Freedom over OCD requires proper identification and reaction to perceived danger. OCD’s false alarms and Satan’s trickery together attempt to destroy us, like Goliath almost did to Israel, until David and God intervened. Thank God, in our personal bouts against giants, we also have a sling (God’s Word) and stones (cognitive-behavior therapy, Mindfulness) and most importantly, an unconditional, loving Father who “will never fail nor forsake us”, victoriously fighting our battles.
Danger: people desperately seek to be safe from harm. That is why God equipped man with fear, to protect us from danger. Unfortunately, the OCD mind excessively warns us of trouble; thus, we constantly become engaged in fight-or-flight struggles against imaginary Goliaths. “Will my house burn down while I’m on vacation?” “Will my car crash into a tree, killing my family because of a flat tire?” “Or will I lose my job today, and become penniless and homeless in three months?” Exaggerated worst case scenarios like these may seem far-fetched to normal people, but are mortal threats in the eyes of the OCD person. I know this because I have the disorder.
Reflecting upon my OCD experiences, I used to be terrified to go to public places like churches, restaurants, and movie theaters in fear of blurting out the n-word after seeing a black person. Today, I still face those obsessions, but my perceptions of them have radically changed. Years of confronting fears and surrendering outcomes to God has conditioned my mind to be less fearful of the obsession. Now I view the n-word obsession as just a thought which when confronted, may cause some anxiety but is harmless. Same thing with intrusive images of seeing a girl getting raped when around women, impulses to cut my testicle with a razor blade when naked, etc. The medication Anafranil, cognitive-behavior therapy, Dr. Swartz Brainlock strategies, my better understanding of God’s grace and the tricks of the devil, my OCD research, and learning to use scriptures to counter obsessions, have all been beneficial in reducing the frequency and intensity of my daily obsessions; in particular, checking keys, door locks, stove burners, efficiency at work, and counting money in wallet. Scrupulosity, constantly calling people on telephone, checking alarm clock times, making sure my paycheck is still in wallet, and basketball shoes still being in athletic bag, and fearing being responsible for mistakes have all also improved, but still need work. Even though I struggle many days with OCD, I feel content because of my relationship with Christ.
The World Health Organization ranks “OCD as one of the top ten most disabling illness in the world in terms of income and quality of life”. Don’t tell that to these famous people with OCD: Howard Hughes, Donald Trump, Justin Timberlake, Albert Einstein, Michelangelo, Penelope Cruz, and David Beckham. There’s no rule that says you cannot live profitable lives because you have a mental illness. Meditate upon these Dale Carnegie words: “You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear does not exist anywhere except in the mind.”
Moving forward in life happens as we learn not to listen to the fears and doubts of OCD. Dorothy Thompson once said, “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.” Unfortunately, daily dealings with the struggles, frustrations, and anxieties of OCD can be a very burdening cross to bear. However, Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. . . For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
The remainder of this article discusses Christian and psychological concepts and coping strategies which has helped me in my pursuits toward overcoming my OCD. I strongly believe if you take the time to study them, you can also find them beneficial too. The itinerary includes the following:
• Introduction: Understanding Each Step of the OCD cycle
• Using Scriptures to Change faulty statements and negative evaluations of thoughts which will help in neutralizing anxiety of OCD
• Understanding The Role The Devil Has On our OCD and how to combat it
• Using Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s Brainlock strategy to combat OCD
• Using cognitive behavior therapy (ERP) to combat OCD
A. Understanding Each Step of the OCD cycle
To understand how to overcome OCD, you must first have a proper understanding of the illness. From the book, Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You, here’s a step-by-step look on the nature of OCD:
• Triggers: Anything our five senses detect (events or stimuli) which awakens our OCD monster as we begin to shift attention toward and eventually obsess over. Leaving your apartment could be a trigger that causes our OCD to wonder if the door is unlocked or if a stove burner was left on.
• Odd thought or images: After leaving the apartment, the OCD starts thinking thoughts you dislike: “What if someone comes into my house, steals my possessions, and sets my living room on fire, Then I will have no place to live.”
• Negative evaluation of thoughts: As your mind imagines your apartment being burnt down after coming home from work, you begin to label the situation as being realistic, dangerous, shameful, irresponsible, and irrevocable. The OCD brain says: “I am in grave danger. If I don’t do something, my world will end!” Labeling events as dangerous stirs up the OCD monster as your anxiety increases.
• Self-monitoring: Anxiety causes the OCD mind to become hyper-vigilant as the fear of the obsession coming true consumes the brain. Every thought, action, or stimuli change becomes watched very closely.
