Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a chronic condition. While a person can never truly say that they have fully rid themselves of OCD, it is possible to manage it in such a way that it no longer interferes with one’s day-to-day life the way it might have prior to receiving treatment.
If your child has been diagnosed with OCD, you might be familiar with patterns of rigidity, such as repeating behaviors in a strict order to temporarily alleviate the anxiety and torment that comes from the interfering, intrusive obsessions. For example, your child might have a particular way of arranging her bed covers to make sure that family members will be safe during the night and will all wake up healthy in the morning.
As your child grows up, it is likely that the underlying need to “make sure” things are a certain way continues to be there in subtle ways. Your child might no longer have the same preoccupation with her bed covers as the themes shift. However, the underlying intolerance of uncertainty is what persists most in OCD, manifesting in themes that might have nothing to do (at least on the surface) with what you have seen in the past.
It is not uncommon for OCD to interfere somewhat with a young adult’s ability to mature into an independent individual. Very often, adults with OCD are dependent upon other adults in their lives to get reassurance regarding their feared obsessions. This pattern of overreliance, if not handled properly, can take over.
Parents of children with OCD might have been prone early on to make accommodations for their struggling children. This pattern can get out of hand, as the child grows into a teen and later on a young adult, and naturally has to deal with more responsibilities.
While it is important not to make accommodations for them even while they are children, it becomes even more vital not to give in to that temptation now that they have more on their plate, as that situation can easily become highly unpleasant.
To illustrate, I started working with a woman in her thirties who relied heavily on her elderly mother for every single one of her needs other than entertainment. The woman would not typically leave the apartment and would often dedicate the entirety of her waking hours to doing her compulsions and rituals on bad days, and on good days she would leave a few hours for online streaming of shows.
When I was made aware of the household dynamics, I put ERP on hold for a brief time, to make sure that both mother and daughter were educated about the implications of their lifestyle and the importance of gradually ceasing accommodations. Despite their openness to this educational material, and their best intentions, change was difficult and extended over time.
This is not a representation of the majority of young adults who live with OCD, but rather an illustration as to where continued accommodations could potentially lead. In fact, if your child has been diagnosed with OCD at an early age, you have probably had to confront accommodation dynamics at some point and are likely not in the same situation as the example above.
It is important to have realistic expectations about OCD. We can’t expect a person who has been diagnosed with this disorder to no longer have intrusive obsessions. But they can live free of the torment of doing repetitive behaviors or mental acts to assuage their fears. As the parent of someone diagnosed with OCD, you can help them be aware of what realistic expectations are, and celebrate their victories in their life-long journey to recovery.