Christians with OCD / Intrusive Thoughts

This isn’t gonna be one of my usual blog posts, but I need to put it out there on the off chance that it’ll get into somebody’s search results and save them a ton of trouble I had to go through. I wouldn’t wish that shit on my worst enemy.

First off, everything’s gonna be fine. Don’t worry. The tl;dr on this article is that it’s okay, intrusive thoughts are common as hell and they won’t drag you into atheism, fuck up your relationship with God or do any of the other scary stuff that they’re always making it seem like they’re gonna do. You’re also not crazy. You’re doing great.

Usually if you have intrusive thoughts, some thought will repeat itself over and over again in your head, and you won’t be able to make it stop. It’ll be a thought, not an actual voice or anything like that, but you won’t be the one initiating it, you’ll just perceive it. And it’ll be something you find dreadful. That’s okay; that’s not on you. It’s just how they work. You might try to stop it, but that doesn’t really work. One really common thing is to try to drown it out by saying other, positive things repeatedly to yourself. Another is to have some little action that you’ll do repeatedly for the same reason. Those are called rituals. But they’re not all that effective, either.

Intrusive thoughts attack whatever you care about most. They’re the things that you’d least like to hear yourself saying- and the whole reason they’re saying those things is because they’re impersonating you. But they’re not you. You must not mistake them for yourself- you’re not saying those things, you’re hearing those things. The extent of your contribution was caring about the subject matter in the first place; in other words, the fact that you’re having intrusive thoughts proves that you actually believe the opposite of what they’re saying. If you didn’t still believe the opposite, you’d be having thoughts about something else. If they focus on a particular person, it means that person’s really important to you. If they focus on God, it means he’s what you care about most. And that’s fantastic. Whatever they say you are: that’s what you’re not.

The thing is, intrusive thoughts happen as part of a larger phenomenon where you’re constantly being filled with these seemingly irresistible feelings of doubt. What you don’t realize is that you’ve already resisted them, because you don’t believe them. They’ll attach to anything, but especially the thing you care about most. And that’s what makes it hard to believe even if somebody tells you that your doubts don’t make sense; what you’ve gotta recognize is that that is itself a symptom.

In this situation, unlike most, all of your instincts are bad. Your instincts are what got you into this- following your natural inclinations will actually make things worse, and the thing that makes things better is scary as fuck.

What you have to do is become okay with the thoughts. I’m okay with the thoughts, and here I am still a Christian. It didn’t take my Christianity away. Turns out it couldn’t, I only thought it could. And as a Christian, who believes that you losing your Christianity would be a disaster, and has no desire to see that happen: you’ve gotta be okay with them. It only seems like that means believing them; it actually doesn’t.

Here’s what that looks like: when you have thoughts, realize that they’re not coming from you. Realize that the fact that you had them doesn’t imply anything about you except that you care enough about something that you wouldn’t like to think that. Realize that the automatic feeling of doubt that rises up when you do that is itself a symptom, and that it’s only a feeling. It implies nothing. It doesn’t mean you don’t believe it. It doesn’t mean it’s not true. Your head is being fucked with by a malfunctioning alarm reflex, that’s the beginning and end of what it means.

And finally, most importantly, respond to all this by letting OCD have the last word. Let yourself feel the doubt, and don’t make any attempt to stop feeling it. Make no attempt to stop the thoughts or refute their arguments. Don’t fight back. Make the fact that you’re feeling doubt and having thoughts boring, because you know it’s irrelevant. Christianity is action. It isn’t the state of your emotions or what’s in your head. OCD can’t take it, not by anything it can do. So you don’t need to fight OCD to keep it.

When you start doing that, the thoughts and doubts start getting weaker and weaker; they end up a shadow of their former selves. The reason is that your opposition was what was driving them all along. The thoughts alarm you, and the alarm triggers more thoughts. The more you try to strike out at them, the more you fuel them.

This shit ain’t demons. It’s chicken pox. Whatever theology you’d apply to those applies to this.

I actually hate when people try to eliminate my problems by just telling me they don’t exist. So I want to make it clear that I’m not saying, if your executive function believes something and that thing happens to suck for you, that it’s not true. What I am saying is that anything you’re having intrusive thoughts about is almost false by definition, because you don’t believe it. It might almost seem like you must, given the way you feel about it, but that’s because you’re identifying with your doubt. Don’t do that. The doubt is a real part of your life and a thing that exists in your head. But it’s not an action of yours, and it certainly isn’t a belief of yours, as it portrays itself. It’s an experience of yours.

The position of your executive function (what you feel the need to defend, for example, by consciously coming up with defensive sentences and then repeating them, or by creating rituals), is the one based on your actual life. The position that your doubt incessantly makes you with feel compelled to believe (which your intrusive thoughts might state openly, or might try to imply by the fact that you’re “thinking” them), is random and subrational. It’s not going to be right.

On a final note, going to counseling is one of the most beneficial things you can possibly do. Don’t be worried about it. It’s a really good idea.

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