• Demand for certainty: The OCD brain has to be 100 % sure that the house won’t burn down. Nothing short of perfection will suffice. Thinking this faulty belief intensely increases the anxiety of the obsessions.
• Thought-action fusion: Because I have this thought (that my house will burn down), it automatically means, in the perception of the OCD mind, that it will happen. Thought-action fusion, just like demand for certainty, fuels the anxiety of the obsessions.
• Thought suppression: You try to force yourself not to think of the fear “that you may have no possessions or places to live because you may have left the house unlocked and the stove on”. Unfortunately, fighting obsessions only makes them stronger and more anxiety-producing.
• I’ve lost control: All this anxiety makes your mind feel like you are losing control of the situation.
• Compulsions: The OCD mind performs some ritual in hopes of neutralizing the anxiety which continues to worsen as your OCD mind is constantly telling you, you are losing control. So you repeatedly check to see if the door is locked and if the stove is on, until you have a felt sense of completion.
• Felt sense of completion: You tell yourself, “I can quit doing the checking because I feel I have done it enough.” In time, many experiences of doing the compulsion and feeling a sense of relief afterwards, you get hooked on the addiction of doing that particular ritual “so many times” in order to feel relief from the obsession.
• Avoidance of triggers: “Compulsions are a lousy solution to the problem of having obsessions” (Fred Penzel). This is so because unless the compulsion habit is broken, no complete relief of the anxiety happens. As a result, you may think: “I won’t have these thoughts if I simply don’t leave my apartment.” So many people choose to avoid situations, places, objects, people, or events so they don’t have to experience the anxiety again. OCD then becomes a tyrant that needs to be over-throwned.
(Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/200906/how-do-obsessive-compulsive-people-think, Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D)
Changing fautly beliefs using the scriptures
“Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to destroy” (Henri De Lubac). We don’t have to remain tyrannized, though: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). If we use scriptures to alter the negative evaluations we give to the obsessions we daily experience, we can neutralize anxiety that accompanies obsessions, as well as telling our brain’s false alarms that we are not in danger because of our Heavenly Father. Convincing our mind that everything is safe is like using a fire extinguisher on a fire: it eventually dies out. This is how we do it.
Trigger: touch doorknob of public bathroom without toilet paper.
Demand for certainty faulty belief: “For sure, I’ll get a horrible disease and die from it.”
Counter with Realistic Appraisal: “I can remain calm in the face of uncertainty. Since I can’t control everything, why try? By trying to control everything, I only make my OCD worse. I don’t want to die, but the fact is, if I do lose my life from the disease, I will go to heaven and I will suffer no more.” Revelation 1:4 says: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” So if my obsession comes true, that’s okay.”
In this example, we used Revelation 1:4 to counter our demand for certainty and our negative evaluations of scary obsession. When we fully embrace scriptures, we are basically telling the OCD “I am not in danger” as we think about fears like contamination As we surrender the obsession to Christ, and believe we are safe because of scriptural truths, we are basically telling our OCD signal that you are just a false alarm that may produce anxiety but is harmless in nature.
Recognizing how the devil influences our obsessions
Believing the devil’s lies imprisons us. Satan uses temptation and deception to lure us into sin, and once we transgress, he makes accusations of us being “dirty sinners” as he tries to fool us into “God will reject me and not forgive me of my sins”. By creating distance between us and God, we become more vulnerable to Satan and OCD as our faith in God’s deliverance and goodness loses strength. Since the birth of sin, man has always experienced awkwardness in approaching God after after sinning. The devil knows this and uses spiritual warfare to increase this clumsiness.
Greatbiblestudy.com defines OCD as “demonic torment brought on by a person’s bondage to shame and fear”. When we obsess about shameful and embarrassing things we have done in the past, our compulsions get stronger.. This is because man is spiritually and physically intertwined. I read that “tackling spiritual issues like trusting Christ for your faith, perfection, and forgiveness can positively change how your OCD brain functions”. So, if you haven’t accepted Christ as your Savior, please log on to inpursuitoffreedomministries.com/Salvation.htm.
“The enemy loves to put thoughts into the believer’s minds. These thoughts produce strongholds, which produce feelings, which lands you into bondage” (Greatbiblestudy.com). Those who let their sin-producing shame and fear beat them up spiritually and emotionally, while choosing not to forgive themselves, become vulnerable to tormenting spirits. The devil likes to plant intrusive thoughts: “If I commit this hideous obsession, it will prove to all, including God, I am no good.” I know this from personal experience.
