Religious OCD: Why can’t I Feel my Faith?

How Religious OCD makes much of our emotions and/or lack thereof:

The subject of feelings and emotions as it relates to Religious OCD is a frequent topic among sufferers.

I remember how my OCD made much of my fearful emotions and also how it made much of the lack of what I thought were the appropriate emotions –  emotions that I felt I should be having.

Firstly, that “zero to ten in a heartbeat” fear that accompanied the intrusive thoughts of this form of OCD made them seem intensely urgent.  Then, as time went on and I was really struggling to gain a feeling of certainty about my faith and standing with Christ, I began to fixate on whether or not I really felt my faith.  Then, shortly after that, I began to experience a complete lack emotion toward God, which made me feel as though I might not really love Him.  Every bit of this led to a lot of internal rumination along these lines:

 “I’m terrified!  What if this means that God is warning me that I’m not really a Christian?  I’m not sure I really feel my faith.  How can I find out if I really have it?  How do I know that I really believe?  What proof can I find to settle this?  Everyone else seems to be so in love with Christ. They seem to be feeling so much joy and comfort in their relationship with Him.  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I feel my faith? Do I love Christ?  How can I know that I love Him?  I haven’t felt the comfort of His presence or the joy of my salvation for such a long time? Maybe this means that I don’t really love Him?” 

Every one of these distressing doubts and questions pushed me farther and farther into the quicksand of OCD because the more you struggle against or counter these kinds of statements, the more mired you become in the quicksand of OCD.  That’s the nature of the beast:  Engage with its doubts and questions and be swallowed alive or refuse to attend and break free.

As I began to learn about OCD, I was finally able to understand how all that frantic rumination made it impossible for me to experience the natural flow of emotions that I’d felt in my past concerning my relationship to Christ.  As it turns out, my brain was far too busy trying to figure out, sort out, muster up and seek reassurance about this lack of feeling.  It was so preoccupied with obsessing about it that it became impossible for any emotion to flow out naturally other than the emotion of intense fear.

I suppose you could compare this experience to that moment when you can’t think of a word and you begin to work very hard at trying to remember it.  Then, the harder you work to remember it, the more elusive the word becomes.  It’s only when you finally just let go of it and move on to something else that your brain eventually floats the word up into your consciousness.  When you stopped all the mental gymnastics, your brain finally had an opportunity to remember the word.

Or, it’s like sleep:  The harder you work at trying to sleep the more alert and awake you become.  The mental activity of fretting about not being asleep is the very thing that’s keeping you awake.  At other times, when you are completely relaxed and yet feeling ambivalent about sleep, sleep will often just naturally overtake you.

But, getting back to this distressing lack of feeling which often occurs when we are suffering from Religious OCD: Firstly, is there anything we can do in the meantime while we’re working on recovery to demonstrate our love for God?  And secondly, which is of greater value: Feeling love for God or demonstrating love for God through our actions?

The answer to the first question is most definitely a resounding yes as God has given us some great instruction regarding how we can  actively love Him.  But before I get into that, I want to share a little illustration of how love can grow even when we aren’t really inclined toward it.

When I was a little girl, I had a cat named Cocoa.  Cocoa was my cat.  I’m the one who picked him out of a litter of kittens on my tenth birthday.  I’m the one who took care of him.  I’m the one who played with him and he rewarded me by keeping me company as he slept curled up on the pillow next to me on most nights.  I really loved that cat!  So, when he got sick and died I was as devastated as any little girl could be.  And, when my parents decided that the best thing for all of us to move past our grief would be to get another cat, I rebelled at the notion.  When they brought the new kitten home, I was determined not to have a thing to do with him because no cat could replace my Cocoa and I felt that it would be disloyal to Cocoa for me to show an interest in the new kitten.

I tried very hard not to love that kitten, but as the weeks wore on, I fell prey to his charms and soon I was petting him, playing with him, combing his fur and feeding him. I hadn’t intended to fall in love with him but in acting loving toward him I did just that and many years later when he died, I realized that I loved him as much if not more than I did Cocoa.

The point I’m making here is that love is an actionable word in the same way that faith is.  Love is about acting loving toward someone and faith is about being faithful.  And, there is nothing about OCD that stops us from loving God.  OCD can only make us feel afraid.  It can never rob us of choosing to love Christ.

