Have you ever thought, "A person with OCD is broken."? This thought can get in the way of being the parent you want to be. Here's what to do instead.
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Are People with OCD Broken?
Has your child learning to manage OCD ever told you, “I’m broken?” Have you ever thought about your child as broken? This podcast is for you. We’ll explore the high cost of thinking of people as broken. Then I’ll show you a different path.
I remember meeting a new friend Nancy. I took Nancy out to lunch to celebrate her birthday and get to know her better. She told me about her husband and her work. However we mostly talked about Nancy’s 6-year-old daughter Sofia.
Nancy was a proud mother. She pulled out her phone and showed me pictures of Sofia’s artwork. She showed me a video of Sofia singing. I remember saying, "American Idol, here we come!”
Then Nancy shared with me that a few years earlier, Sofia had been diagnosed with autism.
She told me all of the things she had done to, as she put it, help Sofia have a normal life. She researched schools and summer programs. She set up play dates. She often reached out to teachers and parents of others kids to advocate for Sophia.
Nancy told me , “We’ve had a tough week. Sofia just got kicked out of the third school she had attended. As I tucked Sophia in that night, she asked, Are you going to throw me away?’”
Nancy asked, “What do you mean?”
Sophia said, “Well, you throw away broken toys. I’m broken.”
With tears streaming down her face, Nancy said, “Maybe Sofia’s right. Maybe she’s broken and I just can’t figure out how to fix her, no matter how hard I try. She’ll never be normal. Maybe I should just give up and accept that Sophia will never be the person I saw in my dreams for her.”
Nancy showed great courage to share her unfiltered thoughts with a new friend. I saw her pain.
I had to wonder how many times a day Nancy thought, “Sophia is broken and my job is to fix her.” This could be the thought running her life. It could be her bumper sticker.
Clearly autism is different than OCD. However, what they share is that the target organ impacted is the brain.
We live in a society that treats medical conditions involving the brain differently that other medical condition. If your child had crooked teeth there would not be a judgment about getting braces.
OCD is sort of like a crooked brain.The best evidence-based treatment for OCD, ERP, is like braces for the brain. It’s using the mind to manage these thoughts.
I will concede that unmanaged OCD can disrupt lives and families.
Does that mean that your child with OCD is broken?
As you learn more about OCD, you’re getting some insight into how the human brain works.
First, we have thoughts all the time. Cognitive neuroscientists from Canada published a study in 2020 suggesting that we have about 60,000 thoughts a day.
Thoughts are just sentences in our brains,
Most of us don’t really think about our thoughts. We’re taught to accept our thoughts as true.
Sometimes thoughts run below the radar of consciousness.
After the murder of George Floyd, for example, we had a national conversation about racism. Most of us would say that we are not racists. We don’t consciously engage in hate speech. However, if you did what I did and took an exam that identifies unconscieous bias, you might have been surprised as I was to discover prejudice that hides in the shadows of my conscious thought.
If OCD has taught you anything, it’s this: thoughts shape our lives. If I want to be truly inclusive in my life, I need to be aware of the thoughts that keep me from getting there.
You know that the starting point of OCD drama begins with a special kind of thought called an obsession. This is a random thought created by a brain wiring glitch I call the OCD Monster.
You’re learned that thoughts create feelings. Obsessions lead to very uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or disgust or fear. It’s not the obsessive thought that our kids find so painful; it’s the feelings that the thoughts elicit.
They don’t want to feel this way.
In an effort to get a reprieve from the pain, they perform the actions we call compulsions.
Then actions create life results. When OCD is given more power, it consumes more hours in the day and encroaches on healthy living.
So, all the pain and disability associate with OCD begins with a thought.
Again, a thought is nothing more than a sentence in your mind.
You have thoughts about yourself. I’m a hard worker. I’m lazy.
I’m a victim. I’m awesome. I’m a dedicated parent. I’m a bad parent.
