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:


Confused about “The Spirit of Fear?”

“The Spirit of Fear” – A Common Confusion for the Christian with an Anxiety Disorder

If you search for information on anxiety and Christianity, you will inevitably come across some reference to “the spirit of fear.”  It may be presented in a shaming way: “Christians have no reason to struggle with the spirit of fear!”  Or, it may be mentioned as some kind of demonic stronghold: “You need to be cleansed of the demon of fear!!”  Or, as has happened to me, you may have just started a conversation with another Christian about your anxiety disorder when they cut you off mid-sentence and slap you down by quoting the verse in the book of Timothy, which contains this particular phrase.  Yeah, that’s a pretty effective conversation stopper.

What really gets to me, actually drives me kind of batty, is that the people who are spouting this kind of stuff clearly haven’t even bothered to look at the phrase in its proper scriptural context: Who was this written to and why was it written?  In other words, what specific circumstance prompted the writer to give this counsel to the recipient of the letter?

This phrase is tucked within a letter sent by Paul to a young man named Timothy who had just received an “apostolic grant of authority” to teach and preach the gospel.

So the first concern that may come to light would be this notion that “the spirit of fear” meant that Timothy was demon possessed.  One certainly would have to wonder why Paul would select Timothy for that grant of authority if he were demon possessed.   If you actually take a look at the context, you will immediately see that Timothy was a young man of faith.  Paul: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power; of love and of self-discipline.”  (2 Tim. 1: 5-7 NIV) So, what we see here is Paul acknowledging Timothy’s faith, encouraging him to stir up the gift of God in him to preach the gospel and then an exhortation to rely on those things which God would provide for him to carry out the task.

Paul was in a unique position to understand why Timothy might have felt a great deal of trepidation about beginning his ministry for the gospel because he was writing to him from a prison cell for doing that same thing.  This is why in the very next verse he says: “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner.  But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” (2 Tim. 1:8)   So, let’s try to place ourselves in Timothy’s shoes in this situation.  For starters, we know from scripture that he was a young man and that he struggled with some health issues.  Just these things alone may have made him feel pretty inadequate for the task that lay ahead of him.  Then, once he’d been commissioned for this work he became aware that to do so would likely mean that he’d be facing persecution and suffering.  Therefore, the fear and timidity that he was feeling were based on two things, his trying to imagine himself doing this work in his own strength and the circumstance in which he had to carry it out.  This is why Paul immediately reminded him of where the power and strength for the task at hand would come from.  If you link up these two scriptures in their proper context, you will immediately see the source of this “spirit of power; of love and of self-discipline.”  The source is God: Paul instructs Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel not in his own strength, but rather, “by the power of God.”  (2 Tim. 1:8)

Therefore, let’s not suppose that Timothy could for one moment carry out this task by appropriating his own weak and timid spirit.  And, can you imagine that if Timothy had decided to rely on his own strength that perhaps he would be less dependent on God’s strength?  This is, after all, one of the lessons that God taught Paul in the experience of his own weakness and thorn which, in turn, allowed him to encourage Timothy when he was feeling afraid and inadequate.  Paul: “In order to keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness; Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9 NIV)

This is a scripture of contrast; Timothy’s weak and timid nature which made him feel scared and inadequate for the work of the gospel that lay ahead of him over against the limitless strength and power of the Spirit of Christ in him.

As for the application of this scripture to the weakness and affliction of our anxiety disorders, the application is exactly the same.  It doesn’t really matter what the weakness or affliction is because God’s grace and strength are abundantly available for all our inadequacies.   So, the next time someone throws this at you when you are talking about your OCD or your anxiety disorder just go ahead and say: “I’m fully aware that God hasn’t given me the spirit of fear.  I never said he did. And, I’m fully aware that apart from His strength I can do nothing.  But, while we’re on the subject, may I share with you about what God has given me?”  Then, you can talk about how God provides the power, courage, perseverance and grace that you need to walk and live for Christ even with a disorder which wreaks havoc with your emotions.  And, maybe you’ll even be able to chime in with Paul when he said: “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christs power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Check out my book about my OCD/Anxiety at:

Acceptance and Submission in the Storm of Religious OCD

“Please Lord; why do I have to go through this?”

