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.

OCD targets the things people care about most

OCD is a deeply unpleasant condition; it targets the things a person cares about most deeply and turns them into a subject of intense fear. For example:

  • A single parent devoted to their child may have OCD thoughts that ‘say’ they want to sexually abuse their child. This person would never abuse their child, in fact it is the most abhorrent thing their brain can come up with. This makes it the perfect target for OCD.
  • A child who has lost a parent may have constant OCD thoughts that they will somehow kill their other parent, or be responsible for their death.
  • A person who is deeply religious may have OCD thoughts which involve blaspheming against their god.
  • A nurse whose primary goal is to care for his patients may be so afraid of passing on an infection that he washes his hands until they bleed.

The following is a more detailed example of the way that OCD focuses on the things that matter most to the person with OCD. It’s a personal example from when I was about 14. I was struggling a lot with life, and one of the only places I found a small amount of respite was in the music of my favourite band. The opportunity arose to go and see them live. My OCD ‘told’ me that if I went to the gig then the bassist’s 2 year old daughter would die. There was no logical connection – I was not going to be anywhere near his daughter and I didn’t think I’d be passing on any germs or harming her in any direct sense. I just ‘knew’, because my OCD ‘told’ me, that if I went to the gig she would die, and it would be my fault.

This is an example of magical thinking, which is a so-called ‘thought error’ that is common in OCD. I can still remember how terrified I felt. I desperately wanted to see the band, but the idea of being responsible for the death of a child was horrible. This is an example of excessive feelings of responsibility, or ‘inflated responsibility’ which is also common in OCD. In the end I did go to the gig, and the bassist’s daughter was fine.