What if my Family Doesn't Believe Me?

This page is adapted from an article initially published in the Winter 2014 edition of the OCD Newsletter

My Family Doesn't Believe I Have Anxiety/OCD

by Fred Penzel, PhD

No one wants to believe that their child has a problem. Some caregivers find it so unthinkable that they resort to denial. They figure that if they act like they don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Sometimes it can become even a bit more complicated. One family member might believe that their child has OCD/anxiety, and another one stubbornly refusing to see it. This can result in family disputes and an overall stressful family environment. 

If this is a situation that you find yourself in, below are some tips that may be helpful.

  1. Talk to school personnel.

    Talk to school personnel, especially your favorite teacher and/or the school counselor. Both should have heard of anxiety/OCD and can be good people to get on your side. Perhaps they can help set up a meeting with your family to discuss the problem. They may be able to help them to understand what it is all about, and what you need.

  2. Tell a relative.

    If you have a relative with anxiety/OCD (we often see anxiety/OCD run in families), they can sometimes be a good ally. This is especially true if this is a trusted individual your family will listen to. It’s always a plus if they got help themselves, and are now doing better. Perhaps they can persuade your family to take you to get help.

  3. Enlist the help of a friend.

    It is possible you also have a friend who happens to have anxiety/OCD and has been through successful treatment. You might see if your friend’s family would be willing to talk to yours and share what they have learned about the disorder(s) and about how to get therapy for it. It will also be a big help if your family already knows these people.

  4. Educate yourself.

    Read up on anxiety/OCD and educate yourself about the disorder(s). You can start with the "I Want to Learn More" section of Anxiety in the Classroom, OCDinKids.org, or check your local library for books on the subject. There are many good books these days, and the more you know, the better you will be able to speak up for yourself. Whatever you do, always make sure you are getting your information from reliable sources!

  5. Be careful about fighting.

    If you find yourself getting angry with your family for not understanding, be careful about fighting with them about this. This is one of the most unhelpful things you can do for yourself. When people are angry, they listen to you a lot less and become more stubborn about sticking to their ideas. To get their help and support, you need to win them over. Remember that they do care about you, but just don’t “get it” yet. It’s something they clearly don’t understand or have much information about.

    One helpful approach would be to get some good articles and books on the subject (again, check the IOCDF website at IOCDF.org/expert-opinions and IOCDF.org/books) and ask them if they will at least read them before deciding anything further. One book I’d suggest is What To Do When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Dr. Aureen Pinto Wagner. You can also find some good personal videos or documentaries about anxiety/OCD on YouTube (the IOCDF’s YouTube page is a good place to start). Just be sure that the videos aren’t too extreme and give good, clear information. Watch them yourself first just to make sure.

  6. Find community.

    If you are feeling really alone and just need a community to talk to, you may find an in-person or online anxiety/OCD support group to be helpful (learn more about available support groups). You might also be interested in accessing some of the online self-help programs that are now available (learn more about these self-help programs for OCD and related disorders).

  7. Enlist the help of a faith leader.

    Finally, if you belong to a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community and have a good relationship with a leader in that community, you might be able to talk to them and ask them to speak to your family. Caregivers will often listen to people in authority that they respect and who are seen as honest, caring, and helpful. You can also share this PSA on OCD and faith with them.

The main thing is to not get discouraged, and to not give up. If you continue looking for a way to get through to them, you will be more likely to find a solution than if you give in to your frustrations and quit. Don’t talk to your family about it in an angry or nagging way that might only get them annoyed at you. You want to win them over, and you want them to see that you are serious and are really having difficulties that require special help!

The next steps

Once you manage to convince them, the next step is finding the right kind of help that will get you well in the quickest and most effective way. Anxiety/OCD is not something that just any psychologist or social worker simply knows how to treat. It takes someone with special training.

If you have done your research, you will have found out that what is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the way to go. A specific type of CBT known as exposure & response prevention (ERP) is the type of treatment you want. It will help you to gradually learn to face and overcome your fearful thoughts, as well as teach you better ways to confront your anxiety without having to do compulsions. The IOCDF website can give you further reliable information about this.

Medication is sometimes also used to help you do better with your therapy. Understand that medication is not something that is automatically used with everyone. It is something that is only used when someone is seen to be struggling with their therapy. Even then, it is a matter to be carefully discussed with your therapist and physician.

Dr. Fred Penzel is a licensed psychologist, and holds PhDs from Hofstra University in both school and clinical psychology. 

Our Work Young Person with anxiety jumping over a ball
Our Work Young people with OCD helping each other
Our Work Teacher looking up info on OCD