Avoidance Compulsions

Avoidance behaviors can be difficult for the child with OCD and his parents to understand and manage. That's because your child's avoidance fears often concern “bad thoughts” about “bad things,” which he may think about doing but would likely never do. Here is how Jennifer Traig explained her dilemma as a teenager dogged by “bad thoughts” that caused her avoidance compulsion in her memoir, Devil in the Details.

In real life we are meek and law-abiding, but in our minds we are murderous sex fiends. Most obsessive-compulsives fear they are going to stab a loved one. [As a result] most of us can't stand to be around knives at all.

For a preteen or teenager with OCD, in addition to having fears of violent urges, his maturing body and developing sexuality will often provoke avoidance obsessions regarding inappropriate sex. These images of inappropriate sex may be both heterosexual and homosexual in nature, regardless of the teenager's sexual orientation. This obsessive fear can make him believe he'll be unable to stop himself from touching others inappropriately in public — causing him to avoid leaving his house. In some cases, any inkling of sexual arousal can scare an adolescent with this obsession to the point where he imagines the worst, seeing himself as a potential rapist. In another example of an avoidance compulsion, he may stay away from school dances and gymnasiums “just to be sure” he doesn't act out these “bad thoughts.” Parents should realize that this type of OCD behavior is not uncommon.

Here is Deborah's poignant story about the special difficulty she faced when dealing with this OCD symptom in her fourteen-year-old son, Brian.

Brian says there's a voice in his head telling him to do “bad” things to others. He told me he was trying hard to fight back against it, but that it was hard. When I noticed how anxious he seemed yesterday, I asked how he was doing with it. That's when he admitted he was having “kill” thoughts, and they were about me. I know he doesn't mean it, and he can't help it. He even knows it's not real; it's the OCD talking. But hearing him say it was like my heart was being torn out.

However upsetting and scary it is for you as a parent to hear about such hurtful things, imagine how much more difficult it would be for your child to actually experience such thoughts! The important thing to remember is that the child or teenager having these fears and going to great lengths to avoid any situations that might trigger these thoughts would no sooner commit the deeds than you would yourself. If he shares a violent or sexual fear with you, do your best not to react with alarm. Then you keep the lines of communication open between the two of you and avoid making him feel any more isolated than he already does.

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