I remember that day so well. I was lying in the middle of my living room floor, staring up at the ceiling and thinking; what if I never feel better? What if this is how I’ll spend the rest of my days? That seemed an unbearable thing. I felt certain that  I wouldn’t be capable of doing that.  Then another thought;  “but what if He is asking me to do just that? Why would He ask me to do that?” I didn’t have answers to those questions.

As I continued to lie there, flat on my back, my arms outstretched and wide open like a bird that had been shot down, I decided there was nothing to be done about it. I had prayed and prayed for God to remove the horrid thoughts which had created such an agony within.  Agony, which was ignited by these enormous doubts as to whether or not I was still His child.  It was at that very moment that I made the decision to stop begging Him to take it all away.  Instead, I began to pray in a wholly different manner than I had before: “Lord, I have no idea why I have to feel like this? I also don’t know if I’ll ever feel better and I certainly don’t know what benefit there is in all of this. The only thing I do know is that you, O Lord, are worthy of my trust; worthy of my submission. If you want me to feel like this, then I’ll feel like this, and even while I feel like this I will still do my best to obey you and to honor your name because you –  are – worthy!”  

Immediately after praying this I felt a measure of calmness that I hadn’t hadn’t experienced in quite some time. It’s not that I had any kind of reassurance or comfort that I would ever feel better. It’s just that I realized that in the midst of all the pain, I could still choose to trust in God’s Sovereign goodness.  I could choose to follow Him with or without feeling the comfort of His presence.  

Several verses came to mind after I  had prayed:  “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”(1) Then: “Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” (2)  These verses would provide the footing that I needed to just keep on walking. I knew that If anyone was to be trusted to always do right by me it was God. I knew that no matter how anxious or afraid I was, I could still strive to live for Christ in regard to obedience.  As I got up from the floor I also realized that to do anything else other than to follow Christ would be to walk entirely devoid of direction or purpose.
Later that same day I decided to go for a walk in my neighborhood. As I was walking I took notice of how bleak and grey the sky looked.  It really seemed to match how I felt.  I longed for the comfort and joy of my salvation to return, but it seemed that I might be destined to walk on without it.  As I was gazing into this desolate looking sky I spotted a very large bird soaring against the clouds. He just seemed to be floating up there; wings wide open and yet not even twitching a feather.  Each time he circled to face the wind he’d go up even higher. It was at that very moment that it hit me that this is why the eagle soars. He doesn’t beat his wings against wind. He doesn’t turn away from it or tuck his head under his wings. Instead, he turns toward it; into it and opens up his wings.  He actually submits to it. And when he does this, he mounts up higher and higher. Suddenly I realized that my God, in the most personal and tender of ways was affirming that my submission and obedience to Him in the experience of my storm was most assuredly the right thing to do. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (3)

Later on God would bring an additional confirmation that submission and obedience to God were in and of themselves evidence of a faith that is real.  Why would a person even bother about these things if they didn’t have the faith to know that God IS and that He is pleased with our submission and obedience.

The day that I saw that bird, I was still wholly unaware that I even had OCD, let alone Religious OCD.  It was later on, after I understood that I had this disorder that God would show me that He had helped me to make the right choice.  After learning that I was suffering from Religious OCD, someone suggested that I read a book by John Bunyan: “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.”  Many experts in the field of psychology have determined that Mr. Bunyan suffered from Religious OCD and this little book is his own personal account of all that he went through during that emotionally devastating period of his life.

As I read through Mr. Bunyan’s story, I marveled again and again at how similar our thoughts and feelings were.  It was as if he’d been able to read my thoughts and feel my feelings.  It was such a tremendous comfort to me!  But, the most astonishing and affirming thing I read, came as I neared the end of the book.

Mr. Bunyan: ” ‘Twas my duty to stand to his Word, whether he would ever look upon me or no, or save me at the last: wherefore, thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no; if God doth not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven come hell; Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do, if not, I will venture all for thy name.” (4)

Suddenly I saw Mr. Bunyan soaring just like the eagle as he opened up to this storm in submission, in patient waiting and above all else, in determined obedience.  This, was for me, the most encouraging word I’d read or heard since I’d been so beaten down by my disorder.

