Episode 392: Helping a Friend with OCD & Being Controlling After Moving In

Hello friends!

In today’s thoughtful episode, we tackle two profound listener questions that may resonate with many of you:

Contemplating Harm OCD and Supporting a Friend: A listener shares their concerns about how to best support a friend struggling with harm OCD. They’ve noticed their attempts to help by offering reassurance or checking things for their friend might actually be counterproductive. We dive into the nature of OCD, the impact of well-meaning actions, and how to genuinely support someone without reinforcing their compulsive behavior.

Finding Balance Amidst Life’s Transitions: Another listener talks about the challenges of transitioning to a full-time job and living with their partner after college. They’ve found themselves clinging to rigid routines that have begun to control their life, seeking advice on how to break free from these patterns without losing their sense of stability. We explore the importance of flexibility, communication, and self-awareness in navigating these significant life changes.

As always, you can send me questions to duffthepsych@gmail.com and find the full show notes for this episode at http://duffthepsych.com/episode392

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Question 1:

“Hi Duff, I really like your show; you cover so many important topics and I’ve learned a lot listening. I have a close friend who has harm OCD, and I don’t know how to help. She’s in therapy, and we’ve learned that my ‘help’ in the past [ double checking things for her (“I’ll check that stove is really off.”) , reassuring her that no one could have been/was hurt (“No, I didn’t see anyone in distress in the lake.”)] is actually counterproductive and potentially hindering her progress. What should I do when her OCD is triggered? I want to help, but anything that would make her feel better in the moment is actually worse in the long run, right? How do I support her properly? The anxiety can be very intense and I want to help.”

Response:

Understanding your friend’s harm OCD is step one. OCD isn’t just about being a neat freak or liking things a certain way; it’s when those thoughts and actions start really messing with someone’s life. Your friend’s OCD shows up as those intrusive worries—like fearing harm coming to others because of something she did or didn’t do, leading her to double-check or seek reassurance. That’s her brain’s way of trying to ease the anxiety, but, as you’ve noticed, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.

You’ve hit on a really insightful point about how jumping in to help with these compulsions, like checking the stove or reassuring her no one was hurt, feels helpful in the moment but might actually keep the cycle going. It’s like putting a band-aid on a wound that needs air to heal. The real kicker with OCD is that the more you entertain these compulsions, the more they demand your attention.

So, what can you do? It’s about walking that fine line between being supportive without feeding into the compulsions. When her OCD kicks up, instead of jumping into “solution mode,” maybe shift into “support mode.” This might look like acknowledging her feelings without directly engaging with the OCD narrative. So, if she’s worried about the stove being off, instead of checking it for her, you could say something like, “I see you’re really stressed about this. Let’s sit with that anxiety together for a bit and then move on to something else.”

ERP, or Exposure and Response Prevention, is the gold standard for tackling OCD, and it’s all about facing those fears without giving in to the compulsions. Think of it as teaching the brain that it’s okay to feel anxious and that the feeling will pass without needing to check the stove or get reassurance. It’s tough stuff and requires a lot of courage on her part.

You also mentioned wanting to help in the moment, which is super understandable. Here’s where you can get creative in how you offer support. Maybe it’s by offering to do a breathing exercise together or finding a distraction like music or a game, something to help her ride out the anxiety wave without feeding the OCD monster.

Remember, you’re not her therapist, but you’re someone who cares a lot. There might be times when she’s really struggling and it feels like nothing you do is right. That’s okay. It’s part of the process. Your job isn’t to fix her OCD (as much as you might want to); it’s to be that steady presence. Your willingness to learn and adapt your support is already a huge help.

Most importantly, remind her (and yourself) that progress isn’t linear. There will be good days and tough ones. The fact that you’re reaching out, wanting to learn the best ways to support her, speaks volumes. Your friendship is a big deal—it’s a source of strength for her, even when things feel overwhelming.

So keep being the awesome friend you are, and remember, it’s about being there for her, not about being perfect. Your understanding and patience mean more than you might realize.

Question 2:

“I like to think that I am a pretty laid back person in life, but in the last year, I’ve graduated college and started a full-time job. With this, I have moved in with my boyfriend of 5 years, which has been great. However, I’ve found myself being extremely set on my routines (waking up at 5am to work out every day, deep cleaning the entire house every weekend, meal prepping, and more). My “routines” have become obsessive and have made me controlling and not laid back in a way that I have never been before. I can see that it’s causing issues in my life but have a hard time stopping. Any advice?”

Response:

First off, big congrats on all the major life milestones! Graduating, starting a new job, and moving in with your boyfriend—that’s a lot of new chapters opening up at once. But with these exciting changes, it sounds like you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, leading you to cling to routines more tightly than usual.

It’s super common, when life throws a lot at us, to seek control in whatever ways we can. Routines can be comforting, giving us a sense of stability amidst the chaos. But it sounds like these routines have started to take over, becoming more stressful than soothing. It’s like you’ve built this intricate daily schedule that’s supposed to be your fortress of calm, but now the walls are kind of closing in on you.

You’re noticing it’s causing some friction, and that’s really insightful. It shows you’re tuned into not just your needs but also the vibe around you. And it’s okay to want that control; it’s a human thing, especially when everything else feels so new and uncertain. But when the very thing that’s supposed to help you cope starts to make you feel trapped, it’s time to take a step back.

Here’s the thing—cut yourself some slack. You’re navigating a ton of change, and it’s normal to find some aspects of transition tougher than others. This drive for routine might just be your way of trying to keep one foot on solid ground while everything else is moving.

Let’s talk about how to dial back on the control without losing the sense of stability you crave. First, it’s super important to chat with your boyfriend about what’s going on. Not like a “Hey, we need to talk” kind of chat, but more of a “Here’s what I’m feeling” conversation. Share with him that you’re struggling a bit with needing things to be a certain way and that you’re aware it’s not ideal. It’s not about dumping the problem on him but opening up the floor for a little understanding.

And then, get a bit introspective. Why these routines? What do they give you, and what are they taking away? Are they about feeling good, or are they just about avoiding feeling bad? It might help to literally write down what each routine offers you versus what it costs you—like, does waking up at 5 AM to work out energize you for the day, or is it leaving you drained by 3 PM?

Consider which routines are truly serving you and which ones you might be able to loosen your grip on. Maybe deep cleaning the entire house every weekend isn’t as crucial as ensuring you have quality time to relax or hang out with your boyfriend. It’s about finding balance.

And remember, it’s absolutely okay to ask for help if you’re finding it tough to make these adjustments on your own. A therapist can offer strategies to manage these feelings of needing control and help you navigate this new phase of life.

Most importantly, remind yourself that being laid back isn’t about having zero worries or routines—it’s about finding a flow that works for you and allows you to enjoy life’s big and small moments. You’ve got this, and with time, you’ll find your balance again.

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