Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) isn’t what most people think. Television and movies have given us a warped idea of what the symptoms of OCD look like, when the reality is this anxiety disorder looks different for each person who lives with it. For some, OCD manifests in needing things to be in a certain order or having to repeatedly check doors to make sure they are locked. Some have physical compulsions, while others deal with obsessive thinking. No two people living with OCD will have the same exact symptoms.
But no matter how a person’s OCD shows up, we should always treat them with respect and compassion, since we’ll never know what it’s like to live with this mental illness. That means we have to be conscious of the words we use around people who have OCD. What we say can either be really hurtful to them, or it can lift them up and encourage them to stay on the road to recovery.
Here are eight things you should never say to someone who has OCD.
1“I’m so OCD!”
No, you’re not. You’re not dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder if you like things to be neat. OCD is a pervasive and serious mental health issue that can impact every aspect of your life. Few things are as hurtful to someone dealing with this illness as hearing a close friend or family member diminish it. Remember, this isn’t something funny to them: it’s a very real issue they deal with every single day.
2“You should just relax.”
OCD isn’t the sort of thing that can be “cured” by a really great yoga class or meditation. Your concern probably comes from a good place, but suggesting someone should “just relax” isn’t helpful (and in most cases it makes them feel more tense than they already were). Obsessive compulsive disorder can be treated and managed by cognitive behavioral therapy and in some cases medication — not a really great Warrior Pose.
3“But you’re so messy!”
First of all, rude. Second of all, as we stated above, OCD manifests in different ways for different people. The media has latched onto the idea that if you have OCD you are incredibly clean and organized, but that isn’t true for everyone. Some people will have immaculate homes, others will have messy rooms. OCD can manifest in needing to touch your doorknob three times before leaving or polishing all your silverware. Your shoes can be organized by color and style while the rest of your home is disorganized. The bottom line: OCD is different for everyone, and a messy house doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.
4“That doesn’t make sense.”
Trying to talk someone out of OCD isn’t the best idea. For starters, it won’t work. People with OCD are totally aware that what they’re doing often has no logical reasoning behind it. That’s why it’s called a compulsion. They know turning the lights on and off four times doesn’t do anything, but they have to do it anyway. Trying to convince someone that their OCD tics make no sense will only leave them feeling hurt and resentful. Instead, try listening to what they have to say about it and offering them some sincere support.
5“It’s all in your head.”
This goes perfectly with number four. People with OCD know it’s in their head. That doesn’t make it any less real or somehow easier to overcome. Instead of trying to “fix” their OCD, work on ways to provide them with empathy and understanding. Dismissing a very real — and in some cases overwhelming — problem is hurtful and extremely unhelpful.
6“You don’t look like you have OCD.”
This raises the question of what someone with OCD looks like. Answer: it could be literally anyone. Anyone from celebrities to your neighbors could have OCD. There’s no “right” or “wrong” person who is afflicted; that’s part of what makes it so problematic. When in doubt, don’t assume you can determine if someone has this illness. And if someone is telling you they suffer from OCD, don’t dismiss what could be a very difficult subject for them to discuss. Listen and try to understand where they’re coming from.
7“Can’t you just stop?”
To put it bluntly, no. If people could stop performing these actions, they wouldn’t be suffering from OCD. Obsessive compulsive disorder means they have to do the task. It’s not that they want to; it’s that they need to. That’s where the compulsion comes from. Demanding that they stop or suggesting they could stop if they just tried a little harder is completely false, and will leave them feeling guilty about something they genuinely have no control over.
8“I do that too, and I don’t have OCD.”
Organizing your socks the same way as someone may seem like a great moment to offer some solidarity, but it just diminishes a very real problem for the other person. You might like things a certain way; they need things to be in a very specific order or done under specific circumstances. Wanting all your books alphabetized is not the same as the tics someone with OCD may suffer from. It’s a compulsive, uncontrollable need, not a preference. Once you begin to understand that — and how hard it is to control — you’ll be that much closer to helping your loved one live with OCD.