Anatomy of an OCD thought: Part 3 – fighting back

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.

CONTENT NOTE: As with parts 1 and 2 please take care if you have religious OCD or OCD which focuses on magical thinking (i.e. if I do x then y will happen). However, I hope this post will be helpful for people who have similar OCD thoughts as in this part I will attempt to show why OCD is wrong.

The OCD situation I discuss here is described in detail in Part 2, and the OCD rationale behind it is described in detail in Part 1. In this part I am aiming to show myself (and others with similar thoughts) why OCD is wrong using cognitive reappraisal techniques.

What does OCD say?

  • I “know” (because OCD has told me) that what I did meant I was insulting the Holy Spirit and the devil.
  • They can hear my thoughts and know this too. Therefore they will be insulted unless I make it safe.
  • I used my middle finger because I was intending to insult the Holy Spirit and the devil.

What are the arguments against what OCD says?

  1. OCD is a mental illness. The thought is the symptom of an illness. If I didn’t have OCD I would not have had this thought. OCD is a mental illness which focuses on the things that matter most to the individual with OCD, and the things that cause the most fear to them. However it is a symptom of an illness, in the same way that someone with psychosis may believe they are Jesus, or someone with meningitis may get a rash. The exemplar person with psychosis believes they are Jesus, this doesn’t meant that they are. The person with OCD believes that their actions are insulting to the Holy Spirit or the devil, this doesn’t mean that they are.
  2. Christian arguments against the thought (re. the Holy Spirit). The Bible says repeatedly that God knows everything, He is omniscient. That means He knows that the thought I had was a symptom of OCD, and that I had that symptom specifically because it is the worst thing my OCD could come up with. The Bible also says that God is just – He could not be just and also knowingly condemn someone for the symptom of their illness. Furthermore, the Bible says to test the spirits and see if they are from God, and says that the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear. Jesus says “do not be afraid,” and “do not let your hearts be troubled” and that Christians should trust Him, not their fear. This clearly sets OCD up against Jesus and God, OCD is not on God’s side. I believe that God’s only concern with this OCD thought is that it is harming me – He doesn’t see it as offensive to Himself.
  3. Christian arguments against the thought (re. the devil). There is evidence from Biblical scholars that the devil is not meant to be read as a literal individual. Even if we did accept that he was a literal individual who could hear our thoughts, he would know that my thoughts were OCD. Furthermore, supposing we accept that hell is a place where the devil resides – in this case he is still under God’s rule, according to the Bible. He is not “in charge” of hell, according to the Bible. In this manner the power of the devil to harm me would be the same in hell as it is on earth. I am not afraid of him causing me additional harm on earth. This gets to the heart of the fear really – uncertainty and fear of the unknown (in this case death).
  4. Arguments against the notion that I intended to “give the finger” to the Holy Spirit or the devil. This argument won’t work for everyone(!) but I have never “given the finger” to anyone in my life. I never use direct insults at people, even when I’m angry. I rarely use insults when I’m talking about someone I am angry with, even if they are not there. I may have been angry with OCD when I had this OCD thought, but I was not angry with the Holy Spirit or the devil. Even if I had been I wouldn’t have sworn at them. (As an example from UK politics – I was one of the students inspired by Nick Clegg to vote for the Lib Dems, then I watched him triple tuition fees after promising to scrap them. When I met him I told him this but I stayed civil! Like many of those students I haven’t voted for the Lib Dems again, but I digress.)

So after writing all three posts in this series I have done a bit of birthday planning. This kind of OCD thought won’t diminish much until I go against it, so I’ve tried to be brave.

Anatomy of an OCD thought: Part 2 – the practice

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 3.

CONTENT WARNING: In this post I discuss the content of my religious OCD. If you have religious OCD, or other forms of OCD which involve magical thinking (e.g. “if I do x then y will happen”) please take care if reading on. OCD has been known to “take on” new symptoms when hearing about other people’s symptoms. (The post starts below the picture).

I’m now going to write about a specific OCD thought that is based on the OCD lies I described in Part 1. I hope that by writing it out I can help myself to see it for what it is, and show other people what OCD looks like in detail.

A couple of weeks ago I was on my way into town and I itched my eye with my middle finger. OCD told me that this meant I was giving the middle finger to the Holy Spirit or the devil. [It is frightening for me to write that.] OCD told me that I had to “correct” it. In order to correct it, what I needed to do was itch my eye with a different finger whilst in the same position on the road and whilst listening to the same part of the song that I was listening to when I originally itched my eye. OCD says that if I can do this successfully then I will ensure that I am not insulting the Holy Spirit or the devil.

