What Constitutes Harmful Enabling?

The pivotal question still remains, how is the line drawn between enabling meant to keep my 12 year old daughter, Julia, out of a spiraling hysteria where what little is stable all collapses and enabling which is causing more harm than good? Many experts agree, enabling reinforces the sufferers symptoms. However, they don’t detail exactly what constitutes enabling, specifically. Are there not many levels of enabling?

  • Is great harm caused if Julia needs me to wash my hands because they’ve become “contaminated” as I accidentally brushed by the shirt sleeve she wore to school? Knowing if I don’t, she will watch every move I make from then on and all in which I touch, by default, becomes contaminated and, thus, requires ritualistic sterilization?
  • Is great harm caused if she must Lysol our car because she rode in it after school 8 weeks ago, has not been in it since, and “knows” it is still contaminated? Should this be allowed? She won’t get into the car until decontamination is complete. Should I physically force her into the car? Thereby, disallowing enabling?
  • Is great harm caused if I don’t physically remove her from the horrible “decontamination shower” rituals after every school day? They go on for hours, but she can’t seem to do it differently. I have to make it stop but don’t know how. I feel I’ve tried everything! What level, if any, of enabling is this?
  • Is great harm caused if we use the supermarket checkout isles 3, 7, or 8 if she is currently contaminated from that day at school and those are the “contaminated” isles or use checkout 2, 4 or 6 if she is “clean.” Because, if we use 3, 7 or 8 when she is “clean” then she will no longer be “clean” because she has used them at some point in the past while “contaminated” and thus be subject to compulsively reengage in her endless shower routine to rid herself of the invisible contamination?

Due to her RA, speaking to her about any of these issues catapults her into a crying frenzy. She repeatedly states, “Mommy you just don’t get it, you just don’t understand!” “You just make it all worse when you talk to me about my OCD,” Some experts profess, if you can’t get the sufferer to stop then you must try to disengage from the sufferers activities and allow the sufferer to continue their rituals on their own. Thereby, by disengaging you have a chance to maintain your own sanity.

But, as said in the prior Enabling post, without any form of enabling Julia looses her ability to cope all together and her grades plummet, the symptoms multiply to levels which are even more impossible to express, and the world in which we inhabit seemingly ceases to exist. We become victims of the victims. Therefore, the initial, pivotal question still remains. Where does one draw the line?


Foremost, I am an OCD awareness, treatment and long-term recovery: advocate, spokesperson, consultant, supporter, and educator. I am the mother and sole provider of care for an amazingly smart, witty, charismatic, 13 year old daughter, Alexandra, who was severely debilitated by OCD. The apex of Alexandra’s journey to simply be like ‘normal’ people is marked by her recent, astonishing ascent from the subterranean bowels of OCD Hell she has inhabited for as long as she can remember, to becoming freed to, once again, walk alongside and among the “land of the living.” Over these past nine years and all the realizations I’ve made regarding the mental health system, its profession and providers, society’s stigmas, discrimination, accusations, insurance debacles and all else involved, I’ve been making belief, someone, someday will help my progressively declining child who’s Y-BOCS consistently remained between 34 and 40 for the past 6 whole years! Until this past April, she and I have been on an endless quest for proper treatment which would help to alleviate and, ultimately, release her from the incomprehensibly horrific, all-consuming, self-harming, isolated purgatory from which she was ever-increasingly, perpetually trapped by her obsessions and rituals. Earlier this year, our seemingly last hope for help was to be an extended stay at Rogers Memorial but after months of fighting with her 2 insurance companies over denying coverage for admittance, I was at my wits end, again! Having immersed myself into the global OCD community for many years seeking help, advice, guidance, etc., I came across a post seeking beta study participants using an app for ERP. Immediately, I applied for my daughter. The director/doctor was very hesitant as Alex’s OCD was so extreme. However, with a lot of persuasion, a remarkably wise and kind doctor, as well as, an enormous ‘leap of faith,’ we began using the app from LiveOCDFree. She has been diligently working with the Live OCD Free app for the past 3 months. During this short time, with much hard work and determination, she has achieved remarkable progress against her, previously omnipresent, OCD symptoms! Her OCD had forced her into seclusion, isolation, and painful 4+ hour ritualistic decontamination showers and had even left her unable to touch or breathe the air of those she loves. Remarkably, Alexandra can now walk anywhere and touch almost everything freely. She can hug and spend time with loved-ones and friends without decontaminating. Ali’s showers are now only 25-minutes and do not involve any painful rituals. She continues to work to conquer her remaining OCD issues and anticipates, in time, a full recovery from the OCD which has plagued her since the age of four. Alexandra, and I, want nothing more than to lead a revolution against this insidious, debilitating monster we call OCD! To help others see how much hope there is with proper treatment, she and I are documenting her OCD recovery process and history through Facebook.com/ LiveOCDFree, Twitter: LiveOCDFree, YouTube.com/LiveOCDFree, OCDKids.wordpress.com and LiveOCDFree.com. Please, join and /or follow her journey so you can be aware of OCD, too. View all posts by LISA DOUGLAS

2 responses to “What Constitutes Harmful Enabling?

  • ocdtalk

    “Not enabling” at all makes total sense to me in theory, because every time you enable you are, in a sense, validating your daughter’s OCD. But in real life, the problem is complex and heartbreaking, as you are watching your child suffer, and not enabling her would just send her over the edge.
    I am definitely no expert, but maybe not enabling her, and having her “hit bottom,” may be the way for her to get closer to overcoming her RA??
    Again, I know this is all easier in theory than reality, but you both seem to be suffering so much now…..and how long will either of you be able to continue on this way? Maybe “not enabling” is worth a try?
    Does this make any sense to you?

  • douglaslisa

    POSTED BY: Skwerl
    This is a tough one. I imagine in a perfect world, you would never want to do anything enabling. The reality of it is though, that in order to get through a day, sometimes you have to pick and choose your battles. My best guess would be try to be consistent. If you have set a stake in the ground on a particular issue stand firm. If you find yourself in the position where you feel you are enabling, be quite clear on why you shouldn’t be doing it, and that there will come a time in the future where the accommodations won’t be made.
    Hope this helps!

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