Have you ever been in an emotional tug-of-war with your child or other family members about how OCD is managed? In the next series of 3 podcasts, I’ll uncover the origins of the most common conflict within families—which are usually power struggles— and show you how power struggles do more harm than good. Then I’ll lay out an alternative I call the Relationships Reboot.
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How do you have more peace—and less fighting in your home? In this podcast, we’ll explore ways to the unplug from the most common cause of family feuds—OCD-related power -struggles. The prescriptive intervention is the Relationship Reboot. This is the second in a 3-part podcast series about escaping family feuds.
Welcome to the Free Me From OCD Podcast. If you or someone you love has OCD, you know that OCD can hold you hostage. OCD can get in the driver’s seat of your life. Here you will find information, tips and tools to put YOU back in the driver’s seat of your life. I’m Dr. Vicki Rackner your host. I call on my experience as a mother of a son diagnosed with OCD when he was in college, physician and life coach to help you evolve into the best and highest version of yourself.
Let’s dive into todays episode.
As we discussed in the last podcast episode, you, your child and your family members are in a battle against OCD. And OCD is a formidable foe.
However sometimes family members battle among themselves. This is like football players tackling their own teammates.
The most common feuds are power struggles.
You get in a power struggle when you have a manual about how others should behave and try to persuade them to follow your manual.
You know you’re in a power struggle when you seem to have the same emotional tug-of-war over and over, and nothing gets resolved. In the process, you get less connected rather than more connected.
As a parent, you have a deep longing to keep your children safe and healthy.
Let’s be real. OCD is scary. You see unmanaged OCD as the threat to your child’s health and wellness that it could be.
You want your child to be freed from OCD—for your child to have control over the OCD Monster rather than having the OCD Monster being in charge of their lives.
Here’s the catch. The only person who can manage your child’s brain is —your child.
You might be asking the question, ”Well if my child is the only person who can manage her brain, how do I get my child to make those changes?”
This is the origin of OCD power struggles. You try to inspire your kid to follow your manual, and they resist. In the meanwhile, you feel less connected rather than more connected with your kid.
WE DO want your child to be freed from OCD; Here at the OCD Haven we do it differently—through the Relationship Reboot.
The Relationship Reboot is based on a teaching from Rabbi Israel Salanter who said:
When I was young, I wanted to change the world but the world did not change.
Then I tried to change my town, but the town did not change.
Then I tried to change my family, but my family did not change.
Then, I knew—first, I must change myself.
The Relationship Reboot is how YOU can change so you can be an agent for healing in your child’s life.
In the Relationship Reboot, you manage relationships differently. Today we’ll talk about how you change the relationship with yourself; in the next podcast we’ll discuss what you say and do differently when you have a history of power struggles with individuals.
I’ll illustrate the Relationship Reboot with a story of power struggles shared by my coaching client Suzanne, the parent of a 19-year-old son Zach learning to manage his recently-diagnosed OCD. Suzanne reached out to me because she was exhausted.
Zach currently has obsessions and compulsions around environmental hazards.
At first, Zach asked his parents to do a radon test in the house. Suzanne and her husband Jeff thought that was a reasonable request and complied.
Then Zach expressed concerns about cleaning products. He asked his parents only to use vinegar and baking soda to clean. Again, Jeff and Suzanne complied, although Suzanne’s OCD antennae went up.
Then Zach went through the garage and removed all the paint, organize fertilizers and sprays for hornets and deer without checking first.
Suzanne got that tightness in the pit of her stomach that told her that Zack’s OCD monster—not Zach—was purging the house of chemicals.
Then, one Thursday night, Jeff and Suzanne heard Zach and his sister Jenna yelling at each other.
Jeff and Suzanne went to the den and asked, “What’s going on here?”
Zach said, “Jenna’s trying to poison me!”
Jenna said, “I’m not trying to poison Zach. I was here watching TV and removing my finger nail polish. Zach came in, and demanded I put away the finger nail polish remover. I was here first. If Zach doesn’t like the smell, he can go to another room.”
Zach disappeared for a minute, put on surgical gloves and an n-90 mask, and ripped the nail polish remover from Jenna’s hands.
