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.

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