OCD and Christianity

Few obsessional fears are as appalling and offensive as the one that says, “Oh, my God, maybe I’m a pedophile!” Immediately, the unsuspecting OCDer is besieged by every negative feeling possible in OCD: fear, guilt, uncertainty, and disgust. Confidence and self esteem are left in shreds. This particular obsession is, in fact, the only one that has caused people to ask me to lock them up because they are “dangerous.”

A new mother tearfully explained, “I’ll be giving my baby a bath, and I’ll think, ‘Maybe I’m one of those pedophiles that you read about. What if I did something I shouldn’t have?’ Then I can’t remember if I might have touched her too long, or something like that. Then, it seems like I do want to touch her! I have to watch my hands. I squeeze them really tight so I don’t do anything bad. It freaks me out completely. I don’t know what to do. It’s like: Do I have some deep evil in there, that I didn’t know was there, that God won’t protect me from?”

Clinical obsessions involving sexuality are especially diabolical, because false sexual excitement may accompany them. It occurs because the deep part of the brain that deals with sexual arousal does not necessarily distinguish between sexual stimuli that are wanted and those that are not, between turn-ons and horrendous turn-offs. This primitive part of our brain can cause arousal to occur with thoughts about sex, no matter how repulsive they may be. The truth, of course, is that OCDers who suffer from pedophile obsessions are the last people who would ever become pedophiles. It is only the fear of becoming such a person that causes the unwanted thoughts to stick in the mind.

The problem is, we can fully understand that obsessional fears such as the pedophile obsession are completely meaningless; yet when one strikes, that insight is completely lost. At that moment, your mind informs you that, indeed, there is a very good chance that you are a pedophile. No amount of reassurance to the contrary is likely to help; because—in all but mild cases of OCD–such reassurance becomes compulsive, and only makes matters worse.

The solution is learning to tolerate the unwanted thoughts and not perform compulsions. This is very difficult. It takes some strategizing, and often the help of a therapist. It involves learning to habituate to a fearful stimulus, in this case the thought of being a pedophile.

From a Christian perspective, the process involves God purifying us of pride. What God wants is for us to hope only in Him, and to stop putting confidence in ourselves. When faced with an obsessional fear, we must try to do nothing about it ourselves, and rather wait for God’s grace. We must make an effort to tolerate the fear and uncertainty of the pedophile obsession, and leave the occurrence of it entirely in God’s hands. In time we will be rewarded with the comfort we desperately seek.

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