Whenever someone with OCD tells me that they are afraid that they might not love God I will typically ask them if they have a desire to follow and obey Him.  And one hundred percent of the time they will answer with a resounding “YES!”  I will then tell them to just go ahead and walk in love toward God because in doing so, they are demonstrating their love for God.  And, as they practice and follow after love and quit trying to muster up the feeling of love, their emotions will eventually catch up with their actions.  This won’t happen immediately and they must work hard to stop all that frantic rumination which only increases the fear. They will need to be willing to let go of the need for emotional validation and certainty because the longer and harder they search for it the more stuck they’ll get in this obsessional theme.

As far as answering the second question, I think we can draw upon our own experiences regarding the the value of some gushy emotional declaration of love versus the demonstration of love through actions.   It’s meaningless for someone to give you a big warm bear hug and tell you that they love you if, after that, they aren’t able to show patience, kindness, longsuffering and selflessness toward you.   It’s also meaningless if, after that, they go on to behave in a selfish or jealous manner or to demean and betray you.

In the same way, God expects our love to be that of service, obedience, honor, and allegiance.  He doesn’t say “if you love me then feel it.”  He says things like: “If you love me keep my commandments” and “feed my sheep” and “offer the sacrifices of righteousness.”  These are all actionable expressions of love.

OCD likes to keep us preoccupied with painful rumination which can really interfere with living life on so many levels.  And, as regards Religious OCD it would rather we spend hours and hours ruminating about the reality of our love relationship with Christ than to see us living it out.

The choice is obvious, not easy, but obvious: When Religious OCD threatens in this way, the best method for us to put it in its place is to ignore its threats, no matter how anxious that makes us feel.   We must refuse to engage with them – refuse to attend to them and then just keep on loving God through our actions,  remembering that when we have OCD, we cannot rely on our emotions to define or discover truth.

To read more about my experiences with Religious OCD check out my book  “Strivings Within – The OCD Christian”  at: http://amzn.com/1517678447

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9 thoughts on “Religious OCD: Why can’t I Feel my Faith?

  1. 1lovehim1 March 15, 2016 / 3:26 am

    Wow!!! Mitzi I am so glad I stumbled upon your book, by divine appointment, and your blog! I thought I was one of the only ones in the world who was going through this. From January 2015 to this past February 7th, 2016, I went through the worst year of my life, hell on earth. Thanks to the Lord, I am no longer obsessing!! I began taking Inositol in 18 gram doses daily, and have been eating healthy and staying away from sugar and caffeine. I believe the Inositol has been key in healing my brain. I give Jesus all the credit. I found your book a few weeks ago and could not believe what I was reading! Especially your chapters on Towering Terror and Strivings Within.

    After being a born again Christian for 30 years, and loving my Lord, I began getting into some strange thinking that began because of a series of stressful events in my life (empty nest and empty town—kids had moved far away from us) and going through menopause. I became very anxious and then I took the bait of thoughts questioning my relationship with the Lord Jesus. It was as if my faith went out the window and I couldn’t get it back again.

    I married a godly man and we raised our 2 children to love the Lord, they are both saved and so are their spouses. Our whole family is born again, and yet, here I was taking the bait and wondering if I was even saved to begin with. I kept thinking that I had to constantly be in a state of mind that I knew I was saved, and I couldn’t do that because I kept doubting. I thought to myself that if I wasn’t really saved, that I needed to get saved, and so I would pray and ask the Lord into my life, 5 minutes later I would doubt and then get very frightened. I became very afraid of Jesus, because of what I was doing—asking Him into my life to save me, and then doubting it shortly thereafter. This became a pattern that I was trapped in and I would keep asking Him to forgive me, yet I kept doing this over and over. I figured God was really getting very angry with me and I felt condemned because I wasn’t believing. I felt the way you did when reading my bible, going to church or listening to worship music, which used to be my whole life!!! I kept trying to convince myself that I was already saved years ago and drumming up that evidence in my mind. I kept asking my family for reassurance of my salvation.

