved in the rituals, reassurances and avoidance behavior, it will make the OCD worse. This is how OCD manipulates the person who has the disorder and his or her family and friends.

Today, OCD treatment experts know that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can effectively help OCD sufferers (read about CBT therapy in the OCD Facts section of this web site.)

Friends and family members can greatly enhance the chance of recovery from OCD for the person they care about by not accommodating or being involved in OCD rituals.

Learn more about how to stop accommodating OCD behavior

Managing Emotions

When your friend has OCD, it places enormous strain on your friendship. OCD can upset your bond of shared experiences and common interests and, instead, cause a disturbing distance between you. This can be highly disappointing, leaving you feeling empty. You may be mourning the friendship and the company of the person you felt you knew.

Learn more about managing emotions

What If My Friend Refuses To Get Treatment?

No one can make another person want to get well. Sometimes people are in denial about having OCD, or don’t believe anything can help them get better. Sometimes their fear of therapy is so great that they can’t make themselves try it. Maybe they’ve become so accustomed to their OCD rituals that they just won’t make a commitment to get help. Pleading with, reasoning with or even threatening your friend over getting help isn’t the answer.

Learn more about treatment refusal

What Else Can I Do?

Being a friend means being supportive. Part of being supportive is being informed and knowing some appropriate responses to typical behavior scenarios.

Learn more about how friends can be supportive about OCD

Resources for friends:

OCD Facts section

Individuals section

Personal stories of successful OCD treatment

More Resources

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