I worked recently with a student in his early 20’s who had suffered from mild OCD symptoms since his mid-teenage years. His obsessions, all involving contamination, had been tolerable; and his compulsions, such as washing his hands and showering excessively, took at most a half an hour a day. He had never actually realized he had OCD. Then suddenly he was bombarded by sexual obsessions of the worst type. That’s when he came for help.

“I’m really scared,” he said. “I don’t know for sure what’s going on, but I’m terrified. I think I’m maybe I’m…a pedophile, or something like that. I don’t know what to say.. I’ve never done anything like that. I hate this. I hate the thoughts.” About a month prior to our meeting, after reading a newspaper account of a pedophile, he had experienced the intrusive idea, “Maybe I’m one of them!” It caused immediate terror, and soon images of pedophilic acts discussed in the newspaper began intruding on his mind. He fought them. He reassured himself over and over that they did not pertain to him. He prayed over and over ,“God take them away.” The torment only grew worse

As a committed Christian, it was natural for him to fight these thoughts through prayer. Yet his supplications to our Lord were no longer true prayers—rather they had turned into “vain repetitions” (Matt 6:7 KJV). This was a battle he could not win through forced, repetitive prayer. Obsessional fears are custom-designed by God as a trial that cannot be overcome through our own efforts, including our attempts to make him respond to us through our prayers. God arranges it like this in order to teach us a special lesson: We must stop relying on ourselves before we can fully trust in him. What we must do is allow the fears to be present, and wait for God to give us faith. This is the trial of faith. This is working out our salvation in fear and trembling. It is purification from excessive self-trust and self-reliance. From a clinical point of view, it is ERP. With this approach, the young man with the pedophile obsessions began habituating to his fears, and he began learning to fully trust in God. He shared with me how his prayers had changed.

I used to pray like all the time ‘God take away these thoughts,’ or ‘God don’t let me become a pedophile.’ Now I pray, ‘Help me stay on the battlefield and learn, give me the strength to endure the awful thoughts, and don’t let me give into my compulsions.’ Instead of just running away and being like ‘take it away,’ I’m like, ‘Okay, help me allow them to be there so that I can have more faith.’

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12 Response Comments

  • Nick   at

    Your blog keeps me going month to month.

    I am so grateful.

    I learn about keeping my eyes fixed on the Light of Christ. The faith is sometimes blind faith, and I pray to walk through it all for His sake, for all that occurs is happening for my spiritual good, to teach me to keep my mind heart and soul firmly in the attention of His Love, relying on Him totally.

    This devotional practice gives profound and beautiful meaning to OCD.

    I am learning that to suffer with and for God is greater than the greatest pleasure lived without Him.

    To trust in the perfect certainty of faith in God is to accept all uncertainty of obsessions.

    Only His Love is Real, I pray to learn this

  • Katie   at

    Thank you, Dr. O, for your VERY helpful website. Do you have any blogs or could you write one for those of us that struggle with cancer obsessions? I know Jesus says “who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life” but I obsess constantly about cancer. I’ve learned not to compulse by running to the Dr. constantly, or checking & rechecking moles, lumps & bumps.

    • admin   at

      Thanks for the feedback, Katie. I’ll work on that. Would you want to share a little more about what your particular obsessional fears are regarding cancer, as well as compulsions and avoidance?

      • Katie   at

        Thx Dr. O! I often notice spots & moles on my skin and I checked & recheck them constantly often asking God to please let it not be cancer (vain repetitions!). I also have avoided doing monthly self breast exams for fear of finding something. I have learned thru my ERP training at UPenn to stop avoiding, so I do the exams every month now, as well as trying my hardest not to compulse and look a 2nd time at a mole or spot, but leave that to my yearly derm appt. I also get a yearly gyn exam & mammo. I also have globis sensation, which has started acting up again. I waited all summer before seeing the ENT about it (so as not to compulse) and finally a agreed with my psychiatrist it was ok to get it checked out. I did 2 weeks ago & my throat is fine, the ENT thinks it’s anxiety. The problem is last time I had it 5 years ago, it was connected to reflux, I went on nexium 2x a day for awhile & it went away. I took 2 nexium a day all summer & it hasn’t gone away. After my endoscopy 5 years ago, I was told I had intestinal cells in my stomach (intestinal metaplasia) and while not directly precancerous, it needs to be checked every 5 years b/c it could present a problem. I’m due for the endoscopy this Feb. 2017. I’m terrified it will turn into stomach cancer. The glob is sensation is constant & serves as s chronic reminder of my fear. For me to run to the GI (unless otherwise directed by my ENT, I see him in A few weeks for a check up) before Feb. would be a compulsion. I made an imaginal about this & listen to it every day. I’m on 225 mg Zoloft once per day and 2.5 mg Klonopin 2x per day. I am 54 years old happily married w/wonderful kids. How should I pray about this? Sorry so long winded!!

        • admin   at

          That is really tough. I work with a couple of people with similar problems. Fears of having an illness are especially difficult…particularly if there are symptoms, such as the “glob” sensation. Often usual OCD strategies don’t work very well, and in fact, in the absence of other types of OCD symptoms, that might be diagnosed as a somatoform or “somatic symptom” disorder. Sounds like you and your psychiatrist are doing a good job trying to limit your consultations with doctors, and the ERP you describe is certainly worth a try. I think a focus for prayer would be for the spirit to give you the strength to accept the situation that God arranges for you. In other words, pray for the grace of abandonment to God’s providence. God knows what will happen to you, and knows whether you have a serious illness or not. So, all you can do is just go along with the medical advice you get, and rely on God’s mercy. Not that this is easy…but a necessary part of our sanctification. What do you think?