Outside of the corner of her eye, Suzanne saw Zach wrap the finger nail polish remover in two zip lock bags put them into a heavy construction garbage bag and emptied a box of baking soda. He put three knots in the garbage bag, and went outside to dump the bag and his mask and gloves.
As Zach was doing this, Jenna started yelling at her parents, “This whole thing is crazy. Why does the world revolve around Zach and what he wants? All we ever talk about is Zach. You know, you have two kids—not just one. Why don’t you ever take my side?”
When Zach came back inside, he went around the house throwing open the doors and windows, despite that fact that it was winter and the outside temperature was about 20 degrees.
Jeff, who had been silent, snapped. He yelled at his son, “Do you know how expensive it is to heat the house. Shut the windows right now, Zach!”
Zach ran into his room, opened all of his own windows and would not come out.
That night Jeff said to Suzanne, “I guess we’ll just tell Jenna that she can’t use finger nail polish remover in the house any more.”
Suzanne shot back, “Are you kidding ! Don’t you see what’s happening! Getting chemicals out of the house is Zach’s new compulsion! Every time we give into his requests, we’re growing Zach’s OCD!”
Jeff argued, “That may be. But we could have avoided Zach’s melt down.”
As she told me this story, I said, “Suzanne, I see why you’re exhausted. You’re having power struggles with every member of your family—your son, your daughter and your husband.
She said, “Don’t forget the in-laws who blame me for Zach’s compulsions.”
How can Suzanne turn things around?
That’s where the relationship reboot comes in.
Suzanne can unplug from OCD power struggles regardless of what Zach or her husband or her daughter or her in-laws decide to do.
Here are the steps:
1. Recognize that everyone has an OCD manual that guides actions.
Zach’s OCD manual currently reads, “Get rid of poisons.” Zach’s OCD monster is running the show.
Suzanne’s husband’s OCD manual reads, “Make things easy and comfortable”. If giving into OCD demands is what’s required he’ll do it to enjoy peace.
Suzanne’s daughter Jenna has an OCD manual that says, “Be invisible.” She knows her parents can’t deal with Zach’s issues and hers.
Suzanne—my coaching client who reached out for help— has an OCD manual, too. It says that her highest priority is shrinking Zach’s OCD monster.
2. Recognize that you have a human brain. When there is a conflict your human brain will tell you that the solution involves another person following your manual.
In this scenario, Zach’s OCD monster is controlling Zach.
Suzanne wants Zach to do his ERP work so he will resist his compulsions.
Suzanne’s husband wants Suzanne to lighten up so there will be more peace and less explosions in the family.
Jenna wants her parents to see her and help her advocate for herself.
Every person sees the solution as getting someone else to do things differently. Hence the power struggles.
You can’t control your kids or your partner or your other family members.
The only person you can control is yourself.
You will have a human longing to control others. When you do, you set yourself up for power struggles.
3. Recognize when you’re in a power struggle.
Any time you try to influence the actions of others, you set yourself up for a power struggle. You can listen to the first episode of this series to learn more.
Power struggles are like nightmares. You stop the nightmare by waking up.
Your goal is to wake up and say, “Another power struggle. How human of me.”
As you get more skilled, the amount of time you have the nightmare before you wake up decreases.
4. Decide you are no longer willing to engage in power struggles. Ever.
OCD power struggles do more harm than good. I recommend giving them up because they don’t work.
As soon as you notice you’re in an emotional tug-of-war, drop the rope!
Any time you are trying to persuade someone to do something differently, ask, “What can I do differently to be part of the solution?”
5. In an interesting twist, the next steps of Relationship Reboot call on the exact skills we’re asking our kids to master: witnessing and choosing your thoughts, leaning into difficult feelings and resisting urges.
Thoughts are very powerful. Thoughts create feelings that guide action and contribute to the results you get.
For many people, this sounds like self-help mumbo-jumbo.
But with your experience with OCD, you can see how true it is. Your child’s obsessions—which are nothing more than brain burps— create feelings which is often extreme anxiety. In order to alleviate the anxiety, your child has learned to give into compulsions. While it reduces the anxiety, it also grows OCD. The obsession-compulsion cycle has often become a habit.
