Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has grave effects upon the friends and family of the sufferer. For any OCD sufferer there will be implications for the family. This is because the OCD sufferer must maintain tight control over elements of their environment, and individuals outside of the sufferer are oftentimes forced by the sufferer to act in a certain way in order to relieve the stress the sufferer feels.
For example, a mother suffering from compulsive hand-washing may force her children to wash their hands with her. Or, a father who feels that stepping on cracks in the sidewalk is for some reason dangerous may instill in his children unnatural fears.
Perhaps even more insidious however, is the nature of religious OCD (scrupulosity). The sufferer of religious OCD feels a need to maintain communion with God. Something that is natural for an individual to experience, but the pain and anguish which accompanies this desire is unnatural. It indicates an obsession with communion. This then manifests itself in various compulsions. We have discussed the nature of these obsessions and compulsions elsewhere. So we will only here note two simple examples:
- An individual suffering from religious OCD may feel a need to pray to God every five minutes in order to maintain communion. I myself, at one point felt a need to recite the Lord’s Prayer1Our Father who art in heaven… before any other prayer was uttered, no matter the circumstance.
- An individual who believes they struggle with lust, therefore they won’t even look at individuals of the opposite gender.
The suffering of the ill is horrific enough, but it does not stop there. It affects all those who seek to have an intimate relationship with the sufferer. The sufferer does not generally feel a need to control the entire world, or at least does not generally exercise that need. Rather it is anyone who is close to them upon whom they feel a need to exercise control. This is because the sufferer desires the world to operate in a certain manner in order to feel “connected to God.” When individuals that are close to the sufferer act in an unexpected manner or fail to participate in the sufferer’s rituals the sufferer feels that he has failed God and his communion with God is broken. This results in the sufferer placing large amounts of pressure upon loved ones. The results of this are many-fold. Generally loved ones begin by attempting to appease the sufferer. But as time progresses (hours turn into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, months into years) the loved ones begin to respond as a method of coping in a variety of ways:
- Rebellion – Oftentimes in a parent/child relationship the child will begin to rebel against the demands of the parent. They recognize that the demands are unreasonable and defy their parents demands.
- Withdrawal – Many withdraw emotionally and physically from the sufferer. They feel unable to cope with the demands of the sufferer and this oftentimes results in social isolation for the sufferer.
- Dysfunction – Some loved ones will become one with the sufferer’s dysfunction. Adopting the depression and obsessive tendencies of the sufferer. This may be partially because of a genetic component and partially because of training.
As sufferers from religious OCD it is extremely important that we seek out treatment for our illness. The effects of our illness are clear upon ourselves, and oftentimes we consider it a worthwhile price to continue in agony rather than go through the pain and expense of treatment. However, no individual is without relationships to others, and as such when we refuse to receive the necessary treatment for ourselves and acknowledge our illness we injure not only ourselves but also those we love. Not only is our capacity to positively affect our loved ones drastically reduced but we in fact begin to have a negative influence upon those we love.
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