Hope for Christians with OCD

Christians with intrusive thoughts

Christians with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be especially alarmed by intrusive thoughts involving aggressive, sexual, or religious themes. Various teachings convey that thoughts are important and mean something. For example, Proverbs 4:23 and Matthew 12:34 speak of thoughts and behaviors originating in the heart, and other verses imply that thinking a thought is as bad as committing the action (e.g., Matthew 5:21-22 for anger and wrath). murder; Matthew 5:27-28 for lust and adultery). This may encourage efforts to suppress and control thoughts (e.g., see Abramowitz et al., 2004).

Christians with OCD may begin to wonder, “What does it mean? mean About me, that I am having this thought? and you may wonder if he is secretly, deep down, a pedophile, a murderer or a monster.

Conscientiousness OCD

Scrupulosity OCD is excessive fear or doubt involving religious or moral content, and should not be confused with normative religious practices. Common themes include fearing whether one is doing the right thing, committing a sin, or going to hell. People with conscientiousness may be tormented by these doubts and may begin to engage in behaviors that seek to restore their (perceived) standing before God or alleviate distress. Common compulsions are avoiding situations that trigger OCD (e.g., attending church, reading the Bible), checking to see if a sin has been committed or asking for forgiveness repeatedly, or seeking reassurance from pastors or other supports.

What makes OCD worse?

People with OCD become anxious about intrusive thoughts due to an implicit belief in the importance of the thoughts. The individual adopts anxious behavior (the compulsion) to avoid feeling anxious and relieve distress quickly. This produces momentary relief and a feeling that they are okay. However, that “certainty” never lasts long and doubt reappears. Fear-based beliefs are reinforced and the next time the intrusions and anxiety return with greater force.

This cycle of OCD can greatly hinder the Christian person’s life of faith. They may begin to avoid involvement in important areas of their lives, or OCD may hijack their implementation of faith so that it is no longer a source of strength and comfort but of feelings of enslavement.

However, the very act of avoiding uncomfortable feelings is what causes these symptoms to grow even more. This is what makes OCD worse.

The goal of treatment is to free oneself from the cycles that keep the person trapped so that they can experience the benefits of faith more fully.

Are Christians more likely to suffer from OCD?

The short answer is no.

To be more technical, research shows that religious people in general are not more likely to have OCD and that no particular religious group is more associated with OCD (Siev et al., 2017, Steketee et al., 1991). In other words, Christians are not more likely to have OCD.

However, how religious one is can influence the appearance of OCD. There may be more religious or conscientious themes in symptom presentation (Siev et al., 2017), and the severity of conscientiousness may be affected in certain groups (see Buchholz et al., 2019; Witzig Jr. & Pollard, 2013 ).

Are intrusive thoughts sins?

Everyone has strange and random thoughts; We cannot control them. However, people with OCD think it means something and get alarmed, so they stay stuck there.

By definition, intrusive thoughts are selfish.distonic, or inconsistent with who you are, therefore distressing. Sins are usually consistent with our desires. If you are not enjoying a thought, or your intention in deliberately addressing a fear is to overcome it and get your life back, then you are probably not sinning.

It will be clearer if in fact did something wrong. When there is doubt, that can be an indicator of OCD.

Does God forgive the intrusive thoughts of OCD?

While I cannot speak for God, if we continue with the above logic, where there is no sin, then there is nothing to forgive.

God approaches people from a place of grace, mercy, and love. He is omniscient and knows what you are going through. Even when we are wrong, God tends to be much more forgiving of us than we are of ourselves.

I wonder if we can borrow some of that compassion.

Treatment for Christians with OCD

It is important to work with a professional experienced in treating OCD using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), although there have been additional approaches supported by research. Without a properly trained doctor, symptoms could worsen without realizing it.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Tip #1

Instead of thinking about the meaning of the intrusive thought and what it says about you, consider what your reaction to thought means.

If you are repulsed by the thought or image, wouldn’t that be evidence that you are not what you fear (i.e., egodystonic)? It’s not really who you are.

Remember the truths, like what you know the Bible says about the nature of God or about you, and live that. Act on your beliefs – feelings will catch up.

Tip #2

Don’t let number 1 become a compulsion! Acknowledge the reality of who you are and remember the Truths, then move forward.

If you notice that you have to say this every time to feel good, it has become a compulsion. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to achieve complete certainty. You will never get it; OCD won’t let you.

But that’s no reason to let it limit your life. Don’t let him win. There will always be unknowns in life and we have to learn to live with them.

Tip #3

Don’t make decisions based on fear and avoidance. Rather, see what is most important to you and act accordingly. Through the fear. That’s courage.

What do you value? What gives you a sense of meaning and purpose? What makes your life full?

If your family is both a source of OCD fears and It is important that you are present with your family, approach them instead of avoiding them. Be present with them, re-engage and appreciate their smiles and laughter, and do the things you fear. Don’t let OCD rule you.

Waiting until you feel better to do what you want will lead to a very small and unfulfilling life.

…But no one said you have to eliminate uncomfortable feelings before recommitting to life.


This publication is brought to you in collaboration with the ADAA OCD and Related Disorders SIG.Learn more about GIS.


References:

  • Abramowitz, J.S., Deacon, B.J., Woods, C.M., & Tolin, D.F. (2004). Association between Protestant religiosity and obsessive-compulsive symptoms and cognitions. Depression and Anxiety, 20(2), 70–76. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20021
  • Buchholz, J.L., Abramowitz, J.S., Riemann, B.C., Reuman, L., Blakey, S.M., Leonard, R.C., and Thompson, K.A. (2019). Conscientiousness, religious affiliation, and symptom presentation in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 47(4), 478–492. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352465818000711
  • Siev, J., Huppert, J.D., and Zuckerman, S.E. (2017). Understanding and treating conscientiousness. In The Wiley handbook of obsessive-compulsive disorders (pp. 527–546). John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118890233.ch29
  • Steketee, G., Quay, S., & White, K. (1991). Religion and guilt in patients with OCD. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 5(4), 359–367. https://doi.org/10.1016/0887-6185(91)90035-R
  • Witzig Jr, T. and Pollard, C. (2013). Obsessive beliefs, religious beliefs, and conscientiousness among fundamental Protestant Christians. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 2(3), 331–337. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jocrd.2013.06.002

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