A graduate student consulted me not long ago for a problem with “opposite thoughts.” Whenever he thought of something good, a bad thought about the same thing would take its place. “I’ll be thinking how nice the day is, and then I see an atomic bomb exploding it up,” he told me. “Or I’ll be imagining my wife’s smile, and here comes the image of slitting her throat.” Such terrifying thoughts were making his life a misery.
To fend them off, he had tried a number of different strategies. First, he had attempted to push them out of his mind. This seemed to only make them stronger. Then he tried to convince himself that they were meaningless. That worked for a while, but more and more time became required to do the convincing. Remembering that the Bible tells us to “fix your thoughts on what is good,” he then attempted to replace every bad thought with a good one. Soon he was spending all day long doing that. He could always count on his wife to put his mind at ease, but lately even that was backfiring. On a recent occasion he had confessed about an image of killing someone, and she joked, “It’s nothing to worry about, unless, of course, you have killed someone!” That about killed him. “Maybe I have!” he kept thinking.
Now and then I see obsessions like this, where good thoughts are immediately countered by bad ones, although no one before has come up with such a great name for them as “opposite thoughts.” For instance, a number of people have told me how they wake up in the morning feeling really good, but then as soon as they realize they are feeling good, the thought comes “Your good day will be ruined by OCD!” Sure enough, from that point on, their day is ruined.
For Christians, the key to dealing with opposite thoughts is remembering this crucial principle: They are from the enemy who tries to keep us in a state of fear—yet God is using them for our good so that we will learn to trust in him. How does this work? When opposite thoughts strike, we feel a combination of terrifying repulsion, despair, and anxiety; and we feel a gripping need to do something about them immediately. But this is a trap. In reality, all obsessional fears are custom designed as vehicles to teach us to rely on God. We want to take the risk of giving God the complete responsibility for them. We want to allow them to be in our mind bothering us for as long as God sees fit, doing nothing about them ourselves. We will not be tested beyond what we can bear. We will discover that we can depend on our shepherd to care for us.
13 Response Comments
The LORD Blessed me to read this this am. It reinforced time with my counselor yesterday- we try tio remember to do nothing. Just to assist me further – let me ask this. When a thought comes and I feel I should ask GOD to take over I can feel the need to be sure I ask in certain manner – would real reliance on GOD be to not even ast but trust that HE even knows that and rest in his care and not ask at all?
Well, we are told to ask, so that’s a good reason to do it even though is true that God knows what we want and we can rest in his care. But we can’t spend all our time asking for things, and we we definitely want to stop asking when OCD begins to take over. It appears you describe that with the “need to be sure I ask…”
Yes – I will ask over and over. That’s what I mean – should I let The LORD handle even that detail and rest in silence?
Your comments made me think a lot about prayer and silence in the face of obsessional thoughts. I read that silence is prayer. I think it is called contemplative prayer. I ruminate a lot and obsessional thoughts thrive in that mental environment. Lately, I have been trying to remain silent, especially in my mind. Sometimes we need to be quiet so that God can talk to us and we can listen.
Sometimes, when use vocal or mental prayers we think we are praying, but we really aren’t. We are just thrashing about trying to feel better. Maybe silence as a prayer is a better way to say, God I trust You!
Yes. The Bible warns against vain repetitions in prayer (Matt: 6:7). Mary just tells Jesus about having no wine…she doesn’t keep bothering him about it. What do others think?
I look at it this way: faith ( knowing you are a forgiven child of God) + hope ( the courage to accept the mercies of God each day) = a perspective that I am acceptable to God just as he made me, OCD struggles and all.
I’ve been reading St. Faustina’s Diary and it seems that she may have suffered for a time from OCD. Her response is trust in God and submission to God’s will. She wrote, “One act of trust at such moments gives greater glory to God than whole hours passed in prayer filled with consolations.” It’s kind of long for a comment section, but if it’s alright, I’ve copied and pasted that section of her diary below if any would like to read it.