Best of all when when the timing was right, God relieved Mr. Bunyan of his suffering and at the end of his life he was so comforted by the abiding presence of His Lord, that he became the comforter to all those who surrounded him on his death-bed.  He knew He was going home to be with his Lord.

The joy and comfort of my own relationship with my Lord has also returned to me, though, for a time I had grave doubts that it ever would.

OCD certainly creates tremendous and excruciating anxiety, most especially when it latches on to the relationship which is the one which gives us our identity and our purpose in this life.   But, OCD can only jab at us.  It cannot take over our will.  We can choose to obey, to submit, to open up and leave it to God to carry us through the storm.

To read more about my experiences with OCD visit my books page on Amazon:

(1) Genesis 18:25b. NIV, (2) Psalm 4:5 NIV, (3) Isaiah 40:31 NIV, (4) “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”, John Bunyan, Penguin Books, quote #337.

Managing the Haunting Thoughts of Pure O – OCD

Learning to manage the thoughts of the Purely Obsessional Form of OCD means learning to do the exact opposite of what your emotions are pushing you to do.  What follows is an excerpt from my book which gives examples of how I learned to apply Exposure and Response Prevention/ERP to the intrusive/unwanted thoughts of my Pure O – OCD.


My favorite ghost story is also a true one.  (Just here, you might want to shut off the lights and fire up a few candles for effect and then brace yourself!)

One night many years ago I was awakened by the most eerie sound I’d ever heard.  As first I thought I was dreaming as I became aware of a strange high pitched moaning that seemed to undulate in pitch in an almost melodic way.  Within a few moments I was fully awake and made the rather unsettling discovery that the sound was actually real and also seemed to be quite near.  Mere seconds later I was relieved to discover that the sound was actually coming from the other side of the bed and more specifically from my husband, Dennis,  who was lying on his side curled up into a tight ball.  I sat up, leaned over to watch him for a couple moments of entertainment, but then becoming more and more aware of the cartoon like quality of the sound coming out of him, I started cracking up.  He sounded just like a ghost from a Scooby Doo episode.  My laughter woke him up and as he turned over he too began to laugh hysterically.

It took some time before we were able to compose ourselves enough to talk about it. Finally, I was able to ask him what he’d been dreaming that prompted him to make those strange noises.  He told me that he’d been dreaming that a ghost was floating above the bed and howling at him.  But when he woke up he realized that he was the one making the sound effects in his own dream, which was hilarious to him.  Basically, he’d spooked himself.  We had a really hard time getting back to sleep afterward because just as one of us would gain some measure of composure and finally quit laughing the other one would start up again.  We even woke up the kids who wanted to know the following morning; “just what the heck was so funny last night?”

Years later when thinking about my OCD I came to view my unwanted obsessions in a similar way.  They seemed like ghosts or phantoms of my own making which, just like my husband’s dream, had been created by my own brain.  The difference was that there was nothing funny about them and rather than being able to laugh about them I had cowered in fear and viewed each and every one of them as serious concerns.  As I learned more and more about ERP it dawned on me that I needed to treat them in the same way we’d treated my husband’s “ghost” all those years ago.

The difficulty in doing this with OCD obsessions is that they feel horribly scary and threatening.  Never the less I had to learn to treat them as if they weren’t, even while I was in the midst of experiencing intense anxiety.  From then on when an intrusive thought would begin to plague me, I started to practice treating it like a silly cartoon ghost.  Instead of hiding from it through avoidance or employing ghost busting techniques through rumination, I would instead visualize allowing the thought/ghost into my brain and offering it a seat while doing my level best to ignore it.  I could imagine my intrusive thought as an actual ghost sitting there and doing everything imaginable to try and get me to freak out.  There might be all sorts of howling threats, each one creepier than the last.  But no matter how much it tried to spook me I would refuse to flinch or give it any attention what so ever.  If its main goal was to scare me then I wouldn’t give it any satisfaction.  No matter what tactics it employed I’d just smile at it and say; “Whatever!…….. I really don’t have time for your shenanigans right now.”


