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April 18, 2012

Charlize Theron Manages OCD and New Motherhood

News last month that Charlize Theron adopted a baby boy, combined with the star’s confirmation that she suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, has left many wondering how the actress is coping with life as a new mom.

“I have OCD, which is not fun,” she told an Australian radio show during a recent press tour. “I have to be incredibly tidy and organized or it messes with my mind and switches off on me.”

In another interview, Charlize candidly talks about her “…problem with cabinets being messy and people just shoving things in and closing the door. I will lie in bed and not be able to sleep because I’ll say to myself: ‘I think I saw something in that cabinet that just shouldn’t be there.’”

What Charlize describes is not uncommon for someone with OCD, an anxiety disorder that affects approximately 1 in 50 adults. Typical symptoms associated with OCD include intrusive or unwanted thoughts that evoke anxiety (obsessions); and behavioral or mental rituals performed to neutralize the anxiety (compulsions). At its root, the disorder is based on a fear of one’s thoughts, whether it is a fear of messiness, germs, or some other perceived danger. To relieve the anxiety produced by these fearful thoughts, someone with OCD may feel compelled to take certain actions, such as cleaning out their cabinets before going to sleep.

When it comes to parental OCD, limited research tells us that children being raised by an obsessive-compulsive parent may be more likely to experience social, emotional and behavioral disorders, though it is still unclear what specific genetic vs. environmental factors may be in play; children with an OCD parent are also more likely to become obsessive-compulsive themselves when they grow up.

We also know that parenthood can worsen OCD symptoms in adults, especially if the obsessions associated with OCD begin to focus on the child (i.e., health anxiety may lead an OCD parent to check and recheck a child at night to make sure he or she is still breathing). Worsening OCD symptoms in parents may also be the result of over-accommodation on the part of family members. In their quest to please their parent, for example, children may get up in the middle of the night with a mother or father to check locks on windows and doors or participate in unnecessary cleaning tasks. A major danger with this is that having a child act as a kind of helper or accomplice may give a parent enough of a mental “green light” to continue the behavior unchecked.

However, for Charlize and other moms who appear to have mild form of the disorder, there may be an upside to mixing OCD with parenthood. Ample anecdotal evidence shows that parenthood may lesson OCD symptoms in some adults, likely because the focus required by children diverts attention from obsessive-compulsive thoughts. Besides, what better way is there to come to grips with fears about germs or disorganization than by living with a messy toddler? The arrival of a new baby can also function as a motivator for OCD parents to finally reach out for treatment and the help they need to overcome obsessive-compulsive thought patterns.

As for Charlize, the new mom seems to be adjusting well to life with her adopted infant son, Jackson. “I think that by the journey I decided to go on, it’s evident that I really wanted to be a mom, so I’m just overjoyed and very happy that it worked out,” she told E! News.


Charlize Theron and 8 More Stars with OCD:–zI

Charlize Theron: ‘I have OCD, which is not fun’

Have we forgotten the children who have a parent with OCD?:
Accommodation and early intervention

He’s her little star: New mother Charlize Theron steps out with her son Jackson for the first time in public:

DSM IV Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Criteria:

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