Updated: Sep 24, 2021
I realize you might be thinking something along the lines of what the heck is this therapist talking about. Let me enlighten you. An OCD tribe is your support system specifically throughout out your OCD treatment journey. These are going to be the people that you can call at 3am because your having a panic attack from an intrusive thought that you might stab your younger sibling while your parents are gone for a work trip. Most importantly, they are also going to support you in a helpful way. *The scientists say that people with a healthy support system are more likely make progress and maintain that progress than those who do not have a healthy support system or any support system at all. The tricky thing about building an OCD tribe is that we often want to include people who don't quite understand the assignment due to various reasons (lack of knowledge, too many stressors, own mental health difficulties, etc). Spending 5 years working in a residential OCD program where the individuals live with other people diagnosed with OCD/anxiety disorders, taught me that this bond was a key factor in managing OCD symptoms AND maintaining progress in treatment. Some of the relationships that these individuals made still exist today and will probably continue to thrive moving forward because they keep each other accountable in a supportive way.
*When I'm referring to a study I have read in the past, more than likely I cannot recall the name of the authors or the study, so instead I will refer to any and all studies as the scientists.
Building an OCD tribe can be difficult at first, but only you can decide if the outcome of freedom from your anxiety will be worth the effort.
Why you need an OCD Tribe.
Now that we know it has been scientifically proven that a good social support system has positive benefits on individuals diagnosed with OCD, it makes since for everyone to go get one right? I think so. If you already have a support system, then I challenge you to evaluate your OCD tribe with this guide to make sure they are supporting you and not unintentionally supporting your OCD.
"Everybody Makes Mistakes" -Hannah Montana
One of the biggest mistakes people make when building their OCD tribe is including people that cause them anxiety. If they are already feeling heightened anxiety if this person is going to make you more anxious, whether purposeful or not, they might not be the best choice. This happens a lot with family members. Therefore, family therapy can be helpful. For example, if someone is working on their perfectionism and their parents are a trigger because their core fear is disappointing their parents, they might not be the best people to support at this time but can work up to that.
Another big mistake is when people chose their tribe members, but then never confirm if these individuals are on board with their newfound group involvement or that the OCD tribe even exists. When this happens, the benefits of the OCD tribe are never experienced. This normally happens because asking for help can be anxiety provoking. Exposure time!
A common mistake is when individuals do not communicate how they would like to be supported during though times with their members. This happens a lot with individuals who do not completely understand OCD and can lead to accidently feeding the OCD instead getting freedom. For example, if your friend is stating she is anxious about touching a child inappropriately, you're instinct might be to say something along the lines of you would never do that because your are a kind person to make her feel better. However, this is probably unintentionally providing reassurance for the individual and increasing the core fear.
The plus of using this method is how simple it can be since there are only 3 steps. Anticipatory anxiety might try and convince you otherwise, but remember all the situations your are worried about happening might not even happen which would mean you would be stressing yourself out for nothing. I challenge you to make the choice to allow yourself to feel the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety for a brief time so you can experience a lifetime support.
Assembling the OCD Tribe.
Let's get down to business, to defeat...OCD. Exposures as challenging as the coursing river. With all the response prevention of a great typhoon. Make your self compassion raging fire. Mysterious as the uncertainty for you.
Identify your members.
When identifying your members you need to consider a few things:
-Can you be vulnerable with this person?
-Are you worries this person may judge you?
-Will this person support you in a healthy way?
-Would this arrangement strain the relationship?
Many people make the mistake of thinking their family members are apart of their OCD tribe. However, in some cases a family member would not be the best choice due to situations such as OCD symptoms being disruptive to the home causing frustration, OCD symptoms being disruptive to family members lives, family members wanting to support but actually feeding the OCD, etc. It's a confusing situation because more times than not, family members want their loved ones with OCD to get better more than anyone else. It's difficult to balance compassion and frustration; many families with a loved one diagnosed with OCD need help with that is okay.
It is common for many people with OCD to experience shame because of their behaviors. This results in a tough time being around family because they can constantly feel like a burden and are afraid of judgement due to their symptoms. Although unintentionally, family members are sometimes an instant trigger for anxiety because of these feelings of shame. While this can be worked through, you will probably still need support in the meantime.
Loved ones never want to see each other in pain. So it's safe to guess that when you are experiencing heightened anxiety from a trigger, your loved ones will do whatever they can to make that pain go away. Whether that's coming over with a big tub of ice cream in the middle of the night to make you feel better, giving you a should to cry on, or even doing some of your compulsions for you to take away the stress. The first 2 examples are great, but it is not recommended that a loved one engage in compulsions for someone diagnosed with OCD. This is another reason why it can be helpful for the people you choose to be familiar with OCD/have been through OCD treatment as well. They can relate to how you feel because they are also going through it and understand how tough it can really be in a way that others never will, especially if you have similar subtypes or were in similar treatment programs.
Reach out to members.
Sometimes shame can still affect the effectiveness of an OCD tribe if shame is triggered by a situation instead of a specific person. This is the shame that causes us not to reach out to our OCD tribe even though we would probably find it beneficial. If this step is not completed then you have basically done the mental health equivalent to commit to learn how to ice skate and then trying to practice without lacing up your skates with shoe strings first. You need that support in order to be able to practice so you can get better.
So what do I say once I've selected my team? I can't tell you exactly what to say, but since we know that communication is key, you could follow these steps to help you communicate your message:
Share your tribe goals.
Ask if they would like to participate.
Determine next steps.
If they say yes, explain the type of support you need and confirm they can provide that support.
If no, respect their wishes and identify someone else.
If you are finding yourself becoming hesitant that is completely normal. It's hard to be vulnerable in front of people, even if you are close. However, remember that you are doing this so you can have freedom from OCD and ERP is proven to be best treatment according to the scientists. If you need a little more convincing think back on what you have tried in the past. Has anything you've tried given you the results you wanted? If not, sounds like it may be time to try something new. Imagine what you would do if the roles were reversed and one of the people you chose came to you for something similar.
Channel your inner Shia LeBoeuf and just do it.
*Tip: If you are still having a hard time reaching out, try starting there by saying that your having a hard time.
Utilize your tribe.
This is the best part. When your struggling, signal your people. I don't care if you purchase a literal batman signal you shine into the sky. In case you didn't do this part before or skipped over that part because you're unsure what will work for you, here are some methods people have used in the past:
a specific emoji (I'm partial to the poop one)
a code word
message boxes (example)
friendship lamp (example)
sending an owl
presenting them with the last rose
Whatever you do, remember that your tribe has your back.
Let's do this.
Whew! That was a lot of information so let's do a quick recap. An OCD tribe will increase the likelihood of managing your OCD. You build this tribe by identifying special people who you can be vulnerable with and can support you healthily. Then reach to them and make a game plan specific for your needs and put this plan into action. It will be difficult, but I believe in you. Now that we know the process of building the best OCD tribe, let's put it into action (my favorite part). If you tried to hide from me earlier, you've been found. Identify your special people. Get out your cellular device and call/text those special people you identified RIGHT NOW. Not later, not in 5 minutes I promise, not even when you finish reading this post. I said what I said.
The scientists say that when you make a goal public you are more likely to complete it. So whatever you need to do to get started, comment your goal below to increase the likelihood of living according to your values. If you are having trouble with identifying your OCD tribe or would like to work with someone who isn't the greatest fit for your OCD tribe, contact Bianca to schedule a loved one/family session. You can find more great information here.