  1. The Obsession = The appearance of the ghost. (Uncontrolled event)
  2. The Anxiety = The fear response to the haunting nature of the obsession. (Uncontrolled event)

ERP:  Applying the brakes = “No more ghost busting”; so that I don’t engage in:

  1. The Compulsion = Applying any ghost busting tactics through mental rumination, argumentation, avoidance, problem solving, checking my emotional response or any kind of reassurance seeking behaviors or rituals.

So in order to apply this analogy we have to learn that when our OCD ghosts say “Boo” we must stand firm and refuse to flinch and make room for them in our consciousness even though to do so feels horribly wrong.


Learning to tolerate the presence of intrusive thoughts by ignoring them is a very effective form of exposure, but in order to really habituate my brain to the thoughts so that it stops over reacting to them I found  that I had to learn to do a form of imaginal exposure which meant taking ERP up a notch.

With imaginal exposure instead of just ignoring the “ghost” of my OCD obsession I’d have to invite it in and even encourage all its spooky howls and threats.  I pictured this imaginative scenario in my mind about a university named; “Caspers Academy of Studies in the Art of Spectral Haunting”.  I imagined that as part of the general requirements at this college, each “student” would have to pass a final test by being assigned to a human.  In order to pass the test they’d have to illicit an obvious terror response from their human victim that would be outwardly observable by the human either screaming in terror, hiding or attempting to drive the ghost away through “ghost busting” tactics.  For my analogy purposes the ghost assigned to me would be represented by my Pure O intrusive obsession.  But in applying ERP I was determined to not only cause my ghost to fail the test, I was also going to humiliate IT, (as in intrusive thought), in the process.

Here is how I applied this analogy to one of my obsessions:

  • Obsession – “What if I stay clinically depressed for the rest of my life?” I’d been fighting against this thought for months to the point where even just hearing the word “depression” would cause an intense fear response.  If I saw a TV commercial about depression I’d feel like I was going to pass out.
  1. Anxiety Response – “OK… I’m aware that my brain has just latched onto this right now because of the excess adrenaline in my system. I know this is due to the chemical imbalance in my brain and therefore my brain needs something to be upset about in order to expend all that excess energy on.  That’s the reason this thought is making me feel so uncomfortable.”

Note: Just being mindful of why the anxiety is there does not make it go away, it just helps to acknowledge its presence as part and parcel of the disorder.  Expect and accept it.

  1. ERP/ imaginal exposure: Welcoming the “ghost” in and mocking its haunting efforts:

So in floats my OCD ghost with horrid howls and threats of how I might have to spend the rest of my life in a state of hopeless despair and depression.  Every time it howls out the word, “DEPRESSION!” it feels like a knife to my gut.  But I’m determined not to let it know that I find it even the slightest bit frightening.  As it rises up and spreads itself out over the top of me, baring it’s ugly decayed teeth, I take a step toward it.  Then I take a step to the side and gesture for it to come on in and have a seat in the house of my mind.  Then I pull up a chair right next to it, pat it on the shoulder and say, (with a condescending tone): “Really is that the best you can do? Why it’s such a shame that you obviously haven’t gained much expertise in the art of haunting, even with all that college behind you.  You poor, pitiful excuse of a ghost!  Please allow me to offer up some suggestions.  You might have tried spooking me in the following ways; “Mitzi……..(using my cartoon ghost voice in my head), this depression is going to become so unbearable that you’ll start to feel an overwhelming and uncontrollable urge to kill yourself!  But – you will fail in your attempt.  Then you’ll have to be committed to a mental institution in order to keep you from harming yourself.  While you’re there you’ll be required to undergo intensive psychotherapy, none of which will bring relief. Nothing and I mean nothing; will make the depression go away, not even electroshock therapy. Every drug in the arsenal against depression will be tried but none of them will work.  You’ll have to live in a padded cell for your own safety.  So there you’ll sit in misery day after day for years on end with no relief in sight.  Isn’t that the most horrific thing you can imagine?”

What’s the point of being a ghost if you can’t scare anybody or as in this analogy, as it applies to my Pure O: How can my obsession continue to terrorize me if I’m willing to voluntarily contemplate and sit with the very worst outcomes and threats that it poses?  In practicing this type of ERP I’m howling even louder that the ghost of my obsession.  I drown it out and in doing so I eventually rob it of its ability to terrorize me.

