“These things may seem ridiculous to others, even as ridiculous as they were in themselves, but to me they were the most tormenting cogitations.”
This quote was used by the great Christian author John Bunyan to introduce his autobiographical work Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. The book describes his struggle with OCD before he found a way to put all of his trust in God. It is the greatest description of OCD symptoms ever written.
Bunyan shared a sentiment that is almost universal amongst OCDers. We realize that our obsessional fears can be ridiculous. And yet we cannot dismiss them, and they continue to cause torment. Other people cannot understand this process. We have a hard time understanding it ourselves.
We must keep in mind that the reason we can’t dismiss obsessional fears is simply because that is the nature of obsessive-compulsive disorder itself. Indeed, the basic problem rests right there, in the dismissing of fearful thoughts. A person without OCD says “that’s a dumb thought” and the thought goes away. The person with the disorder says the same thing and the thought is still there. That’s what we’re dealing with. OCD is specifically a dysregulation in the part of the brain that dismisses from conscious awareness certain thoughts–fearful ones that involve personal responsibility for harm.
It is also important to understand that all obsessional thoughts are ridiculous, and ridiculous to the same degree. Doesn’t matter how scary, blasphemous, violent or stupid they are. So often people begin describing their OCD with “I know this is ridiculous but….” And then they are embarrassed. But really, the fact is that any person with OCD could have any obsession. The content of our obsessions is determined by simply by culture and our upbringing. One obsession is not more ridiculous than any other. It is their nature to all be ridiculous.
One other point to bring up here. Bunyan didn’t get any sympathy when he talked about his OCD to others. One wonders if Bunyan was ridiculed. It is well to remember that essentially no one understands OCD unless they have it. There is really no point talking about OCD to anyone except a therapist or a very trusted person (and even the trusted person often doesn’t understand). OCD is our problem, and an unfortunate truth about the disorder is that we basically have to deal with it ourselves without leaning on others. But that’s okay, because we have good tools to deal with OCD, and through our struggles with it we can grow closer to God.