“Say good-night mommy, say good-night,” pleaded Johnny every night. It wasn’t as if he had not already read several books, been tucked in, and kissed good night. Johnny’s pleas continued every night.
After the third or fourth nagging requests, she would get irritated and say, “I am done! This is the last one. Good night!” Johnny would cry and ask for more “good nights.”
Mom didn’t know it at the time, but she was reinforcing Johnny’s need for reassurance. One “goodnight” was not enough, but neither were ten.
Ritualized hand-washing or other grooming compulsions were absent. There didn’t seem to be any checking compulsions. If there had been, Johnny’s parents probably would have sought professional help sooner than they did. They only noticed his “neatness habits” were getting in the way of completing his math homework in a timely manner. He would erase the numbers several times until they felt just right.
Sometimes, too, he would get into arguments with his siblings and he always wanted the last word. He felt the desperate need to be “right.” Temper tantrums occurred and his parents attributed them to his stubborn personality. There were occasions when he would ask a lot of questions, and his parents would reassure him — unwittingly reinforcing his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Little signs popped up as Johnny grew up. His parents worried at times, but those would dissipate as they noticed all of Johnny’s positive behaviors. He was a straight-A student. He not only showed self-discipline but also self-motivation to excel in school. He enjoyed Little League soccer, baseball, basketball, and other activities.
Then, Johnny became depressed. His mental obsessions and compulsions had finally taken hold, and his parents found professional help. Johnny had been suffering in silence for years. He was too embarrassed to tell his parents what was really going on in his head. He had kept his ordeal a secret. He didn’t want his parents, siblings, or other relatives to think he was “crazy,” even though he really did feel like he was going crazy. The anxiety-inducing thoughts would not go away. The more he tried to stop them, the stronger they became.
So why didn’t Johnny’s parents do something before he got depressed? Were they careless, uneducated, and unaware? The answer to these questions is important.