Helen* was deeply disturbed. She had been learning about scrupulosity recovery for several months and had vigorously applied herself to new methods. She had been learning concepts from Scripture that helped her feel comfortable with not responding to her intrusive thoughts. Her mood had lifted considerably, and she had become much more functional in daily life. But one day, a new fear entered her mind: what if all this improvement meant she simply didn’t care about God anymore? She wrote me a frantic email, telling me about how she felt anxious about getting better.
Helen’s SOS email wasn’t unusual.
In fact, I’ve found that it’s quite common for individuals recovering from scrupulosity to feel anxious about getting better.
Let’s look at a few typical reasons for this fear, and I’ll share some encouragement if this describes your current situation.
Reasons Why You May Feel Anxious About Getting Better
Recovering from a mental health disorder is typically seen as something “positive,” so it may seem strange that some people worry about improvement. Let’s begin by looking at a few reasons why this occurs.
Fears of Spiritual Loss or Apostasy
As we walk the road of scrupulosity recovery, we gradually learn how to stop obsessing about things God promised to take care of. Dr. Ian Osborne, who has inspired much of my work, calls this process “transferring responsibility to God.”
Recovering from scrupulosity is the gospel message in a microcosm.
It requires the best and finest theology to open the door to a profound level of spiritual trust.
As we leave behind our legalistic, self-powered attempts to save ourselves, we lean more and more heavily upon the mighty arm of our Savior.
And slowly, rest comes.
The kind of rest that allows us to switch off the computer and leave work without an elaborate prayer and confession ritual. The kind of rest that lets us ignore strange, passing thoughts as undeserving of our time. The kind of rest that grants us sleep at night without a two-hour overthinking session about false memories of something we might have done wrong in tenth grade.
We relax into this rest.
It becomes more and more normal.
Until one day, we wake up and wonder if this is too good to be true.
The chronic doubt of OCD hounds us at our heels once more, pressing us with the ever-present “what if” and “how do you know” questions.
What if this newfound rest isn’t recovery from OCD? How do I know it’s not a sign that I’m losing my salvation? What if it’s wrong for me to be freed from these struggles? How do I know I’m not walking away from true religion?
This is one of the biggest thought patterns at work when we feel anxious about getting better.
Thankfully, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s nothing more than OCD’s chronic doubt at work again. Let us remember the words of Scripture which say,
Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.Philippians 1:6
You’re not losing your spirituality. You’re not walking away from God. You’re simply in a different “season” of spirituality now. You’re learning to have faith in a way you never experienced before.
Attaching Too Much Importance to Feelings
Emotional reasoning, one of the biggest cognitive distortions in OCD’s hall of infamy, is another reason why some people struggle with feeling anxious about getting better.
Emotional reasoning tells us that “because I feel it, it must be true.”
Try telling that to an aerobatic pilot–those airplane pilots who perform stunt rolls, loops, and trick dives. They’ve learned to rely on their instruments, not on their feelings. Free falling in giant loops is sure to disrupt the normal “feeling” in their stomachs, yet, they have learned to pin reality on objective indicators that transcend feelings.
In our recovery journey with scrupulosity, we also learn to transcend our feelings by pinning reality on one grand, objective indicator: the divine Word of God.
- If God’s Word declares that I am a child of God, beloved, a new creation–I must believe it, even if I feel constantly condemned and guilty.
- If God’s Word says that no one can pluck me out of the Father’s hand–I must believe it, even if I suffer from constant obsessions that I might fall away.
- If God’s Word tells me I’m helplessly dependent on God’s work in my life and I can never hope to save myself–I must believe it, and lay aside my self-powered attempts to “figure out” my problems through religious rumination.
Yes, faith versus emotional reasoning is something we work on in the scrupulosity recovery community.
While the whole cultural worldview of our generation tells us to “honor our feelings” and be true to our hearts, we remember the words of Jeremiah 17:9,
The heart is deceitful above all things,Jeremiah 17:9
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
If you’ve experienced trauma, it’s good to work through the broken emotions that come with a broken heart. But in the vast majority of scrupulosity cases I’ve dealt with, we aren’t talking about new, fresh, daily traumas.
We’re talking about fake news.
Our emotions scream things at us that have absolutely no basis in reality. And that’s a good foghorn to learn to ignore.
If this step is not addressed or mastered in our scrupulosity recovery journey, it can make us feel anxious about getting better. If emotional reasoning is still entrenched in our thought patterns, all it takes is one day of bad feelings, or weird feelings at a coincidental moment, and all we can think about is that something is wrong with us for getting better.
This might apply to you if you’ve been making slow, steady progress with your scrupulosity but are suddenly feeling uncomfortable with your progress and can’t explain why. Unlike our first category, which has clear spiritual anxieties about getting better, in this case you just have a vague feeling that something is “off.”
It’s like you don’t yet know how to enjoy spiritual and emotional freedom.