To combat these devilish tricks, root yourselves in God’s unconditional love, build a heart-filled understanding of God’s grace, put on the armor of God, and counter Satan lies with scriptural truths like Jesus did in Matthew 4. Once we become finally able to unwaveringly embrace “nothing can separate us from God’s love” and that God is not an “angry, tyrant taskmaster”, in spite of our sinful addictions and tricks of the devil, we will become less distracted in learning “God will never give us a temptation greater than what we can withstand though Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). In addition, understanding His grace better also opens the door towards more and more of His complete joy, peace, and contentment.
Mindfulness – 4 Steps by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz
In 1996,Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz wrote a book Brain Lock, detailing a four-step method to combat OCD, helping “tens of thousands of people with OCD.” Understanding what obsessions and compulsions really are helps you to learn how to manage the anxiety and fear of OCD, making it easier for you to respond to obsessions and compulsions.
Step 1: Relabel: Understand the problem as a faulty pattern in the brain.
When your brain has obsessions and compulsions, label them as such. For example, instead of fearfully saying, “I just saw my sister’s child naked, and I may sexually touch him.”, say instead, “I just saw my sister’s child naked, and I am having an obsession that I may sexually touch him.” When you fear contamination and you feel a compulsive urge to wash your hands several times, tell your mind, “I’m having a compulsive urge to perform the compulsion of washing my hands.” Saying “this thought is an obsession, this thought is a compulsion”, doesn’t make the obsessions and compulsions vanish, but aids the OCD brain to better understand that these feelings are false alarms.
Step 2: Reattribute: Separate the pattern of having obsessions and compulsions from any sense of guilt.
Simultaneously, as you relabel obsessions and compulsions (step 1), do step 2, reattribute. When you see a pretty girl and have a violent obsession enter your mind, tell OCD, “I am not a rapist, my thought is just an obsession, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s not my fault, it’s my OCD.” Doing this, stated in The OCD Workbook (co-authors, Bruce H. Hyman, PHD and Cherry Pedrick, RN), recognizes that the “uncomfortable catastrophic ideas, pervasive doubts, and compulsive urges” which describe OCD triggering events, are not derived from an objective assessment of a situation by your brain, but rather originate exclusively from the presence of OCD – a medical condition. According to reattribute, “you are not a bad person because you have the thoughts, it’s the fault of your OCD”.
Discussing biological issues of the OCD brain reinforces reattribute. When our senses detects life changes, the brain’s thalamus processes the data and then labels it as either important and unimportant while predicting related, future situations as being malignant or benign. Receiving messages in the form of neurotransmitters like serotonin, the caudate nucleus filters the thalamus-sent information, allowing information depicting “danger” pass through to the orbital cortex, while impeding the passage of “nonthreatening” messages. The orbital cortex, the brain area where thoughts and emotions unite, is also an initial warning system which tells other parts of the brain that “something is wrong”, that “fight or flight” needs to be activated. Low serotonin levels, plus abnormalities in the thalamus, caudate nucleus, orbital cortex, etc., often leads to thalamus problems in producing accurate information and caudate nucleus failures in blocking the passage of benign messages, which makes the orbital cortex overactive. This causes the orbital cortex to produce intense fear and false danger alarms to the mind. The cingulate gyrus, which helps the mind to shift from one thought and behavior to another, also becomes overexcited, causing the OCD brain to get stuck on obsessions and compulsions. As the cingulate gyrus races, signals telling other brain areas “something bad will happen if you stop doing the compulsion” is released. So when you have bad obsessions and struggle with compulsions, its not your fault, its your OCD!
Step 3: Refocus: Focus on actions that replace the undesired behavior
Refocus, by far the most difficult chore, is also done concurrently with relabel and reattribute. When you refocus, you focus your attention do other activities to distract the OCD mind, when tempted to do compulsions. The idea is to do what the cingular gyrus struggles to do when having compulsive urges: switch to new thoughts and behaviors.
We need to repeatedly refocus successfully to condition and train our mind over time to switch behaviors and thoughts. Take a walk, listen to music, read a book, play XBOX, have a conversation with a friend. When you refocus, your OCD will scream like a baby, demanding for attention. During these times, you must be the parents who ignores the tantrum; in time, the “OCD baby” will figure out that “screaming” will do no good, and thus quiet down. Dr. Schwartz recommends a minimum “15 minute rule” for postponing compulsions. The more effective you are at refocus, the less intense future compulsions will be.
Step 4: Revalue: Move on with Life
Doing previous steps successfully, makes revalue natural to do. Revalue means saying to your obsession: “I am having this OCD thought. I am not going to take it face value. I moving on with life. It is just a thought. It is not significant in itself.”
