OCD and Christianity

An accountant explained to me how everything was great in her life except for one thing: She was tormented daily by a thought that she could not shake. It was the idea that she would face legal action for the one time in college when she cheated on a test. There were no consequences; it seemed no one had seen her do it. She felt bad for a while, admirably promised herself she would never do it again, and it seemed that was that. She stopped thinking about it. But several years later the episode came to mind, and it started to bother her. Since then her anxiety had skyrocketed. She explained,

“It’s there in my mind all the time, now—I can’t get away from it. What if somebody saw me, and they post it on social media! My life would be ruined if that happened. Every day I’m telling myself there is no chance that could happen. I calculate the probabilities over and over. But it still seems to me like it really could happen.”

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is accurately described as a miscalculation of probabilities by the fear system of the brain. It is this system’s job is to dismiss a given concern from a person’s awareness once it is clear that it is not worth worrying about. Although it is appropriate to be concerned about a moral lapse, the accountant should have long ago been over this one. Yet, her fear system continued sending her false alarms that made her life a misery. That’s OCD.

In her best moments, she was able to fully appreciate the irrationality of her dilemma. The problem was that, as always happens in OCD, when the fear struck it seemed so believable. As a result she had fallen into the trap of compulsively asking people for reassurance, googling about her problem, and endlessly debating the likelihood that her fear would come true.

Fortunately, once she understood that she had OCD, this Christian woman was able to find an effective strategy to deal with it. She decided to admit to herself that in this particular account, she simply could not add up the numbers correctly. She had no choice but to remain in a state of confusion about it, and accept it as a trial from God.

I realize now that I may never have certainty about how to handle this business of my cheating. It must be because God wants to teach me to put my trust in him. I hope some day to be able to look on it as something that can be left in the past; but because my brain isn’t calculating right, I can’t force it. My best bet is to make myself be satisfied with living in uncertainty and hoping in The Lord. It’s very difficult, but it’s better than the alternative.

You may also like

4 Response Comments

  • Gav   at

    I have an obsession about sharing the gospel. Whenever i see someone I feel an obsession that I HAVE to share the gospel with them or else i am sinning. I never do though because i feel afraid and i dont know what to say. I dont want to share the gospel out of fear and anxiety i want to do it because i am passionate about it and i ask God to help me but whenever opportunity arises i chicken out. I just feel intense anxiety, fear, curse words, anger, frustration, stress whenever i see someone and get these urges to witness. It makes me not want to leave my house. Im still struggling with my own faith and now i have to struggle with these thoughts . I know we are supposed to share the gospel but i just feel unable. I have severe social anxiety. I cant even walk down the street without feel anxious about what people are thinking about me. No matter how hard i try. I didn’t always used to be like this i used to have confidence and not care what others think. Plus I’ve never even witnesses other christians sharing their faith so i have no idea where to start. I need help i feel so guilty for not sharing the gospel and i pray to God about it that he would lead me and give me a passion and wisdom for this but i just feel driven by fear, not lead in love.

    • Chris   at

      It sounds like you have a good understanding that God wants you to serve out of love and not fear 2 Tim 1:7 (this is really the key verse for those struggling with OCD). It can be difficult to discern between the leading of God and the nagging of OCD. I would suggest that unless you have specifically set a time and day to go out and share your faith, then when you feel you need to share with a random stranger, you may assume it is OCD. If it is someone you have been getting to know and the topic turns to faith, perhaps that is an opportunity to share. In the meantime, taking a class on how to share your faith might alleviate some of your anxiety.

  • Sharmen   at

    This blog post really spoke to me. I can very much relate. Thank you, Dr. Osborn.

  • Scott   at

    I’m thankful for this website encouraging strength in Christ for believers who deal with these irrational thought storms. “She had no choice but to remain in a state of confusion about it, and accept it as a trial from God.” This conclusion is a real advantage we have as believers. In my experience with hyper sensitivity to morality, giving it to God to use for His shaping of my life has been so effective and fortifying. It’s not easy, but so worth the steadfast commitment of trust. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalm 27:14