It’s important to remember that the goal of ERP for Pure O isn’t to get rid of the thoughts.  The goal is to change the way my brain reacts to the thoughts and I’ve found these techniques to be very effective so I wanted to share them.

To read more about my experience of living with Pure O check out my story at:

HELP My Unbelief! : When Doubt is a Disorder

Reblogged: Because for the Christian with OCD this is a very common experience.

The OCD Christian

Having lived with OCD for quite some time and experienced a lot of diverse obsessional themes, I can tell you that any persistent or long held obsession is most certainly going to create a painful and debilitating level of anxiety which is often accompanied by depression.

Therefore, in order to demonstrate a level of respect and empathy for others, it will be important for those of us with OCD to recognize that while our obsessional themes may differ, this doesn’t mean that our experience is more legitimate or painful than that of others.

Which, is what brings me to the point of this blog: Religious OCD or Scrupulosity may not seem like a big deal to a person with OCD who isn’t a Christian but to those of us who have struggled with it, it is a very big deal.  It might not even seem to be all that big…

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OCD: Painful Feelings of Responsibility and Guilt

“It’s okay honey; you didn’t mean to kill the caterpillar.  It was just an accident.”  I attempted to reassure my son after the little white caterpillar he’d been taking for a ride on his raft died after falling into the water.  But he wouldn’t be comforted.  He kept on talking about the caterpillar for days afterward.  He really seemed to be struggling with intense emotions.  He was in a great deal of emotional pain and was experiencing an inordinate amount of  guilt and anxiety over the death of this little critter.  It was ruining his enjoyment of his vacation because he seemed unable to move past these feelings.

Recently I asked him what kind of feelings he was dealing with at that time.  He said: “Well, I felt sorry for him; like I let him down. I wanted to make his life better, but I ended up taking it instead. It wasn’t about me, it was about him.”

But it really was about him.  It was about him feeling a greatly exaggerated weight of responsibility and guilt over the death of a small caterpillar.

OCD will take something very minor and make a big, huge, hairy deal out of it.

He was probably only about six years old at the time and I hated to see him so distraught over something that he should have been able to shrug off after a few moments of disappointment.   I didn’t recognize this to be symptomatic of OCD, but what I did recognize was his emotional distress.  That was all too familiar to me as I had experienced a lot of this same kind of distress as a child.  What he was experiencing was inflated feelings of responsibility and guilt which are common in those of us with OCD.

The caterpillar incident reminded me of something quite the opposite which was a poem that my little brother wrote when he was in grade school: “Butterfly, butterfly in the sky.  Butterfly, butterfly now you die!”  I’m quite sure having watched my little brother grow up into a responsible and caring human being, that this poem wasn’t born out of any kind of hatred for butterflies or a desire to kill small creatures.  I’m pretty sure that the only reason he wrote the butterfly poem, with such a violent and tragic ending was merely because he needed a word to rhyme with “fly” and “die” suited his purpose.

But, if he’d been afflicted with OCD  he may have spent a great deal of  time wondering why he would write a poem like that in the first place.  Then,  if he’d accidently drowned a caterpillar, he may have attached quite a lot of false significance to his butterfly poem.  He might have connected writing that poem with the death of the caterpillar. He might  have begun to wonder if writing that poem was some kind of indicator that deep down inside he was some kind of monster who liked to kill things.  He might have even thought of the caterpillar as a baby butterfly and then felt an even greater level of guilt and distress over it’s death.

OCD uses an inappropriate emotional response to cause the sufferer to question their character.

Thankfully my brother isn’t afflicted with OCD so these kinds of feelings and thoughts wouldn’t be something that he was likely to experience and even if he did experience them, they’d be momentary and fleeting. He would be able to shrug them off because his brain wouldn’t be overreacting to them in the way the brain of a person with OCD does.

OCD uses an uncontrolled and  inordinate emotional response to cause a person to place an inappropriate amount of significance to an event or a thought that pops into the mind.  

It’s this feeling of exaggerated importance which can lead to intense feelings of condemnation and guilt in the sufferer. When people with OCD have these feelings they are experiencing what is referred to as hyper responsibility and may begin to engage in behaviors or rituals which they feel might prevent something bad from happening.

