Faith and OCD
What is faith?
Faith is your belief system. It can be religious. Moral. Ethical. It’s your confidence and trust in a specific thing, person or higher being.
The importance of faith varies greatly from person to person. For some, it is a major part of their identity and provides a moral foundation from which they live their lives. For others, the word means nothing. They prefer to live without faith or a belief in a higher being. And of course, some people fall somewhere in between. None of these choices is more right than the other. However, for OCD sufferers, it is often important to understand the role faith plays in your life because it could become the theme of your OCD.
How Does it Relate to OCD?
OCD can impact thoughts about your faith. Often, this overlaps with Scrupulosity, which is a form of OCD in which a sufferer’s primary anxiety is the fear of being guilty of religious, moral or ethical failure. Those afflicted with Scrupulosity fear that their effort to live according to their spiritual values is not good enough and is in direct violation of God. Scrupulosity occurs across all religions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, New Age Spirituality. The associations that the brain makes are often custom to your belief systems.
Oftentimes, people have intrusive thoughts about God, the way they observe God or even impure sexual thoughts about religious figures. These thoughts can impact the way that they pray. Some may think they’re not praying the right way. The issue with these thoughts, is that the more you’re told not to think them, the harder they are to get rid of. We don’t have control over our brains, and when you’re religious, it becomes even harder to separate that obsessive thinking from your personal value system.
What Can I Do About it?
Treatment is an effective way to manage intrusive thoughts about your faith. Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is the recommended treatment for OCD sufferers. ERP is when you voluntarily expose yourself to the source of your fear over and over and over again, without acting out any compulsion to neutralize or stop the fear. By repeatedly facing something you’re afraid of, you force your brain to recognize how irrational it is.
It’s important to understand your faith and the ways in which ERP might impact it. For some, ERP practices go against their religious belief system. This can make treatment more anxiety inducing than it is helpful. If you think ERP gets in the way of your faith, you and your therapist may decide to bring in a pastor, rabbi or other religious figure and have a conversation about what happens in therapy as a healing mechanism, versus sins committed outside of therapy. At the end of the day, you’re treating OCD, not your relationship with God. However, some may still have a tough time continuing with ERP and decide to stop treatment.
There are other treatment options as well. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, teaches people to identify, understand and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors. Patients are taught problem-solving skills during therapy lessons and then instructed to practice them on their own time in order to build positive habits.