This statement is something that is often said to those of us with OCD by a close friend or family member if we happen to open up about one of our obsessional themes. And, to be honest, most of the time we already know that the thing we are worried or obsessed with isn’t really a true/valid concern. But knowing and feeling are two separate things. Knowing has to do with using information, reason and logic and feeling has to do with our emotional responses.
In OCD our logic and reasoning aren’t broken. Those things aren’t the things that need to be fixed or corrected. And, that is why you can speak the truth of a matter to us, reassure us, or even show us some evidence that the thing we are obsessed about isn’t really a big deal and yet, not make one inch of progress toward helping us let go of the obsession. All you are doing, most of the time is telling us things we already know; things we’ve already checked out, as driven by our need for absolute certainty.
The experience of living with OCD means continually living with an intense and foreboding anxious feeling that has attached itself to an intrusive thought, doubt or question. Living with OCD means living with a brain that is already overly prepared to misfire and go directly into fight or flight mode over those type of things which others can just easily brush off and turn away from in a matter of a few seconds once they label them as invalid or nonsensical.
Basically, in OCD our faulty emotional response trumps our logic. That faulty emotional response is actually a misfiring in that part of the brain which is responsible for fight or flight. We aren’t choosing for this to happen or causing it to happen because the fight or flight response is an automatic, instinctual action of the brain which is supposed to be there to help us in real/valid emergencies. The fight or flight response is an extremely compelling feeling. It must be like that because if it weren’t then, we wouldn’t take any safety seeking action in the event of a real emergency.
So, any effort to “set us straight” so to speak about our obsessional theme does absolutely nothing to alleviate our suffering. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect in that it keeps our brain fixated on the topic of our obsession. It helps to reinforce the compulsive side of our disorder which involves things like continual checking and reassurance seeking as we attempt to quell the anxiety response.
When a person with OCD keeps revisiting information that they think will settle the matter and calm the anxiety response this only serves to keep the obsessional theme front and center in the consciousness. Then, due to that, the person will feel even more of a need to attend to it as it begins to haunt their every waking minute. This completes the cycle of the disorder which goes something like this: Intrusive thought/doubt/question, anxiety response, compulsive attending, momentary relief, more intrusive thoughts/doubts/questions, more anxiety, more compulsive attending…and on and on it goes. And, as this cycle continues it creates a worn and well-traveled path in the brain as the obsessional theme begins to grow larger and more threatening because of the attention that is being given to it.
So, if you know someone who has OCD and you’ve thought that they need you to fix their thinking processes, they don’t. What they really need from you is compassion and understanding for how horrid the disorder makes them feel. What they need is for you to say something like:
“I’m so sorry you are feeling this intense emotional pain from your OCD, and I will pray that you can get the help you need to minimize the pain of your disorder.”
We really aren’t crazy or ill-informed. We just have a disorder which causes misfiring in the anxiety center of our brain. There are helps available for us which come in the form of medication and therapies which are designed to retrain or habituate our brain to each of our obsessional themes, so that it will eventually stop overreacting to them. But, unless you’ve taken a course on how to manage OCD you aren’t going to know how to help us employ those things. And, let’s just be honest about this, if you really believed that our disorder was a real affliction you probably wouldn’t try to take on the role of a physician. Yes, OCD sufferers need the help and counsel of trained professionals!
But now, having said all of this, one very helpful thing you can do is to acknowledge our disorder as being a valid affliction. You can show empathy and compassion and pray for our recovery just as you would for any other person suffering from any other affliction. And we would be so grateful for you to do those things, more than you could ever imagine!!
That’s why we don’t tell too many people – because of that response!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yep…totally get that. Even when you say, “my OCD, or my anxiety disorder”, they still come back at you with logical counter statements and in one case someone actually went home and printed out a sermon on “worry” and handed it me the next Sunday expecting that this would “fix” me.