If the feelings are attached to an unwanted/intrusive thought that popped into their mind, they will become mentally preoccupied with challenging or trying to counter the thought.  This is called rumination.

OCD will cause the sufferer to get stuck on a specific theme or topic which in turn will cause the sufferer to try and find some way to escape from the anxiety which accompanies the theme. The effort to escape the anxiety whether through rituals or mental rumination is the compulsive activity of the disorder. 

Learning to manage OCD means learning to tolerate these exaggerated emotions without engaging in the compulsions. It means being able to tolerate an excruciating alarm signal that’s misfiring in your brain.

This isn’t something that is easily achieved.  It takes a lot of effort and practice to do the exact opposite of what your emotions are pushing you to do.  And just when you’ve pressed through one theme it’s not unusual for OCD to generate this exaggerated emotional response to yet another thought or event.

OCD is a chronic disorder, usually starting in childhood.  It waxes and wanes throughout a persons life.

OCD isn’t about being nit picky or having things “just so”.  It’s not funny. It’s not quirky.  It’s not trendy or cool as in: “I’m SO OCD!” It’ terrifying.  It’s excruciating.  It’s exhausting and often it’s debilitating. It pretty much stinks.  People with OCD are continually fighting just to feel normal.  

It hurts when people trivialize or mock our disorder even though we know that it’s usually done in ignorance.   On the other hand, It comforts us when people validate our disorder.  It comforts us when people offer to pray for us or make an effort to understand what we are experiencing.  It feels good to be able to talk about our OCD without fear of being mocked.

So this is why I write these blogs.  Educating people about what OCD is and what it isn’t makes it  easier for the person who is afflicted to have the courage to ask for help without the fear of being stigmatized or mocked.

HELP My Unbelief! : When Doubt is a Disorder

Having lived with OCD for quite some time and experienced a lot of diverse obsessional themes, I can tell you that any persistent or long held obsession is most certainly going to create a painful and debilitating level of anxiety which is often accompanied by depression.

Therefore, in order to demonstrate a level of respect and empathy for others, it will be important for those of us with OCD to recognize that while our obsessional themes may differ, this doesn’t mean that our experience is more legitimate or painful than that of others.

Which, is what brings me to the point of this blog: Religious OCD or Scrupulosity may not seem like a big deal to a person with OCD who isn’t a Christian but to those of us who have struggled with it, it is a very big deal.  It might not even seem to be all that big of a deal to a psychologist who isn’t a Christian, because they cannot relate to the experience of being a Christian in comparison to the things which they deem to be real/legitimate to their own life experience.  And, conversely; It might seem like a really big deal to a pastor who is trying to help someone who is suffering from Religious OCD, but this may be because, rather than the pastor seeing it as a disorder, he might misunderstand it to be a spiritual problem which needs to be addressed through the application of scriptural truth.

These types of errant views about Religious OCD or Scrupulosity can cause the person who is afflicted with it to feel even more isolated in their suffering. The isolation might go on for a very long time until and if  they encounter other Christian’s who are going through the same thing or happen upon a Christian psychologist who specializes in the treatment of OCD.

The truth of the matter is that for the person with OCD who struggles with blasphemous thoughts or unrelenting questions and doubts concerning their relationship to God it’s sheer torture.  John Bunyan in describing how this form of OCD impacted him said: “Of all the temptations that ever I met with in my life, to question the being of God, and the truth of His gospel, is the worst, and the worst to be borne; when this temptation comes, it takes away my girdle from me, and removeth the foundation from under me.” (1)

The effect that this form of OCD had on me while it was raging was utterly debilitating.  All that had brought purpose, meaning, joy, hope and security to my existence was suddenly threatened in such a way that just being alive and trying to function took an enormous amount of grit and perseverance.

While it may be true that most genuine believers will likely experience doubt at some point in their lives, most often it is of the fleeting sort and most definitely the sort which is laid to rest by the reassurance and truth’ of the Word of God.  C.S. Lewis acknowledged this when he wrote that; “The soul that has once been waked, or stung, or uplifted by the desire for God, will inevitably (I think) awake to the fear of losing Him.” (2)

The experience of Religious OCD is, however, entirely different; in cause, in duration and most importantly in the level of suffering it creates in the person who is afflicted.

