Harm OCD Made Me a Pushover Parent

Harm OCD Made Me a Pushover Parent

by Natalia Aíza

--Trigger Warning - Suicide Discussion --

My OCD tells me that I am a bad mom. Sometimes the self-doubt actually paralyzes me. Or, the self-doubt has me scrambling to do too much. I will replay my children’s childhoods scanning for the unhealable mistakes that I potentially made with my four children. I was hopelessly over my head when my first son was born and my OCD knew it. Now the self-doubt noise has largely died down, and I have learned to ignore the intrusive thoughts that I am harming my children. Ironically, I now train parents at my OCD center. Somehow, I even have the confidence to write a parenting book.

My fear of being a bad mom actually started when I was still a child. I knew something was seriously wrong with my mother. She was an angry recluse, raising me alone in a broken down duplex in downtown Milwaukee. I was paralyzed with fear that she was dangerous and broken, and by extension, so was I.

Some forms of OCD revolve around a deep fear of going crazy. I saw my mother turn literally psychotic with anger and I started to have intrusive thoughts, “What if that happens to me too?”

OCD always starts with a kernel of truth and builds your doubt prison from there.

As I struggled to modulate my fears of being a bad mom, I have found myself over-indulging my own children. My OCD made me work so hard to never be angry. Along the way, I forgot how to be stern. Ironically, my parenting book is all about empowering parents to be firmer with their anxious children. I myself have felt helpless and weak in the face of my children’s dysregulation, mostly because I long so badly to be emotionally “perfect” even in a messy interaction.

I believe I would have been an obsessive, frightened parent regardless of my experiences as an adult. However, my OCD hooked on to something even more dramatic than my own childhood to amplify my fears. A year before I gave birth to my first child, I heard a thud outside my apartment. A mother and baby died by murder-suicide.

I believe that proximity to this incident was the small trauma that fed the harm OCD. My experience of my own mother’s mental illness nourished the fear. I could never shake the terrifying intrusive thoughts of throwing, jumping with, or otherwise harming my children.

I felt a compulsive desire to confess these sinful thoughts, and worried that I had a type of postpartum depression that had fundamentally changed my character.

I searched for touchstones of good mothering to ground my belief in myself, but my OCD brain kept darting back to my mother and my neighbor. I developed a core belief that I was destined to be a harmful mother.

I now believe that my constant rumination about my childhood abuse and my neighbor’s murder-suicide created false memories that amplified these traumas.

A critical moment in my healing came when I attended my first ADAA conference as a practicing therapist. The universality of my harm OCD was laid bare. I learned through these trainings that anxiety disorders create a fiction in your mind that you feel is reality. I realized that I was taking my intrusive thoughts way too seriously. Clearly, I was trying to ruminate my way out of fear. Both as a therapist and as an experiencer of OCD, I finally saw that I need to lean into the distress and accept the fear. And on top of that, I-CBT and ERP were the most effective modalities to help with my OCD. 

I now know that my mother had OCD (it is quite genetic!). I hope that part of her abuse stemmed from her struggle with perfection and cultural belief that punishing me physically would help her achieve the perfect daughter.

However, my mom’s errors did not need to be my lifelong prison.

Three of my children experience OCD symptoms (again, genetics!). With their anxiety, I need to be stern and give clear boundaries. In the absence of strong parenting, OCD flourishes like a weed. My OCD made me compliant and passive as a mom, because that felt “nicer.” I was a world-class enabler of bad behavior.

What I lack in parenting skills, I make up for in the perspective gained by overseeing well over a thousand pediatric OCD cases at my Anxiety Center. While I still struggle with my personal implementation of parenting changes, I feel compelled to write for and train all the parents who are overwhelmed by OCD hijacking their families. I hope that by facing my fears I will continue to grow, and break this generational cycle.

I wanted to share my story with ADAA because as a practicing therapist who attends their conferences, I am very grateful for ADAA and I believe they have some of the best post-graduate education for therapists out there.

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