I have tried to “correct” it, but haven’t managed to do so in a way that makes me feel it’s been properly corrected and “made safe”. I can’t keep trying to make it safe at the moment, a) because I am many miles away from the place I had the thought, b) because when it comes to “correcting” something OCD is never satisfied – anyone with OCD will know that however hard you try to do as OCD wants it will keep changing the goalposts. For example it will say I wasn’t quite in the right position, or the wrong part of the song was playing (I can’t actually remember the exact position or the exact part of the song that was playing, so OCD is bound to capitalise on that).

The way it is bothering me now is that I want to plan an event for my birthday. OCD is telling me that I can’t, because the eye-itching situation has not been adequately corrected. If I were to go ahead and plan the event I would need to re-do the planning once the eye-itching thing had been made safe. This is a good example of one of OCD’s tricks – in order to stop you moving on from a situation like this it will attach itself to a situation in the future, ensuring it stays in your mind.

Another trick OCD is using at the moment is making me doubt my intentions – it’s telling me that by itching my eye with my middle finger I was intending to insult the Holy Spirit and the devil. This gives OCD more power as it’s harder to dismiss as an intrusive thought if it tells me that it was actually me who was behind the thought. I will try to tackle this in Part 3.

Anatomy of an OCD thought: Part 1 – the theory

Click here to read Part 2.

Click here to read Part 3.

CONTENT WARNING: In this post I discuss the content of my religious OCD. If you have religious OCD, or other forms of OCD which involve magical thinking (e.g. “if I do x then y will happen”) please take care if reading on. OCD has been known to “take on” new symptoms when hearing about other people’s symptoms.

OCD’s “theory”

The idea that I have insulted the Holy Spirit or the devil are the most powerful thoughts that my OCD uses. They underpin almost every OCD thought I have and every compulsion I do. I’m planning on doing a later blog post about strategies I have found useful in combating these lies that OCD tells. For now I’m mostly going to describe what they mean to me in the context of my mental illness.

There are 2 verses in the Bible in which Jesus says all sins can be forgiven, but insulting the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. Scholars of the Bible suggest that these verses mean that if you reject God (i.e. reject God’s gift of His Spirit) then you can’t be forgiven because you are choosing not to accept His forgiveness. The verses are not referring to a specific event or to insulting language etc. I know this, but OCD still uses the verse to terrify me. The ultimate fear behind this, for me, is the idea that if I insult the Holy Spirit I will not be saved and will not go to heaven. I no longer believe that hell is a real place, but my OCD still keeps me afraid of going there. I’ve discussed in other blog posts how having OCD means you can know that something is incorrect yet still fear it.

The second thought that OCD uses, that I could insult the devil, is also ultimately linked to a fear of hell. The OCD rationale says that if I insult the devil and one day end up in hell then the devil will single me out for specifically harsh treatment. This rationale depends on cultural notions of the devil as being in charge of hell, an idea that came into fruition long after the Bible was written. This concept of the devil as a god of hell is not actually Biblical. Even if you take the view that hell is a place, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that the devil is in control there. In fact many Christians believe that the devil is not a specific being, but a metaphorical concept which was used at the time the Bible was written to describe the conflicting nature of the human mind – sometimes we want to (and do) do things that are wrong because it feels good, for example. The irony here is not lost on me – it’s plausible that when the Bible refers to the devil and demons afflicting people this is a pre-scientific description of what we now understand as mental illness.

One of the reasons my OCD has settled on these thoughts is that they can’t be disproved in the way that my earlier OCD thoughts could. If OCD tells me that my mum will die if I don’t stand in a certain spot, I can ignore OCD, then check if my mum is still alive. There’s no way to check whether I have insulted the Holy Spirit or the devil, and there’s no way to check whether I have stopped myself from going to heaven when I die.

Another reason why these thoughts are so powerful is that as a Christian I believe that God knows my thoughts. OCD is a condition which is based on intrusive automatic thoughts. Recovering from OCD involves accepting that you can’t control your thoughts – “but what if,” my OCD says, “by letting these thoughts go by, I am insulting the Holy Spirit and ruining not just my life but my eternity?” This is terrifying, and gives you an idea of why religious OCD is so difficult to treat.

I also fear that the devil knows my thoughts, or listens to the things I say out loud in attempt to prevent me from getting totally stuck, such as “I am not insulting the Holy Spirit or the devil if I use my left foot”. Again these fears are not based on a thoughtful reading of the Bible, but are more based on myths created by writers such as Dante.

This post has outlined some of what lies behind my OCD thoughts. Read Part 2 to see a concrete example of what this looks like in practice.