LikeLiked by 1 person
In your opinion, can OCD, or maybe the ensuing brain “habits” of thinking certain thoughts or feeling certain ways brought on by religious OCD cause someone to have negative feelings or impulses about God? I’m not necessarily talking about blasphemous thoughts, although I’ve experienced those as well. I have regular experiences that are very disconcerting and unsettling because they’re more of a vague impression or feeling and I can’t clearly identify a specific wrong thought. The fact that the feelings arise almost automatically at times makes me worry even more about my salvation. I think “how could a true Christian think these things or have these responses to Jesus or the things of God?” This sounds silly, but I might see a cross or a nativity scene or a fish on someone’s car, I might hear someone say “praise the Lord” or talk about how God deserves all the glory, and I’ll have a momentary flash of negative mental push-back related to that idea or belief. That’s probably the best way I can describe it, because I really believe it’s not reflecting my true beliefs (although it’s very hard to distinguish sometimes when the thoughts are bubbling just under the surface all the time). I’ve heard people relate how an avoidance tactic is used to the point where they stay away from church and time with God for fear of triggering some negative thought. That strikes me as a fearful, untrusting reaction and I won’t go there myself (I want to draw close to God and be rid of these horrid thoughts and feelings), but I would like your input. I’ve read quite a bit of your writings and others similar, and I’ve definitely concluded that negative or unbelieving thoughts can be at least partly caused by a malfunctioning brain, but I’ve not really seen any mention of someone going through the same experience as what I described (the unwanted negative impulses or feelings about God or Jesus). Even prior to manifestations of OCD, I’ve had struggles with assurance for years, so this definitely isn’t helping. Can you relate to my quandary at all? Have you experienced these same types of thoughts or reactions? If so, how did you deal with them in a helpful, biblical way?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Matt, Yes, everything you wrote smacks of OCD and my experience was similar. With this kind of OCD the main or root fear or obsessional theme is doubt surrounding our position in Christ…ie. “is my faith still locked.? Then, because this is continually in our consciousness our brain will do something called automatic creative associations. In other words everything that a person who wasn’t a Believer might say or think will be the things our brain generates. These thoughts are ego-dystonic and in no way reflect our true character or the desires of our heart. They are intrusive and unwanted. We fear going against our Lord so our brain very easily generates thoughts which line up with the fear.
As far as managing this from a Biblical perspective I only approach my OCD within the context of it being a painful affliction for which God’s grace is sufficient and understand that God has a purpose in it. I pray for Him to guide me to the correct treatment and management for the disorder, which He has done.
In OCD attending to these kinds of thoughts such as feeling the need to make opposing mental statements or to refute them with Scripture or battle against them in any way, only serves to give them weight and credence and keeps the brain stuck on topic. They feel very scary and the compulsion is to somehow try to undo them or to get rid of them. But the harder you push back the more they pop up. So…you have to learn to allow them w/o responding to them and E.R.P. teaches us how to do that. All OCD thoughts grow larger, more insistent and more frequent when we give them attention. So, though it seems that we should fight them because they are the opposite of our true faith we have to approach them within the context of OCD and treat them as invalid and not worthy of our time and attention. Otherwise our brain will stay stuck and continue to throw out more and more creative associations. It takes time to habituate the brain to the presence of the thoughts so that it doesn’t send out that fearful adrenaline response. OCD is a disorder. It is not a spiritual problem. But, just like all afflictions it provides an opportunity for us to lean more fully on God’s grace and strength for our weakness. Hope this helps some. Learn all you can about E.R.P. All OCD themes are helped by it no matter what the topic. Blessings!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I just want to say I read your comment- MATT92- and I have had the exact same experience as you with negative feelings toward God- even though I do not want those negative feelings because I truly do want to follow God. I have pure “O” OCD. I have struggled for many years of my life with the assurance of my salvation due to OCD but I didn’t really understand that was the cause until I found a video from Mitzi explaining her struggles with religious OCD ( I can’t thank you enough Mitzi for sharing your story and providing a platform for others so they don’t feel alone in this struggle!). For such a long time I had felt like I was the only one going through this but it’s been people like you sharing their struggles that have shown me that I am not alone. It is so hard to not listen and address those feelings because they can be so strong but applying the treatment is the only way to get out of the pit that the OCD tries so hard to get you to stay in.
Hi Mitzi, glad I found your blog.