OCD and Christianity

We have seen that the old man, the part of us who is tormented by fears and doubts, must be destroyed. That’s in order to make room for the new man who trusts in God. We don’t have to worry about this happening, because God makes it happen. The old man will inevitably be destroyed through the very fear that torments him. That’s the way God plans it. God works everything for our good, including the tormenting obsessions we suffer.

But if we really understand what’s happening, it changes the way we look on our obsessional fears. It leads us to cooperate with God’s plan. We cooperate because, for one reason, it’s in our best interest. God is leading us to greater joy in this life, and complete fulfillment in the next. Who wouldn’t cooperate? How do we it? By willingly enduring the fears! The sooner the old man is scared to death, the sooner the new man takes over.

In order to do this, I sometimes suggest a “mediation on fears.” Perhaps you can try it for 15 minutes a day. The idea here is to stand up to the obsessional fears that we suffer. To start, get somewhere alone, sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Then access one of the obsessional fears that is floating around in your mind. Focus in on it. Affirm two points: first, that it is a thought; second, that it is fearful (“That thought seems really real…it makes me feel uncertain that I am not contaminated…not a pedophile…not saved…”). Focus carefully on any fearful images that are present (“Oh, there’s that awful image of me doing …”). Take notice of the physical anxiety that you are feeling (where in your body is it? What’s it like?). Try to take the attitude, “Bring it on, I can take it.” If anxiety becomes too strong, back off and review your intension for doing the exercise. Provide yourself with encouragers, such as “It’s good for me to experience this fear so that I can learn to trust in God.”

I’m sure it is obvious to most readers that this represents in psychological terms the therapy called “exposure and response prevention.” By willingly exposing ourselves to our fears in our imaginations, we can habituate to them. For the Christian, however, the new man/old man model provides an entirely different framework for the exercise, one that is incomparably more meaningful.

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6 Response Comments

  • Nick   at

    Hi Doc. O,
    I’ve been practicing this approach. I’ve been jumping into some ERP exercises. Its the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s so scary and there is a dooming feeling of having done a terrible thing by exposing. I need to remember to surrender to God’s Grace when exposing. Sometimes the anxiety is there for hours. At least I can be aware that God is helping me through.. OCD says the exposures themselves are going way overboard and I’m even doing something immoral. It’s scary stuff!

    • admin   at

      Hi Nick, Get yourself through it with lots of encouragers such as, “I’ve got to learn to just allow these fears to be in my mind in order to overcome OCD.” Or, “If Im going to learn that I can trust the Lord, I’ve got to enter into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Remember, these are thoughts, and the goal is to grow bored with them.
      Also, though, if the exposures are proving exceptionally difficult, choose another obsessional fear to work on that is not so terrifying, and stay on that one the whole time, not letting your mind drift to others.

  • Theodire   at

    Thank you for these resources. It’s so challenging to keep the faith when OCD makes everything seem opposite.

  • Tara Turner   at

    Thank you so much for this! I spent much time in biblical counseling seeking to apply scripture to my life but I didn’t understand how to practically do that nor did I know I had a broken brain. I started to do ERP and letting the intrusive thoughts and fears enter my mind and letting them be and practicing who I want to be and the person I want to commit to be. Is my thinking right here? I want Christ to be my source of strength as I battle my OCD. A light bulb went off. My relationship with my thoughts has always been atypical, hints I have OCD. I have given too much weight to my thoughts, mostly the intrusive thoughts. What is a thought? It is nothing more than neuronal activity in the brain. Associations the brain has made through the senses. My thoughts are not me. My random intrusive thoughts are nothing more than my brain being a brain. They do not define me. My relationship with them must change. It must become a relationship of laughter. Why? Bc they are just thoughts. Therefore I can laugh away at them. And laugh at how silly they are. They don’t define me. My faulty wiring best known as OCD does not define me!

    Psychology and biblical counseling. My phrase….don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. A lot of psychology is complete heresy but some of it is valuable information in how our brains are wired and function. As someone with OCD battling the thoughts in my mind only made them come more. Instead understanding exactly what the thought is letting the anxiety rise and meditate on His grace is sufficient allows the broken part of my mind time to let the anxiety die down. The fruit of the Spirit, walk by faith not by sight. I was always so puzzled in how to apply this when my THOUGHTS were so so overpowering and my FEELINGS were overpowering. I learned how to walk in self control through the power of the spirit through applying ACTS. I accept the awful feelings and thoughts as just that but through the grace of God I commit to that which I value: Christ, my marriage, my children, my work

  • Taryn   at

    My ocd seems to be “trusting god”. I’ve followed the lord for over a year and would do anything for him. But assurance of salvation is “resting on the finished work of Christ”. “To just let go and trust God alone for your salvation”. This is what a salvation book said. And I believe that to be true. But why can’t I do that? I obsess over the fact of why I can’t do that. That is why I doubt my salvation, I tell myself that if I’m not trusting in crist I can’t be saved. And it’s so agonizing. I want to be past this and start living for the kingdom. Can you relate to this? Or am I just not saved

    • admin   at

      That’s a really good point you make, Taryn. We can use our trust in God as a way to overcome most any fearful doubt, but it is very hard, indeed, to use trust to fight off doubts of trust itself. In this case, Luther (who suffered this) says that we have to endure the uncertainty and wait for faith to be given, trying to maintain patience and hope in the absence of any tangible sense of God’s presence. Tough task, but it does agree with the CBT approach to OCD, which is that sometimes we can do no better than to accept that we must live in uncertainty until habituation to the fear occurs.