Thursday, November 26, 2009

OCD's and Scrupulosity - Obsessive Religion

Hello Friends:

We now interrupt our previously scheduled post (the second part of my PTSD and Spiritual Crises series) to take a step back and ask, so what?  So why do I care so much that I'm not spiritually well-defined, anyway?  I mean, I know this is a symptom of PTSD, but is it really necessary to work through this religion stuff at all?  Aren't flashbacks, say, much more of an issue?

Well, yes and no.  As I said in the last post, it seems that all PTSD symptoms are related to the same prime causes, and therefore working on one is likely to help with another.  And it may be impossible to ignore one utterly and expect some other issues to heal up just nice.  So constructing a consistent and meaningful world view may assist with mitigating flashbacks, and vice versa.

But it's more than that, at least for me.  I suffer from a form of 'scrupulosity'.  This is a specific aspect of my OCDs that emerge in the realm of religious and spiritual thinking and rituals.  I found a great description of it here, and excerpted the following (gender change is mine):  "For certain individuals, religious beliefs become compulsive, joyless behaviors.  The individual may constantly worry that she might say or do something blasphemous.  She may fear that she has committed sin, forgotten it and then neglected to repent for the sin.  She may spend long hours searching her mind to try to ferret out evidence of unconfessed sins.  She is unable to feel forgiven.  Specific obsessions and compulsions vary occurring to the individuals religion.  An Orthodox Jew might worry that he did not perform a particular ritual correctly.  He might obsess about this for hours.  A Roman Catholic might go to confession several times a day.  Another individual could believe that anything she does might be sinful.  This individual might become so paralyzed with doubt, that he or she becomes afraid to do or say anything at all."

My issues are not that I tend to perform rituals; I don't have too many religiously compulsive behaviors.  It is that I obsess about how I'm going to hell, and am constantly looking for the right set of 'rules' to follow so I don't have to worry about going to hell anymore.  I'm not sure it is possible.

My religious background is pretty varied within different brands of Christianity.  But the most lingering bad effects came from the time I was attending a fundamentalist church.  These are dangerously seductive for those with OCDs since, on the surface, they seem to present a perfectly defined set of rules that anyone can follow and 'know' they are saved.  But then, when church pulls you in deeper, you realize that instead they always leave you guessing.  Wondering.  Always needing to come back and check.  You are constantly admonished to be vigilant against 'backsliding'.  You must confess your sins to God constantly, and are only assured of being 'saved' until you commit the next sin.  For this sect, thoughts can be sins, and we've already discussed the difficulties in telling yourself not to think about something.  It became a nightmare of trying to meet a set of rules that never really did the trick.  You were never quite good enough.  (Been given the gift of tongues yet?  No?  Hmm ...)  In addition to all of this confusion, you had to take responsibility for the souls of people around you.  If you weren't actively trying to convert them, then you were sinning.  If they died unconverted because you didn't talk to them, that was on your head.

In spite of having left this church behind years ago, damage has been done.  I mentioned in my post on Trying to Make Sense of God, that I'd had a final 'break' with God over what I read in a book.  I accepted that there was no way I could do everything necessary to be sure I was going to hell.  And since the lack of knowing is unbearable, it is easier to say, 'screw you' and know you are going to hell.  Strange, I know.  But there you have it.

Knowing now that this confusion is fed by PTSD, I have some new hope.  Maybe there really is a way to look at this situation more compassionately.  More 'realistically' just like the way I look at all the rest of my OCDs.  I've had success there.  Maybe I can have some success creating a new view of the world where things 'make sense'.  Where there is justice.  Where there is a meaningful spirituality.

I don't know if I can, but as you see I have some motivation to try.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

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Amy said...

Like you, I had damaging experiences with fundamentalist Christianity. The mind control is excruciatingly difficult to overcome. I can see that this would be very hard for someone with OCD, because leaving a fundamentalist faith requires tremendous trust in one's own judgment and perception of the world.

I imagine you must find the freedom worth it, since your fear of hell has not driven you back. It seems you are able to objectify your fear enough--i.e., recognize it as an OCD symptom--that you can retain your right to explore issues of faith and spirituality.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey Amy: As far as 'retaining the right to explore,' I have two different and very strong feelings. The first is, in fact, that I do have that right. But the second remains a strong voice telling me that exploring is bad and I should just be gathering whatever good is coming from whatever I traditionally should have. It isn't stopping me, but at the same time, I still feel guilty for it.

expwoman said...

This post really resonated with me. I have struggled with scrupulosity related to wondering if I was going to hell, as well as the nature of suffering, and got myself so entangled and exhausted from trying to figure things out that I decided it was better to just decide God doesn't exist. I've worked on a lot of my ocd stuff, but this one is still untouched.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey there expwoman - I appreciate your reading and commenting. It seems to be such a tough issue. I sometimes envy people for whom faith comes so easy. But then I think, hey, when I figure this out, I'm gonna have the most solid world view in the ... world. Har. I'm sort of in the 'God probably does not exist' category right now, but because of my past, I really WANT a God. Or maybe a Goddess. And then I feel like I've just started creating God in my own image, and why do I bother, anyway? Crazy stuff, here.

Katie said...

Hey there- Thanks for writing here and sharing your experiences! Scrupulosity has also been a struggle for me. I am a Christian and have definitely struggled in my younger years with wondering if I was really saved. But I want to encourage all of you- Salvation is based on faith, faith will propel you to do good, but that from the moment we place our faith in Jesus' death on the cross as punishment for our sins (instead of having to pay for ourselves in hell), we are DRENCHED in grace--for past sins, current sins, and future sins. It's all covered by the blood of Christ.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." -Ephesians 2:8-9

Okay. I'm done. But please don't give up on God because OCD makes it so hard to follow Him. He understands our brains and our weaknesses- it's our hearts that He's most concerned about.

May you experience His love deeply.

Anonymous said...

Sadly I am all to familiar with your experience except I have not given up or turned my back on God.

Though I have backslidden,.. gone back ad forth..

To be honest He has given me instructions, not to mention vast amount of resources online to help me be positive...but even many books..and other things showing me He cares.

First of all what I have been learning is think optimistic..
learn positive self-talk.

Good books I think may help : The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

I actually only have one of his books, "Why Some Positive thinkers get Powerful Results"
this books is pretty awesome and motivating to when he recounts saying something like how he has seen and heard it (faith positive hope) work!!

There is also
Dr. Dave Abbot.
He literally has a VAST and I mean a VAST amount or resources online to help one get on the track of thinking and being positive.

he also has free books you can read online free.

I want to start practicing being positive, expecting good.

I learned from a free ebook online called the End of Fear , how Faith, Hope, Love , and Light (understanding) are our only weapons against fear..
think about it .if you have hope Good hope, you will expect good stuff , like favor, blessing and even power, strength for the rough times in life. there for you won't be expecting evil, or bad. You won't be uncertain of the future.

( faith has the element of certainty at its core you can read Hebrews 11:1 ESV for its definition)

Check out these
I've read so much about how positive thinking works, how people's lives have been changed for the better..

what I got to do is put it into practice , being patient..continue and don't give up hoping, believing and saying the right things, saying words filled with hope, good hope.

Will you join me?

Anonymous said...

(I wrote the last post)

As with all books, don't allow your self if y9ou read something in the book that may cause you to worry.
Philippians 4:6
Just trust and pray God will bring understanding about something that might tick you off.

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