Help! My sibling is OC, part 2
Last week, we advised a reader caught in a family business conflict: He and three other siblings are professionals and they pay for the household and medical bills of their parents.
Another sibling is unemployed but helps the mother with chores, while the eldest brother X works in the family retail business. However, he is not productive because of his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The father, who recently had a stroke, continues to put his money (and that of the working siblings) into the failing business, while X constantly blames his working siblings for not helping out.
A family business has to be financially viable, so I told the reader: Continue paying household and medical bills, but be firm with your parents. You pay the bills, so you should have a big say. Your father has to stop putting money in a losing enterprise. Now, how can you deal with X?
Start by trying to understand X.
You say, “X, in his 50s, has OCD. He cannot do anything without repetition (e.g., one hour to wash dishes). He cannot finish basic tasks, he sleeps very late, he is exhausted. The business perpetuates X’s OCD. X counts items, like nuts and bolts, even newspaper pages, again and again until early morning. My mother confronts him, but he shouts at her, telling her to mind her own business. It’s like an addiction.”
X is not an addict, but he is compulsive. Compulsions are rituals repeated for no conscious reason. However, the sufferer (X) feels great anxiety if they are not done. Compulsions are often a way to deal with obsessions (repeated thoughts that occur even if the sufferer tries to block them).
An example of an obsession: You don’t understand why X keeps blaming you working siblings for not helping out, even if you pay the bills. This is an obsessive thought, without rational or realistic basis. You are hurt by X’s behavior, but try not to take it personally. After all, he is not well.
OCD is an anxiety disorder, and should be treated as such. X has a lot to be anxious about: the failing business, his role in society, his deteriorating health, his poor relationship with his family.
Deep down, whether X realizes it, he is extremely anxious about his sense of self. He is the eldest, yet instead of providing for everyone, he is at the mercy of younger siblings. He is supposed to carry on the family business, but he cannot do so. He may not only have OCD, but depression and paranoia as well. (People with OCD often have other disorders.)
Trying to cope
You say, “X wants to prop up the business only to show his friends he is doing something with his life, when actually, he is just living out of our generosity. He tries to get sympathy from friends by saying he is the only one doing everything for our family’s sake and suffering health problems as a consequence.”
What else can X do? With a poor sense of self, he has to prop up his self-esteem, and copes by playing the martyr and eliciting sympathy from friends. You have every right to be irritated, but again, X is not healthy.
Of course X blames you! If not, then he has to face the fact that he has no one to blame but himself. But self-blame is extremely threatening and scary, something X tries not to think about—that is why he developed the compulsions. Counting nuts and bolts and pages is not crazy (however weird it appears); rather, it is the act of someone desperately trying to cope with life.
You say, “We implored X to get employed elsewhere, but he refuses, saying he doesn’t know what to do next when there is no business for him to manage. In our mind, he can just stay home and take care of our parents, make himself useful for a change.”
X is desperately trying to hang on to whatever control he has left (over his life, his business, his friendships). Continuing a failing business is one of the few things left that he can control.
If he shuts down the business, then he has nothing left. Sadly, taking care of ailing parents does not count; this will not increase his self-esteem.
But the business cannot continue just for his sake. Get help now. Tell X you are concerned. Tell him you love him. Give him no choice. Consult a psychiatrist (for medication) and a clinical psychologist (for therapy). I prefer cognitive-behavioral methods, but discuss various options with doctors. I work with various psychologists; for ethical reasons, I cannot endorse one over the other. Call the known hospitals and ask for referrals. God bless you and your family.
Tune in next Friday as we look at family businesses in Iloilo.
(Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (tel. 4266001 loc 4613, e-mail [email protected]) E-mail the author at [email protected])
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