How to Talk with Your Parents About OCD
Today we’re joined by Natasha Daniels, LCSW, a child and teen therapist and author based in Phoenix. Natasha, who has practiced for more than a decade, is also one of the OCD community’s most active advocates and educators. Her blog, podcast, and YouTube channel are all vital resources for people with OCD and their supports. Natasha’s work has been featured in many publications, including Huffington Post and The Mighty. We’re grateful to Natasha for writing this helpful and thoughtful post.
By Natasha Daniels, LCSW
Perhaps you have known for a long time that something wasn’t right. Your brain got stuck. Your thoughts got stuck. You had to do things over and over again for brief moments of relief, until the itch began all over again.
You are smart. You researched late at night. You found great resources, like NOCD, that foster a community of people just like you for support. Maybe you have even started using NOCD’s tools to do your own exposures.
But there is one thing you haven’t done… tell your parents.
They have no clue about your suffering. They have no clue that you are silently going through all these struggles. But how should you tell them?
Maybe you are worried that:
They won’t understand
They’ll think you are crazy
They’ll shrug it off and discount it
They’ll force you into treatment
Everyone’s worries will be different, but the end result is the same — silence. Silent suffering is no way to go through this journey.
Having OCD is stressful enough, but hiding it from family members can be exhausting. So let’s talk about how to start that conversation.
Who to talk to
The first thing I would recommend is that you decide who you want to talk to first. Usually, talking to one parent or relative is easier than talking to both at the same time. If you think this might be the case for you, decide who you want to talk to first and why.
Perhaps you even prefer to talk to another relative rather than start with your parents. Do you have a special aunt, uncle or grandparent who totally gets you? Maybe your first talk happens with them.
What to say
You might want to prepare what you want them to know ahead of time. Often, when we are stressed or nervous, we forget what our ultimate purpose or goal is in talking with someone. What do you want your parents to know? What outcome are you hoping for? What points do you want to make sure you tell them?
Talk about your fears
Before you tell them about your OCD, tell them about the fears you have about telling them. It is great to nip that problem in the bud. Put it all out on the table. It might look something like:
“I want to tell you about some struggles I’m having but… I’ve been scared to because I worry you might __________________[fill in the blank].”
When we tell someone how we’re afraid they will respond, they are more likely to make an effort to not respond that way.
Know your symptoms
Before you talk to your family, make a list of all your OCD symptoms. This will help you clearly express how you know you have OCD.
It might help to take a week to jot down all the intrusive thoughts and compulsions that pop up. That way you have a good sample of your daily and weekly struggles at your fingertips when talking to your family.
Arm yourself with resources
Although you are obviously well educated on this topic, your family might need some other resources to learn about OCD for themselves. This can add some credibility to your discussion.
Bookmark or print out resources and articles you have found on NOCD’s site. Check out the International OCD Foundation and save articles that help educate people on OCD.
You can also show them my Youtube video, which explains what OCD is… and what it isn’t:
Remember, most people don’t truly “get” OCD, so it is often our job to educate them. Don’t take your family’s ignorance personally. Most people don’t understand OCD, so they will naturally make uninformed comments.
Be clear about what you want
As we talked about before, think about what you want your family to do for you. Do you want them to just support you? Do you want them to help get you an OCD therapist? Do you want them to be there to talk to you?
Think about what you want your family to do with this information. The clearer you are about what you need, the better.
Here are some examples:
I am telling you this because I really need professional help. I need to see an OCD therapist, and I need help accomplishing this.
I am telling you this because I want you to understand me and what I have been dealing with lately.
I am telling you this, but I don’t really like talking about it all the time. I just thought it would be good for you to know what is going on. When I want to talk about it more, I’ll ask if we can talk again.
As with everything else, each of you will have a different goal you hope to achieve by telling your parents, and that’s okay.
Don’t give up
If you don’t get the response you are hoping for, don’t give up. Some people need time to digest what they are told. Sometimes family members go into denial and may not want to acknowledge your struggles.
Give them space and time.
You’ve done your part. You have opened up and let your family know what is going on deep inside you. The rest is up to them. We don’t control other people; we can only control ourselves.
The more you take OCD out of the shadows and put a spotlight on it, the better you will become. No matter what, you’ve taken an important step in your OCD journey. Not allowing OCD to be your quiet secret is a brave, powerful step in the right direction!
By the way, if you or someone you know is struggling with OCD, schedule a free call today with the NOCD clinical team to learn more about how a licensed therapist can help. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training.
Thank you again to Natasha Daniels, LCSW, for this helpful post. Make sure to read her blog for more!