        • Kianni   at

          Have you ever looked into Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? I have found it’s principles to be extremely helpful and in line with my faith. I learned a lot about it from Mark Freeman’s, “Everybody has a Brain” channel and Steve Hayes. For me, when I get certain anxieties, it automatically just pin points it to the fact that it is something I do not want to happen…and by that then trying to control or use some sort of magical thinking and/or mental compulsions.
          It might seem extreme to some, or maybe I have just had this harassing me for long enough, that when I get an intrusive thought involving harm or possible death, sometimes it is easy for me to just go, “Well okay then, if God allows it I can’t say anything.” Just like with Job, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.” I think when it comes down to it a lot if not most compulsions and fears stem around death at the root. My church is also pretty big in seeing things like physical illnesses, not as a curse or something of pain, but blessing, or can be if a person accepts that heart and sees it as a way of God trying to work in ones life and manifest greatly, bringing up the verse which says that there is no more curse for the Christian, but that it is blessing. So that it may seem bad at first, but our faith comes through waiting. If it happened right away, it wouldn’t take faith, or trust, and that is what God wants in our lives, for us to draw nearer and trust Him entirely.

          • admin   at

            Really well said. Can you give us the verse you refer to (no more curse for Christians)?

          • Kianni   at

            Well there is Galatians 3:13, “13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree””” which I don’t think was the exact one I was thinking of at the time, but can’t quite find or even know if it was one in particular. In general though, I was/ and am now thinking about in general, when you look at the Bible and how God works in peoples lives. The situation always tends to first look bad [curse] but then afterwards it turns around [blessing]. With Joseph, with Captain Naman, with King David, just to name a few.

            Also adding to that, in Romans 4:3 “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
            4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
            5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

            In relation to OCD and anxiety in general, Titus 1: 15 has really been speaking to me recently, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”

            Also thinking about how in the beginning, all things were good as God saw them, only once man had their own judgment did things become “bad”, and go from there. Versus if we just accepted things as they are, as God says they are, there would be no problem.

          • Kianni   at

            Oh and also thinking about Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end”

            I recall one pastor in our church talking about how if God saved us, He made us His children, and if He did that, would He do that just to make us suffer and be miserable in this life time? Certainly not, he wants to be together with Him, and happy in Him, through Jesus. In Matthew 7:11 it says, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
            and of course though, what we think of as good and God may think of as good, may not always be the same, but God will always provide what we ask when we are one heart with Him. That is, if He wants to do it, of course He will give it.
            Though, there is a big difference between hoping God will do something and believing that He will, the faith. At the same time, if we are saved, we can go forward knowing God is with us always and we have the Holy Spirit, and in that sense that everything we come up against is from God, like Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Which some might find scary in a way perhaps, but for me I find peace, as knowing God is in control in the end no matter what.

  • Katie   at

    I think your advice about how I should pray is spot on, thank you! I am confused about the somatic symptom thing though, b/c you said “in the absence of other types of OCD symptoms.” Well, I do have other OCD symptoms, I doubt my salvation b/c I don’t think I am sorry enough for my sin and I don’t truly believe. All of your posts on scrupulosity have been VERY helpful and I have been doing much better in this area, waiting on God to give me the gift of faith as I expose myself to the fear. I read about somatic symptoms on line, and once I hear from a doctor there is nothing wrong, I can let it go. I have lots of fear of cancer, but never any symptoms, such as pain, etc. as mentioned in the article I read. Should I ask my psychiatrist is I have this?

    • admin   at

      Katy, Please be clear that I am not suggesting a diagnosis for you…that is completely between you and your psychiatrist. But we’re getting a bit far off the thread here. Please do email me at ianosbornmd@gmail.com with any more questions about this.

  • Kianni   at

    I had pedophile and gay themed obsessions that would pop up and/or sometimes try to still pop up, one day in particular, it came on pretty strong, the day after one very long standing torturous mental compulsion, regarding scrupulosity was finally broken. I am grateful God gave me the wisdom though to know that since that one “broke” my brain/ Satan would probably try and fill in the blank with something new the next day. So I’d had it on and off, but that next morning when they hit (“What if you are a lesbian…uh,but I don’t like girls? But what if you are? But I don’t like girls? What if you are lesbian pedophile? Omg.” ) I knew right off the bat what it was, and basically took a radical acceptance(?) sort of approach. I keep in mind now with all the anxieties that it is only anxiety provoking if I actually am afraid it will happen; this one is easier in some sense when it comes to some physical things, but this one felt a bit…crazy in a way. But the key was I knew/ know it was OCD. I knew I didn’t really want to do those things even though, or perhaps because my brain was asking and becoming anxious and wanting to reassure and ask again and again, etc. So I just had to have this moment of “You know what, maybe I would. That could happen. Maybe I would become a lesbian or a pedophile in the future. The Bible says man is only evil continually and the heart is wicked and deceitful of all things, “who can know it?” and I could really do all those things if God doesn’t hold on to me but if I do, God has to take care of it.” It feels bizarre even now thinking about it in a way, but at that moment, I was pretty much free from it, but it God also gave me that faith in that moment. I also knew that I “had to” smash it right then and there, otherwise if I let it grow like other obsessions and compulsions (mental and physical), it would be that much harder down the road. So I just crushed it while new. Perhaps that was also the main motivator at that moment. It was extremely distressing when new, so I didn’t want to go any farther with it.