    My husband, who is in the natural healthcare profession kept telling me that this was a physical problem, not a spiritual one, but I couldn’t believe him, I figured that it was my thoughts and I just needed to stop them, but yet I couldn’t. I tried and tried and tried to stop thinking this way with all my might. Every day it was a constant battle all day long. I called ministries like the 700 club countless times, I called several pastors and Christian counselors and told them I was troubled about my relationship with Jesus and tried to explain what was happening. At one point, we even went to Dr. Amen’s clinic (the brain specialist who has been on PBS) and had a brain scan done.

    I was on 3 different psychiatric drugs for this, which I believe made things worse. I had been on antidepressants for 15 years previous, and my brain was no longer responding to them, but making my brain worse. At the lowest point, I was suicidal and hospitalized. Somehow, I kept my job and kept working during this time.

    All this time, God’s grace was abounding and He ended up bringing my whole family back together in our house. Both of our kids got into financial difficulties and had to move back home with their spouses! And our first 2 grandchildren were born during this time and living with us in our home!! At one point the Lord impressed my daughter to come be with me and she told me that the Lord told her that He understands what I am going through. And yet, while He was lovingly doing all this, I was scared (more like terrified) of Him and trying to convince myself that He loved me! It was the worst hell I have ever been through! I thank God that the Lord Jesus has healed me!!

    I am very sorry you went through what you did, but I am very thankful for the way God has used you to help others in the body of Christ. Thank you for being an advocate for us, and thank you for being such an encouragement. I thank God for you! Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • ocdmitzi77 March 16, 2016 / 4:10 pm

      Thank you so much for expressing how my story and book has encouraged you! It’s not uncommon to have difficulty finding the right meds. or natural supplements which can be the most beneficial. I’m thankful that you didn’t give up and that God led you to something that is finally working. I use some natural supplementation also and have heard good things from some others about Inositol. So glad it’s providing some relief for you.
      It’s key to understand that when you have these disorders that big life changes, hormonal shifts and major life stress can and often do bring about a flare. It’s important to use all the tools in our arsenal to manage the disorder and it sounds like you’re really on top of that.
      If you ever feel inclined to leave a short review for the book on Amazon that would go a long way toward getting the word out so that others who may need to know they aren’t alone might consider reading it. You can do this anonymously so as to protect your privacy.
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I relate to quite a lot of it. God Bless!!

      Like

    • Rebecca March 18, 2016 / 1:53 pm

      How did you come through it, what steps did you take to get to the point you are now? How long have you been recovered? My 18 yr old son has OCD & is currently suffering with Religious OCD. Trying to find him help.

      Like

      • ocdmitzi77 March 20, 2016 / 11:56 am

        Hi Rebecca, I’m so sorry to hear that he’s going through this. It’s a very painful OCD theme. I was able to press through it by applying Exposure and Response Prevention to the thoughts. This is very difficult to do. The more you love Christ, the harder it is, but it’s very effective. I wrote a book about my experiences with OCD from a Christian perspective. I wrote it so others could know they aren’t alone in their struggles and also know that there’s hope and help. I think your son would find the book a comfort and it might also help him learn how to manage this form of OCD as I devote quite a large portion of the book to this Religious OCD. Here’s the link on Amazon if you’d like to check it out. It’s in 2 formats; print and e-book. You can also go to Barnes and Noble and ask them to order it for you. If anything just go to Amazon and read the reviews from others who have read it. It’s so hard to talk about this form of OCD and if you go to a pastor they just don’t really understand the disorder enough to help and will typically unintentionally reinforce the obsessions. Praying for him and for you! Mitzi Here’s the link to the book: http://amzn.com/1517678447

        Like

  2. 1lovehim1 March 16, 2016 / 1:00 am

    Hi Mitzi! For some reason, my comment didn’t post yesterday, so I am trying again. I am SO glad I found your book and your blog! Thank God for you! Thank you for being an encouragement. I would like to tell you my story but am not sure where to post it? Any suggestions? The Lord has given me knowledge about Inositol, and I am taking 18 grams daily in the powder form. It has removed my obsessive thinking! I haven’t obsessed in over a month. The Lord has been my healer.