We ask our kids with OCD to witness their thoughts and distinguish between a thought that grows OCD and a thought that shrinks OCD.
Similarly, we all have thoughts that either help us get to where we want to go or thoughts that take us further away.
When I talk with parents, here are some thoughts that get in the way of being a force for healing for OCD.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not a therapist and I’ll ill-equipped to parent a child with OCD.
“I’m confused. I get different advice from different people, and I don’t know whom to believe.”
“I hate seeing my child in pain. My job is to fix it.”
“I see a future in which my child can never leave the house and be featured on the Dr. Phil show.”
Parents commonly describe feelings like fear and overwhelm and confusion.
If you’re in an uncomfortable situation and you think you cannot make it more tolerable, you look around you to find people who can make things better. When you’re scared, the urgency goes up.
When you get in power struggles you’re saying, “I can’t do anything to change our circumstances, so you need to fix it.”
Whom do you expect to change? It’s often your child learning to manage OCD.
Once you identify the thought that is holding you back, you can replace it.
So, when you wake up from the nightmare of a power struggle, struggle, get curious. What thought or feeling is holding you back?
The thought holding you back might be, “I’m over my head and I don’t know what to do.”
I get it. I was there when my son was diagnosed.
I replaced that thought with, “SOMEBODY knows how to help parents of kids with OCD, and I’m going to find those resources.”
I found them, but most of the communities helped parents of young children, I decided to create a community for parents of teens and early adults. That’s exactly what the OCD Haven is about.
You can see the power of replacing the thought, “I don’t know what to do” to “Someone knows what to do.”
When I held onto the thought, “I don’t know what to do” I felt scared and hopeless. I retreated. I put greater pressure on my son to manage this OCD.
When I swapped the thought with, “Someone knows what to do, and I’m going to find that person”, I felt empowered and more hopeful. I could see a different and better tomorrow.” I no longer had the urgency to push my son into therapy because I trusted that I had the resources to deal with whatever came our way—even if my son never made any changes.
Sometimes the fear of feelings gets in the way.
Suzanne intellectually knows that if she wants to help her son Zach get to the other side of OCD, she needs to set boundaries.
Who bought the surgical gloves, n-90 masks, construction bags and cases of baking soda that Zach used in his cleaning rituals? Suzanne did.
She decided she would no longer help Zach complete his compulsions by purchasing gloves and construction garbage bags and a case of baking soda. I coached her through a conversation with Zach about these boundaries.
However, every time she set a boundary, Zach got angry. Zach’s anger made Suzanne very uncomfortable. In fact she gets downright anxious when she’s around anger.
She backed down on her boundaries when Zach got angry.
Imagine how much easier it will be to help Zach when she can tolerate her discomfort around other people’s anger.
Many parents tell me something we all can relate to. “I feel my child’s pain. It hurts to see my child a prisoner of OCD.”
In essence parents then turn to their children and say, “Fix OCD so that I feel more comfortable.”
You can replace that thought with “It’s okay to not be okay.”
You can replace the thought, “My job as a parent is to take away my child’s pain.” To, “My job as a parent is to be present with my child, even when they’re in pain.”
We as a society are encouraged to not feel our uncomfortable feelings like sadness or loneliness or fear. We have ways of numbing feelings. Our kids managing OCD use compulsions to numb their anxiety. Some people eat or drink or shop or binge-watch Netflix instead of feeling sad or lonely or angry.
If you’ve ever lost somebody or something that’s very important to you, feel sad. You mourn. You might have had people around you who want to cheer you up. Often it’s because they don’t want to be around sadness. It makes them uncomfortable.
The only way to get over a feeling is to go through it. We can learn to tolerate it.
Last you can resist urges. Power struggles become habits. Habits can be broken.
So, begin the Relationship Reboot by cleaning up your side of the street. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently to be a force for healing in my family?”
When you become a master at the Relationship Reboot, you can observe behaviors of others you used to try to control, and say to yourself without anger or resentment or judgment, “Yup, that’s Jeff being Jeff.”
Sometimes it’s a long hard climb to get there!
We tell our kids that we want them to learn to manage themselves. We can walk that talk!
Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts or comments.