Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Difficulties for the Family

While being a sufferer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be extraordinarily difficult, it can also be extremely frustrating for family members who share the same household as the sufferer.

Take the case of Maggie whose mother suffers from OCD. Maggie is in her late fifties and her mother is 87. Although she has long left the family home, the shadow of her mother’s OCD hangs over her like a shroud.

Every visit to her mother’s is fraught with frustration and anger. She either tries to keep her temper when her aging mother insists on doing things her way, which involves rigid rituals and routine, or she loses her temper when she has finally had enough.

One of the main problems for Maggie is that her mother will not accept that she has OCD, she just believes that she is “clean,” “neat” and “particular.” Not accepting the problem means that not only can no treatment be undertaken, but Maggie’s mother cannot admit to her daughter that she knows she has a problem but she just can’t help it. For Maggie, it is like living with an alcoholic who will not admit there is a problem. This naturally increases Maggie’s stress levels.

Maggie was extremely distressed after her last visit to her mother as the latter had made a passive-aggressive statement about Maggie not washing her curtains for her for some time. Maggie’s mother does not get out of bed and dressed until almost midday due to her rituals plus she cannot get up on a ladder to get the curtains down. An only child, this has been Maggie’s job for years. Maggie has now offered to take the curtains down and take them to her place to wash them as it is more convenient than the usual four-hour ritual that usually occurs in the family home.

Maggie’s mother flatly refused this offer on the premise that she wanted to wash them herself. Maggie told her mother firmly that at 87 she was finally going to have to bend a bit and just let Maggie do her curtains. This was refused on the grounds that Maggie washed her dog in the same laundry tub that the curtains would be going in. Maggie argued that it was a stainless-steel tub which was regularly washed and that she did her own handwashing in the tub.

When Maggie’s mother saw that Maggie was not going to back down, she started sobbing and told her she had done “everything” for her and now she couldn’t even get her curtains washed. She then threatened Maggie in her usual way: she told her she would likely now have a stroke over this issue.

Maggie had no option but to repeat her offer to wash the curtains but that if her mother did not wish to take her up, then that would be okay. Maggie’s mother has had ample opportunity to undergo therapy for her disorder over the years, but at 87 it is all too late for Maggie.

It is vitally important for family members to encourage sufferers to seek help, otherwise scenarios like Maggie’s become not only inevitable but repeated in endless variations, creating friction, frustration and even illness for family members.

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