    Like

  3. Jana September 21, 2016 / 9:26 am

    My intrusive thoughts started when I was 14 when I had thoughts about wanting to become a satanist and being possessed even though I’m a Christian. And Since I was really little I’ve had this intense fear of not being saved. Then a while ago I was wanting to get closer to God and I had this thought ‘how did God get there’. And I got so anxious and stuck in my own mind. Then it escalated to ‘I want to be God’ which is the worst possible thought that got the devil kicked out of heaven. And the more I thought about this stuff the harder it became to think clearly abut Jesus. I feel like I’m stuck in a pit. I’m so anxious and I wake up anxious and I sometimes have a moment of clarity where I know it’s irrational. It just scares me so much because now I’m questioning my relationship with Jesus and because the only way to be saved is to trust him so I’ve had thoughts like ‘I don’t want to trust him to be saved’. I don’t know what to do and I feel so lost. Have you had any of these thoughts? I am starting to question whether I really love Jesus.

    Like

    • ocdmitzi77 September 30, 2016 / 11:20 am

      Hi Jana, I’m sorry to hear of your suffering but rest assured the thoughts are just part and parcel of the symptoms of OCD. They are meaningless, but the key is to treat them as meaningless which is very hard because of the anxiety that comes with them. That compels us to fight against them or try to undo them in order to feel reassured.. But every single time we do that we are reinforcing the disorder of OCD because giving them attention means that your brain view them as a valid emergency. Learn all you can about Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy for managing the intrusive thoughts of OCD. What you are describing here is a form of Religious OCD. You’re not alone in your experience and although this is a very painful/excruciating disorder it has zero effect on your salvation.

      Like

  4. Ellie Amir October 29, 2016 / 7:07 am

    Thank you so much for writing you book Mitzi! Thank you for be brave to tell people about your conditions. I too have religious and GAD. I had my first major flare up 3 years ago. It was agony. I had sometimes 6 panic attacks a day, I could barely eat or sleep… I didn’t deal with it very well first time around. My tactic wad avoidance I’m ashamed to say. I forced myself to attend church, but reading the bible and even sometimes praying would set me off, so I rarely read any. Before the flare up I loved reading scripture and did it all the time!! I did get prescribed sertraline, an SSI. (I’m from the UK and sometimes med names are different if you haven’t heard it. )
    It gradually died down to a manageable level. In the mea4i got married and now have a 3 month old baby boy. He is super cute and I adore him. I started getting raised anxiety the last few months of pregnancy. My mum is quite ill and also not Christian so was really worried about her plus many other things that I won’t go into! Anyway I had stopped taking the sertraline on Dr’s advice, (though I’m wondering if it was wise as anxiety in pregnancy can be dangerous, and no big trial has been done about sertraline in pregnancy as far as I know.)
    Anyway every since he was born the general floating anxiety has been building and then a couple of weeks ago I had the thought of ‘what if I’m not a real christian, and I will be like those people in Matt 7 who cried out ‘Lord’, but never knew him… cue panic attack and another bout of the ocd. I then really stupidly started trying to research on the Internet try to prove I was saved which of course made me feel so much worse! (There’s a lot of loony stuff out there!) Anyway I one day typed a serch in amazon looking for a book to read and saw yours. (My husband banned me from searching the Internet anymore! He’s so good!) I started to read it and then finally understood what was happening to me!!! Just that gave me a couple of days of relative peace!! Then reading how you combated it has started to combat it. I realise I really need to stop withe the avoidance behaviour, and am now reading every day again. (Even when what I read gets latched onto by the ocd and scares me.)
    I have started taking med again, (though as I’m breastfeeding I need to be careful) and I am starting to TRY not attending to the obsessions… This has started to work a little I think, but it’s hard to keep it up, and half the time I’m ruminating without even realising it!! I also found what you said about faith not relying on emotions a really helpful reminder.
    Anyway, I’m still struggling, but now I at least have hope! So thanks for sharing and helping to shed light on this for so many people.

    Like

    • ocdmitzi77 November 1, 2016 / 3:18 pm

      So glad you found the book! And, I’m especially thankful to God that it’s encouraging you. Managing OCD thoughts takes a lot of time and patience, it’s certainly no overnight fix and it waxes and wanes over the years. Thank you for your encouraging comments!

      Like

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