I’ve thought about sharing some of the inaccurate and hurtful statements that those of us who suffer from OCD and anxiety disorders encounter from other Believers when we dare open up about our illness. But in doing so, I felt unsure it would make any impact.
I finally decided that the best way to do this would be in a constructive manner that could offer compassionate alternatives regarding how people respond to us. Yet, for other Believers to consider those alternatives, they would have to acknowledge that anxiety disorders are valid afflictions. Although I’m not covering the science and evidence for the validity of these disorders in this blog, I would ask the reader to view them as such because medical science says that they are.
What follows are examples of incorrect and harmful responses I’ve encountered and ways to change them so they would be helpful and offer comfort rather than judgment. Hopefully, this will cause the reader to rethink their responses to people who suffer from these afflictions and choose empathy and compassion rather than correction and judgment.
- After giving testimony in a church about my Panic Disorder and how God’s grace has been sufficient for my suffering, a person in the congregation was making light of it and mocking me directly after I finished. They did this in the church’s foyer.
“I’m having a panic attack! I’m having a panic attack!”
They shouted out mockingly.
This remark caused some other congregants to laugh in amusement.
Did this hurt my feelings? Yeah, it did. There is absolutely nothing funny about the experience of a panic attack. Laughing about panic attacks would be akin to laughing at someone so sick and in so much pain that they had to go to the ER. Panic attacks are distressing and terrifying experiences that create intense physical symptoms. The person who experiences them has zero control over when they might occur. They just come out of the blue, and it’s tough to move on after you have one because you never know when the next one will come. So if you know someone with Panic Disorder, the best way to show compassion is to acknowledge the severity of the distress the disorder causes. You can say, “I’m so sorry! That must feel horrid. How can I pray for you?” Don’t try to solve it for us. Just acknowledge our pain just as you might do for a friend who suffers from chronic migraines.
- “You think you have it rough; what about so and so? How would you like to be dealing with that illness?”
This kind of comment leaves me feeling like my disorder is no big deal, like nothing more than a hangnail. It also demonstrates that the person making the statement doesn’t understand that mental illnesses are painful and cause intense suffering. I don’t think it’s right to use the comparison of another disorder to try and diminish or trivialize the suffering from any disorder. A more helpful and compassionate response might be: “Although I don’t know what it’s like to suffer from a mental disorder, I can empathize with the fact that you are in pain. I’ll pray that God would provide a way for you to manage the pain of your illness.”
- “I know you said you have an anxiety disorder, so I thought this article on worry and what the Bible says about it might be helpful to you.”
When someone offers up Biblical correction as the answer to my disorder, two things happen. First, I get the impression that they suppose I haven’t read my Bible enough to know what it says about worry. Second, though I described my anxiety as stemming from a disorder, I realize they have chosen to believe it’s a spiritual problem rather than a disorder. That response pretty much shuts down any further communication because I feel I won’t be able to convince them otherwise. It would be far better and helpful if they would point me to encouraging scriptures that teach about God’s strength, grace and sufficiency for the experience of suffering because those are the kinds of scriptures that encourage the heart of anyone struggling with a painful affliction.
- “I’m just so surprised that you struggle with this! You appear to have it all together!
This remark makes me feel as though they suppose my disorder would make me act bizarrely.
“What? Were you expecting to see me swinging from a chandelier?”
A better response might be, “I had no idea you suffered from this. Can you share more about how it affects you so I can understand it better?
I could go on for pages describing the hurtful things people say to those of us with anxiety disorders, comments like:
“God hasn’t given you the spirit of fear, so this is demonic.”
“You are just cooperating with Satan!”
“Just take those thoughts captive, and you’ll be fine.”
“Your anxiety is due to a spirit of anger and unforgiveness.”
“Using those psychotropic drugs just means you don’t trust God.”
And although I am quite capable of correcting these errant comments, I grow weary of having to prove that my affliction is legitimate.
I shouldn’t have to do that, and neither should anyone else who is afflicted with these disorders.
When does anyone have to prove that suffering isn’t their fault when mentioning their illness?
You might not understand what it’s like to suffer from Panic Disorder, OCD, Social Anxiety disorder, or PTSD, and that’s fine. But don’t take that lack of understanding and use it to admonish the afflicted.
If you want to understand, ask questions. If you don’t want to understand, then keep your assumptions to yourself. It’s better to do that than to try and fix something you don’t understand.