One of the ways OCD keeps us stuck in rumination is to cause us to try and examine our emotions in an effort to check whether or not the intrusive thoughts have any validity. This is never a good idea because the moment we try to discern how we are feeling, the flow of our natural emotions becomes blocked by the effort we are making to try and muster up the desired feelings.
These are some of the ways I have attempted to measure or check my feelings while suffering with Pure O – OCD:
( Note: Before going on any further into this blog, it’s good to keep in mind that all forms of checking are part and parcel of the compulsive activity of OCD and only serve to reinforce the obsessional themes.)
1. While struggling with Religious OCD I would often try to discern whether or not I felt my faith. Sadly, this was a disheartening experience because all the effort I put into trying to feel my faith only caused me to feel even more anxious that I’d lost it.
2. When I was going through a period where I was obsessing about being clinically depressed and whether or not I would ever feel happy again, I remember trying to test my emotions in an attempt to gain reassurance that I wasn’t clinically depressed. One experiment that I did involved an attempt to try and discover whether or not I could laugh about something funny. I decided to watch one of my favorite comedians in order to see whether or not I still had the ability to laugh. About ten minutes into his performance I had to shut the TV off because I hadn’t been able to muster up even the tiniest chuckle. This only made matters worse because the fact that I hadn’t laughed seemed an ominous sign that I was in really bad shape mentally.
3. While struggling with Harm OCD I would often try to measure my feelings about my loved ones. I would go back over the past when those feelings had seemed to flow out naturally and compare them to how I was feeling at the time, while in the midst of experiencing all those horrid intrusive thoughts. Questions like: “Am I feeling love for my child, my grandchild, my spouse etc.” are a common experience for those of us who struggle with Pure O. But again, every effort we make to try and muster up or find evidence for these feelings will only be met with more uncertainty and fear because the frantic effort we put into this search blocks our ability to feel anything but fear.
4. Eventually all these differing forms of checking in regard to my emotional state started to cause me to be deeply concerned that I might be some kind of sociopath who was incapable of healthy/normal human emotions. I remember singing at the funeral of a neighbor and trying to discern if I was feeling normal grief and sadness. Again, all the effort I was putting into trying to check whether or not I actually felt sad blocked the natural flow of sadness and the only emotion I was left with was anxiety.
For a very long time I didn’t understand how all this navel gazing in regard to my emotions had a detrimental effect on my OCD. I didn’t even consider this type of thing to be a compulsion. Now I get it that ANY kind of checking or reassurance seeking about ANY obsessional theme only serves to reinforce it and gives it a measure of weight and validity that it doesn’t deserve. So I had to learn to stop checking my feelings and emotions.
Later on I read something from CS Lewis which served to reinforce this lesson. (This was in regard to looking inward for emotional validation in regard to faith.):
Lewis: “Yes, yes, I know. The moment one asks oneself ‘Do I believe?’ all belief seems to go. I think this is because one is trying to turn round and look at something which is there to be used and worked from – trying to take one’s eyes out instead of keeping them in the right place and seeing with them. I find that this happens about other matters as well as faith. In my experience only very robust pleasures will stand the question; ‘Am I enjoying this?’ Or attention – the moment I begin thinking about my attention (to a book or a lecture) I have ipso facto ceased attending. St Paul speaks of ‘Faith actualized in love’. And the heart is deceitful; you know better than I how very unreliable introspection is. I should be more alarmed about your progress if you wrote claiming to be overflowing with Faith, Hope and Charity.” (“The Collected Letters of CS Lewis”, Volume 2, Harper Collins, Page 983, “To Mrs. Lockley”, Sept. 1949 )
This quote demonstrates just how futile it is to try and examine or scrutinize whether faith is present or operative in our lives. But if you have OCD it’s even more detrimental to do so. Any attempt to check our emotions and feelings; to try and take them out and examine them, is actually a compulsion that we need turn away from. Just as soon as we ask any of the following questions: “Am I feeling my faith? Do I feel love for this person? Do I feel happy? Do I feel sad? etc., we will quickly discover that we won’t be able to feel the desired emotions which we think would provide certainty that all is most well.
Feelings are not meant to measure faith or truth. They are as fickle as the weather and they will not flourish in the way they are meant to when we try to scrutinize or force them. Doing so blunts and blocks them. I had to learn this the hard way and I often need reminding of it. This is the reason I chose this as the topic for my blog today. The person I’m preaching at the most when I write about these things is me. I pray that God will help me to practice what I preach.
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