Cognitive-Behavior Therapy – Exposure And Response Prevention (ERP)
ERP involves exposing yourself to OCD fears and then voluntarily forcing yourself not to commit the compulsion. When this happens, eventually the obsession dies out and becomes extinct. It is based upon the fact, that the human body, when experiencing fear, simultaneously releases calming agents which attempt to calm the body down as the “fight or flight” stirs it up. When our brain no longer perceives itself being in danger, we become calm as calmness overpower fearfulness, which happens as our brain gets bored with the fear.
The goal of ERP is habituation and ultimately, extinction. Just like how we no longer feel the chill of cold water in a swimming pool, the OCD mind gets used to OCD-producing situation as our brain’s interpretation of the obsession changes, which occurs after repeated, prolonged, exposures to the obsession without performing compulsions.
Example: You want to enter a public bathroom but are afraid of contamination.
Obsession:“It is extremely dangerous to touch this doorknob.”
Compulsion: Don’t enter the bathroom door.
Choosing to do the compulsion (stay outside bathroom) makes the compulsive urge to not touch the doorknob stronger; thus, your OCD worsens. However, if you repeatedly choose not to do compulsion (you instead decide to confront your fear and touch the doorknob and walk inside), habituation eventually happens.The brain then reappraises and reinterpret the obsession (“It is extremely dangerous to touch the doorknob”) and replaces it with (“Nothing terrible will happen if I touch the doorknob – I can take a risk”). As you repeatedly continue to avoid the compulsion, the obsessions increasingly weaken until it hopelessly dies out.
OCD is about trust. You face a situation and an obsession pops in your head. “You are in danger”, the illness falsely says. What are you going to do?
For example: “You see a black man and have the impulse to scream out the “n-word”. You don’t want to do it, but though-action fusion says, “because I’m thinking it, I will say it!” You then become afraid that if you say it, he will beat me up; everyone who hears it will reject me. They will burn my house down, and God will reject me, not love me, and decide not to help me with my future problems. It will show I am no good!” Demand for certainty only intensifies the feelings of losing control, and you then become tempted to avoid public places where African Americans might hang out. How will you respond?
Martin Luther once said, “There are two, and only two, types of faith: the one from the fact I trust someone . . . the other from the fact that I acknowledge a thing to be true.” When obsessions enter my mind, I run to God. I put on the armor of God. Even though I often falter in trusting the Truth, I am increasingly learning that “God is not an abusive father who waits to condemn and punish”; but instead, “He is my Heavenly Father that always compassionately welcomes every Prodigal Son”; a God “who will never leave nor forsake His children.” Because He always forgives and considers us precious in His eyes, we have infinite reasons to be completely assured that promises like 1 Corinthians 10:13, Jeremiah 29:11-13, Romans 8:35-39, and Romans 8:28 can be trusted, in spite of all the devil’s lies and all the OCD false alarms our mind hears everyday!
Lies: we must not listen to lies! “Fear is born of Satan, and if we only take time to think we would see that everything Satan says is founded upon a falsehood” (A.B. Simpson). The obsessions and false alarms our mind fears, is false credibility is based upon a malfunctioning brain, tyrannized by a chemical imbalance of serotonin. We must open our eyes and have the courage to step out into the unknown and pursue our God-directed dreams!
Dan Rather once said, “Courage is being afraid, but going on anyhow.” In Samuel 17, a lowly shepherd boy David, even after being told by King Saul and Goliath he would lose, exhibited the courage to trust in His God to face the giant Goliath. Before they fought, when Goliath mocked David, David boldly replied: “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies – the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will give the conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:45-47). Moments later, a stone sank in Goliath’s head, and the former giant fell to the ground!
We are David and OCD is Goliath. People may not believe you can overcome your illness, “but with God, all things are possible.” Jesus said in Matthew 17-20, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” We must get ready for there are some mountains to be moved and some giants to be slaughtered.
Just like God used David to show Israel “there is a God” and that “God will rescue His people” by defeating Goliath, God created us with OCD to show the world that underdogs through God can overcome giants, and that “God will never fail nor forsake His people.” Everyone has a giant they must face. Our job is to reveal the God they desperately need.
Your struggles are not in vain: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Don’t give up! Romans 8:18 says “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later!”
“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). So be like David and pick up those stones (ERP, Mindfulness) and your sling (the scriptures) and know unwaveringly that God will be close as He will empower you to defeat your OCD.. Tell the enemy with conviction: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me” (Philippians 4:13).
Time to pause and slow down
The OCD Workbook: Second Edition, Your Guide To Breaking Free From Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Bruce M. Hyman, PHD and Cherry Pedrick, RN.
The Doubting Disease: Help for Scrupulosity and Religious Compulsions