You have thoughts about the world. The world’s unfair. You can’t find help. The world is out to get me. Great things come my way.
You have thoughts about the people in your life. My defiant child is not listening or doing the work she needs to do. My daughter is working hard and making progress managing OCD.
She’s a dear friend. I would do any thing for her. This person is trying to manipulate me. My boss is a jerk. My boss is great.
These thoughts frame how you interpret another person’s actions. If you respond to a child with the thought, “He’s giving me a hard time” you will feel and act differently than if you said, “He’s having a hard time.”
You have thoughts about the events in your life. “OCD is the worst thing that ever happened.” Or “OCD is a chance to master powerful life tools.”
Your thoughts shape where your attention goes, and that shapes how you experience the world. You can test this for yourself. Below you’ll find a link to a basketball challenge video. Watch it and count how many times the basketball is passed. Just put me on pause and do it before you listen to the spoiler.
If you’re like most people you did not see the gorilla that walked right through the players. Watch the video again.
How can you miss something hidden in obvious sight? How does Nancy overlook her daughter’s gifts for drawing and singing?
It’s one of the peculiarities of the human brain.
If your child is managing OCD, each cycle of obsessions and compulsions can be like the basketball changing hands. That’s where there focus us. Unmanaged OCD can be like a black hole of attention. The world becomes the pain of OCD.
It’s easy to understand how human brains generate the thoughts, “I’m broken.” The brain believes that this is just a statement of truth like, “The sky is blue.”
What’s lost in the focus on the challenges of OCD is the connection with the amazing people our kids are. Their gifts. Their. passions, all the gifts. The qualities that make them the amazing people they are just like the gorilla that gets lost in the focus on obsessions and compulsions.
Let’s play out what happens with the thought “I’m broken” or “My kid is broken.”
What kind of feelings are generated by the thought, “I’m broken” or “My child is broken.” Despair? Hopelessness?
When your child thinks, “I’m broken” does that inspire your child to dig in and do the work to manage OCD? Probably not.
When you think, “My child with OCD is broken, does that inspire you to offer calm family leadership?” Probably not.
The human brain behaves in predictable ways. It offers the broken message as a way of making sense of the world. That does not mean that the message is real or true. Optical illusions fool you even thought you KNOW you’re looking at an optical illusion.
So if you witness yourself having a thought about your child being broken just say, “How human of me.”
Also know that you can swap out the thoughts about brokenness with thoughts that lead to the actions and results you wanted—-for your child and your family to be freed from OCD?
What if you swapped the broken thought with , “Glasses get broken. Bones get broken. Spirits get broken. But people cannot be broken.” “My child is a whole person managing OCD. “My child is more than the OCD. It’s just a part of her”.
Generally when I have this conversation with my clients, they push back and double down. “Let me give you all the evidence for my child being broken.”
I just respond, “You always have the choice of hanging onto that thought. However, know that it’s optional. What if you saw your child’s OCD as an opportunity to master skills that will set them up for success for the rest off their lives?”
You might find that when you swap the thoughts about brokenness that OCD becomes less frightening and more manageable for you as a parent.
What if you tried the experiment of swapping to the thought “My child’s awesome! My daughter’s courageous.I’m awesome!” Or, “I’m putting in the work, and getting. Stronger every day.”
So, if you’re the parent of a child with OCD, you might observe the thought , “My child is broken.” pass through your consciousness. You don’t need to judge your brain for offering this thought.
You don’t have to accept the thought and true. That’s optional.
Would you think go someone with diabetes or breast cancer as broken. No. They are managing breast cancer. That’s what they do; it’s not who they are.
Thought work can be hard work. Why do it?
Well, first we’re asking our kids to do then own thought work. When we as parents do it ourselves, we live in more integrity.
Second, it’s because of the painful feeling of seeing your child as broken. All of that pain is optional.
Third, and most important, you are most powerful as a force for healing when you hang onto the image of the best version of this your partner or child or friend—even when the other person forgets.
Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts or comments.