One of the key features of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is doubt. It’s not rational or logical, but those who suffer from OCD cannot stop doubting—themselves, other people, God.
What if I forgot to close the garage door even though I checked it ten times before I left? What if I didn’t get rid of all the potentially deadly bacteria under my fingernails when I scrubbed my hands for the fiftieth time two minutes ago? What if God takes my family away from me for not reciting the Lord’s Prayer perfectly?
It’s no wonder that OCD is sometimes known as “the doubting disease.” Doubt is the root and hallmark of the disorder.
Doubt, however, is not all bad.
As Jeff Bell, author of When in Doubt, Make Belief, points out, there are two classes of doubt: intellect-based and fear-based doubt—or in other words, healthy and unhealthy doubt.
With intellect-based doubt, reason and rationality drive people to challenge accepted but flawed ideas. But with fear-based doubt, doubters continue to doubt despite clear evidence to the contrary, and when there is absolutely no benefit in continuing to doubt.
So how is one to deal with unhealthy fear-based doubt?
Step away from the fear
Sometimes, thinking about your feelings instead of simply feeling them can reduce their intensity.
The next time you start arguing with yourself over whether or not you performed a certain compulsion to perfection, stop arguing, step back and start narrating to yourself what is happening:
“My hands are growing clammy, my heart rate is speeding up. It appears that my amygdala (the part of the brain that controls things like our fight-or-flight reactions, and is implicated in the vicious cycle of OCD) is becoming overactive again. Isn’t that interesting?”
Fear narrows the perspective, but observation can help broaden it back up. It is harder to stay fearful if you visualize fear as a physiological process gone haywire in your body.
Focus on a big picture that includes others
Obsessive fears are self-centering. When sufferers are in the throes of an obsessive-compulsive cycle, it’s nearly impossible to think of anyone but themselves and how terrible they feel.
But including others in your consideration can help to lessen the hold that OCD has over you. Jeff Bell, an OCD sufferer, recounts in his book a time when his daughter was taken to the hospital for an unknown condition. In his desire to reach her, Bell was able to temporarily resist the extremely strong call of his obsessions.
Similarly, when Bell first started standing up to his OCD, he did it because he promised to use his experiences to write a book and teach and help others who suffer like him. Knowing that there were many future readers and OCD sufferers counting on him gave him extra motivation to fight back.
Likewise, if you suffer from OCD, it helps in the dark times to remember that God “helps us in our troubles so that we are able to help others…using the same help we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)
Think of it as crisis training. Those who suffer have a unique advantage when it comes to addressing the problems in the world and countering the effects of sin and misery in other people’s lives. Because they have experienced pain and doubt, fear and suffering, they are better able to reach out to those who are going through terrible things.
One day, someone will probably need you to speak life into their situation, and you will only be able to do so having gone through what you are going through now.
Finally, the most important way to counter obsessive fear-based doubt, is to (cliched as it sounds) put your trust in God.
The key, though, is what kind of trust to put in God:
It is not trust that God WILL FOR SURE prevent you from catching a fatal disease, or protect your loved ones from harm, or your house from thieves.
God does protect many of us from these things on a daily basis. But sometimes, in His sovereignty, He allows the unthinkable to happen.
The trust, then, is not that God will make everything go the way you want it to go, but that even if things do not go as you wish, God will eventually work it all out for His purposes—which are the best purposes in the universe, for you, and for everyone.
As Romans 8:28 reminds us: “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
Learning to trust God’s purposes even if (or especially if) they contradict your own will not only help you stand up to OCD, but also help you to grow in faith and maturity, something everyone (OCD sufferer or not) must do.
OCD is a heavy burden to bear, but God can weave even your struggles with fear-based doubt into His purposes and make everything turn out for your ultimate good, if you let Him.
In the meantime, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a particularly pernicious condition to battle, and those who suffer from it may benefit from the help of an experienced counselor. For more information, please contact us at Stonebriar Counseling Associates.