The abyss of my misery was constantly before my eyes. Every time I entered the chapel for some spiritual exercise, I experienced even worse torments and temptations. More than once, all through Holy Mass, I had to struggle against blasphemous thoughts which were forcing themselves to my lips. I felt an aversion for the Holy Sacraments, and it seemed to me that I was not profiting from them in any way. It was only out of obedience to my confessor that I frequented them, and this blind obedience was for me the only path I could follow and my very last hope of survival. The priest explained to me that these were trials sent by God and that, in the situation I was in, not only was I not offending God, but I was most pleasing to Him. (33) “This is a sign,” he told me, “that God loves you very much and that He has great confidence in you, since He is sending you such trials.” But these words brought me no comfort; it seemed to me that they did not apply to me at all.
One thing did surprise me: it often happened that, at the time when I was suffering greatly, these terrible torments would disappear suddenly just as I was approaching the confessional; but as soon as I had left the confessional, all these torments would again seize me with even greater ferocity. I would then fall on my face before the Blessed Sacrament repeating these words: “Even if You kill me, still will I trust in You!” [cf. Job 13:15] It seemed to me that I would die in these agonies. But the most terrible thought for me was the conviction that I had been rejected by God. Then other thoughts came to me: why strive to acquire virtues and do good works? why mortify and annihilate yourself? what good is it to take vows? to pray? to sacrifice and immolate yourself? why sacrifice myself all the time? what good is it — if I am already rejected by God? why all these efforts? And here, God alone knew what was going on in my heart.
78 Once when I was being crushed by these dreadful sufferings, I went into the chapel and said from the bottom of my soul, “Do what You will with me, O Jesus; I will adore You in everything. May Your will be done in me, O my Lord and my God, and I will praise Your infinite mercy.” Through this act of submission, these terrible torments left me. Suddenly I saw Jesus, who said to me, I am always in your heart. An inconceivable joy entered my soul, and a great love of God set my heart aflame. I see that God never tries us beyond what we are able to suffer. Oh, I fear nothing; if God sends such great suffering to a soul. He upholds it with an even greater grace, although we are not aware of it. One act of trust at such moments gives greater glory to God than whole hours passed in prayer filled with consolations. Now I see that if God wants to keep a soul in darkness, no book, no confessor can bring it light.
Faustina Kowalska, Saint Maria. Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul (Illustrated). Kindle Edition.
That’s really interesting. Looks like probable OCD to me. Love the emphasis on trust.
It’s interesting to read that many great figures in the bible and in US history suffered to despair from mental afflictions but eventually overcame them.
For instance, Abraham Lincoln once wrote prior to becoming president: “if what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be no one cheerful face on the face of the earth”
No one can doubt the despair in this quote.
I take some solace in it especially when I feel so isolated in my despair in my OCD and depression and read about people doing great things despite suffering in some fashio
Bottom line is there are more people suffering from this affliction than we know, however there is hope, especially in community such as this when we share our stories.
I’m having a lot of doubts that have grown immensely. I am not sure I’m saved, and I don’t know that I can be at this time. I worry I’m an apostate, though I don’t want to be. I’m trying to replace these lies with the truth, but worry I cannot, and I even question if I want to.
I know I sound crazy, and I feel crazy. But I just don’t think it’s normal to worry like this. I want to know Christ, but I just don’t know that I do.
Hi Abigail –
You are not and you do not sound crazy! I have the same doubts. Most days I’m convinced I’m not saved, or I’m worried I’m an apostate. We are in the same boat – scrupulosity is a tough and lonely struggle, even more so when Christians we know lack understanding of it.
One of the most helpful things for me to do is to focus on who Christ is, apart from how I perceive/accept him – he is gracious whether or not I believe it. I am saved based on his works and his love – it really doesn’t depend on me at all. Of course I could combat this with many scrupulous thoughts, but at some point, someone needs to have the final word, and honestly, I don’t want to. It’s too exhausting! I wish my thoughts would stop, but I want to trust that Christ is with me in the midst of them. He says in John 6:37, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Some days that is the only thing that keeps me from completely despairing (though I’ve come close to it!).
I’m sorry you are going through this – it really is so hard. Jesus loves you, and at the end of the day, it is not your effort to hold on that keeps you safe, but his strength and his grace.
Does anyone else see like a video in their mind’s eye when they try to get to sleep at night? This thing keeps me from getting good sleep. It’s torment! It’s like false dreams, and they come while i am still awake.
Stacey I have definitely been there. When I’m in a very high anxious state and worrying I’m not going to get any sleep I have “twilight dreams.” They are random, weird and make me very concerned. Once my anxiousness calms down they go away!