The reason I wanted to address this form of OCD is that recently I’ve encountered a mindset on several OCD forums which either minimizes it in comparison to other obsessional themes or suggests that deep down the person who is experiencing it doesn’t really believe in God and therefore, should just let go of any or all efforts to know God or pursue religion of any sort.

Both of these attitudes have erred in regard to what it’s really like for the genuine believer to suffer from Religious OCD and also in regard to what to do about it.  Both of these attitudes will also increase the level of suffering that this form of OCD creates in a person who has a genuine relationship with Christ.  To suggest that it’s no big deal is to invalidate the experience of suffering.  To suggest that the person should just let go of their silly notions in regard to faith in Christ only serves to reinforce the obsessional theme, to the point that the sufferer will feel prompted to keep on searching for reassurance because : “What if they are right? What if this means I don’t have genuine faith in Christ? What if deep down inside I’m an unbeliever?”

The first mindset suggests that the experience of Religious OCD cannot compare to the pain of other obsessions because for those who make this assertion; religion is just a point of view rather than the foundation and underpinnings of life which frames the entire world view of the person who is afflicted.   But, for the true Christian, religion isn’t just a point of view.  Our “religion” is based in a very real and very meaningful relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.  For those of us who have entered into this relationship, it is, the central and most important aspect of what it means to be fully human.   Our experience is different from the unbeliever because;

“In Him, we live and move and have our being.” (3)

The second mindset will also completely dismiss the experience of Religious OCD as being legitimate because the persons who are making this assertion feel that any belief in God is utterly nonsensical.  To them, being anxious over the loss of a relationship with Christ would be akin to an adult falling apart because they weren’t sure that Santa Claus was real.

I have had several online conversations with people on OCD forums who have suggested to me that my “religious” obsessions could be easily overcome by my admitting that deep down I didn’t really believe in God at all.  These same people are quick to acknowledge the legitimacy of, as well as the agony of other types of  obsessional themes such as contamination/germ fears, health related fears, sexual orientation, harming themes and themes which threaten close human relationships.  And yet, they remain dismissive of the experience of Religious OCD.

Several of them have said things like; ” Yeah, I used to struggle with fears about God, but I finally realized that there isn’t any God, so I stopped going to church and now I’m not bothered by it any more.”  Their solution to Religious OCD is to suggest avoidance.  Little do they realize that avoidance won’t work for a person who truly knows and loves Christ any more than it would work for the person who is struggling with harming themes or relationship themes in regard to  a close family member.  The only thing that avoidance accomplishes in all  forms of OCD is to validate the obsessional fear and thereby bring even more distress and anxiety to the sufferer.  These individuals would never suggest that the person who is suffering from harming obsessions or relationship OCD should avoid their child or their spouse, so why would they suggest that the Christian avoid Christ?  The only answer I can come up with, is that they aren’t now or ever were true believers and followers of Christ. Perhaps they’ve never really understood what it means to have a relationship with Christ.  Perhaps, they have never had the opportunity to actually; “Taste and see that the Lord is good”, in the way that I have. (4)

My goal in sharing about my Religious OCD is to reach out to those who are struggling with it and are feeling isolated and entirely alone in their experience.  I want them to know that there are others out there who truly “get” what they are going through and therefore, can empathize and offer up encouragement and hope.

Religious OCD, while it has it’s roots in an actual disorder of the brain, also has it’s roots in the fact that OCD can only create obsessional themes about that which is nearest and dearest to the sufferer.  And, for the Christian who is afflicted with OCD, it is, just as CS Lewis suggested, only natural that it would eventually pick on the most important relationship in ones life.

To read more about my experiences with Anxiety Disorders and OCD please check out my E-book on Amazon at the following link:

(1)”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”: John Bunyan, Penguin Books Ltd.

(2) “Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer”, CS Lewis, Harcourt, Inc., Chapter Fourteen, Page 76.

(3) Acts 17:28 NIV Bible

(4) Psalm 34:8 NIV Bible