For some people living with OCD, religion can be difficult to navigate but there are ways to manage your symptoms and keep your faith.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that is characterized by obsessions (intrusive, upsetting, persistent thoughts) and compulsions (rituals and behaviors you feel urged to carry out to soothe or stop those thoughts).
When you’re religious, your obsessions and compulsions could be religious in nature.
If you’re a Christian with OCD, your obsessions might be intrusive thoughts that you find sinful or blasphemous. Your compulsions could involve excessive prayer, confession, or reassurance-seeking from religious leaders.
It can all seem overwhelming. But it is possible to manage your symptoms while maintaining your relationship with God.
If you’re a Christian with OCD, certain religious activities such as sermons, prayer, and confession can become tough to navigate.
Religion isn’t the problem in itself. OCD can latch onto anything, including anything you enjoy. Religious beliefs aren’t immune to the mechanics of OCD.
Some Christians with OCD can become excessively worried about intrusive thoughts they perceive to be “impure.” They might believe their intrusive thoughts are proof that they’re “bad” Christians.
Let’s say you have an intrusive thought that God isn’t real. That thought doesn’t mean you genuinely believe God isn’t real, but you might feel awful about having that thought in the first place.
Remember that intrusive thoughts are not sins. These thoughts aren’t necessarily a reflection of your true beliefs.
It’s natural to have fleeting thoughts and images that don’t mesh with your beliefs and ideals. Most people can dismiss these thoughts. They might feel guilty for a second but will eventually move on.
But people with OCD tend to be especially upset by these intrusive thoughts and may find it difficult to move on from them.
In some cases, the more you “fight” the thought, the more you think about it. This can amplify your distress. If you believe God sees your thoughts, you might start worrying that He will punish you for them.
OCD can also cause you to fixate on whether you’re doing religious rituals “right.” For example, you might accidentally do the Sign of the Cross backward and later fear that you’re going to hell because you didn’t do it correctly.
You might engage in compulsions, such as prayer, to atone for your blasphemous thoughts. You might also constantly seek reassurance — from religious leaders or from Bible study — that you’re not going to hell. But none of these compulsions bring you relief or reassurance.
This can turn religion into a source of distress instead of a source of joy and comfort. But there is hope. You can manage your OCD symptoms as a Christian.
Another common OCD theme is scrupulosity (religious or moral OCD). Scrupulosity describes where the obsessions and compulsions are rooted in a fear that you’re doing something that’s immoral or against your religious beliefs.
With scrupulosity, your obsessions might revolve around thoughts you believe to be “wrong” while your compulsions might be rituals you use to stop those thoughts or neutralize their effects.
Scrupulosity obsessions can include fears around:
- whether or not your thoughts are blasphemous
- misinterpreting religious texts
- offending God
- committing a sin
- praying incorrectly
- participating in religious practices incorrectly
Scrupulosity compulsions can include:
- reading religious texts
- seeking reassurance from religious leaders or online sources
- participating in religious rituals
The activity of praying or seeking reassurance isn’t a problem in itself. But when you do it as a compulsion, the experience can lead to distress.
Not every religious person with OCD has scrupulosity. You might be religious and have OCD that doesn’t revolve around your religious beliefs.
It is possible to cope with OCD when you’re a Christian. Although there’s no cure for OCD, it can be treated and managed effectively. Christians with OCD can seek mental health support as well as support from religious leaders.
Talk therapy is proven to be one of the most effective treatments for OCD.
Other types of therapy, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), can also be effective.
If you prefer a Christian therapist, it’s possible to look for a mental health professional who is also Christian. Your church might be able to recommend one for you.
Speaking with a religious leader
It’s not always easy to talk about mental health with other Christians, especially when your fear of sinning is at the root of it.
But it can be helpful to reach out to your religious leaders. Some religious leaders are trained in mental health counseling, and they might be able to help you take the next step in seeking help.
Stress can worsen the symptoms of OCD. Try to find ways to process and cope with your stress.
This can include:
OCD can be isolating. But remember that you’re not alone. Other people — including other Christians — have faced the same challenges.
Many people with OCD benefit from support groups. Your church or therapist might be able to recommend one. You could also check out this list of IOCDF OCD in-person support groups or IOCDF online or telephone support groups.
It can be difficult to cope with OCD when you’re a Christian. OCD can often take the enjoyment out of religious beliefs and activities, turning them into a source of anxiety and fear.
But there are effective treatments for OCD. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help. You might also want to speak with a religious leader you trust.
The following resources might also be helpful: