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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