Spiritual Self-Worth Problems
A third and final reason why some people feel anxious about getting better is because of something I like to call “spiritual dysmorphia.”
You’ve heard of the term “dysmorphia” in other contexts, perhaps most commonly in reference to body dysmorphic disorder.
Dysmorphia refers to a deep psychological gap between what you see when you look in the mirror and what really exists. Those with body dysmorphia look in the mirror and see a hideous reflection, even though their loved ones see a beautiful person. Those of us with spiritual dysmorphia see ourselves as condemned, unworthy, and even hated by God–despite a very different reality.
People I’ve worked with who struggle with spiritual dysmorphia tend to have had past traumas or toxic relationships. They’ve learned a self-demeaning pattern for relating to others and apply this pattern, perhaps subconsciously, to the way they relate to God.
Many people with codependent backgrounds believe that mistreatment in a relationship is normal and may struggle to navigate healthy relationships. In a similar way, spiritual dysmorphia normalizes spiritual condemnation the way victims come to accept abuse. At some level, they may know that this isn’t the way God works, but it takes a hefty and consistent effort to rewire the brain.
Because thankfully, it isn’t GOD hurling lightning bolts of shame and judgment at us.
It’s just our OCD.
The Bible says,
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquityMicah 7:18-19, ESV
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
Our spiritual dysmorphia tells us that we are horrible and lost, but God’s Word tells us that all our sins are cast into the depths of the sea. We are beloved. Saved. Kept in the palm of His hand. THIS is truth, and we must believe this objective fact rather than our feelings.
So, bit by bit, we start forming appropriate, Biblical views of God’s character. The self-condemning thoughts start to come less frequently.
Do we rejoice in our newfound acceptance?
No, leave it to the OCD community to do things the hard way. Instead of rejoicing, we start panicking that something is wrong with us because we aren’t feeling so much shame and condemnation anymore.
(Write a comment at the end of this post if this is relatable!)
Spiritual dysmorphia is the mirror on the wall telling us we’re unlovable, hated by God, shameful, and lost. It’s the state of being brainwashed by our OCD to believe a lie about God and self. It is seeing ourselves falsely. We see ourselves as monsters, but we are truly children of God–beloved beyond measure.
Feeling anxious about getting better is just an evidence that we’ve had a tough life up till now, and we need more time to learn how to digest freedom and nontoxic love.
But irregardless of how much time you need, you’re going to be alright. You’re bent but not broken. This struggle is not permanent.
What to Do If You Feel Anxious About Getting Better
If you can relate to any of these reasons why you might feel anxious about getting better, the first step is to simply recognize that it’s normal.
I’ve had it.
Lots of people have had it.
It’s the fallacy that “wellness” is too good to be true. Certainly the wave will come crashing down on our heads at anytime, right? Won’t we wake up from this almost-recovered feeling and realize we did something terribly wrong?
Well, maybe not.
Maybe we feel anxious about getting better because “better” feels new and strange, and we don’t know how to process that yet.
Weirdly Goes Our Healing Journey
Remember the time Jesus healed a blind man but the guy seemed a bit confused during the process?
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.
And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”
Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.Mark 8:22-25
Here’s the point: this man, while he was in the process of being healed, felt strange. Things weren’t quite right. He could kinda-sorta see, but the people looked like walking trees.
The healing process was going along…weirdly.
But Jesus wasn’t finished yet. He touched the man again, and then he was made fully well. He could see clearly.
Accepting the Weird Ups and Downs
Like the blind man, our healing journey will have ups and downs. We’ll feel great some days. Other days our entire perception will be “off,” like the man who saw men like walking trees.
We need to have faith in the touch of our Savior.
Jesus is with us.
He is putting His hands upon our wounded, overworked OCD brains.
He is touching us deep in our worry-weary souls.
Some days, you’ll feel like this whole healing process is too good to be true, and it’ll give you panic. You might feel unsettled that you aren’t freaking out about your religious rituals anymore, or you’ll worry because you don’t obsess about spirituality.
Does it mean there’s something wrong with your soul?
No, it means something is right with your soul. It’s receiving the healing touch of Jesus, and you’re learning to see again. Don’t be anxious about getting better. This part of the journey will pass.
Feeling anxious about getting better is incredibly common for people who are overcoming scrupulosity. Don’t let it make you falter.
At best, this fear is an annoying little barb in your side that will go away after awhile.
At its worst, though, this concern can make people turn back and embrace their compulsions, if only to gain that familiar feeling of toxic devotion.
Don’t do that.
Remember: God is not in the business of spiritual abuse. Not at all. So if you’re finally feeling free from spiritual abuse and terror, it means you’re moving closer to God, not away from Him. I know it can feel different and confusing, but now is the time to embrace a new vision of God, not return to a false image in which you’re alone in your room, worshipping OCD-masquerading-as-God.
Jesus came to give us healing. Now is the time to receive it with rejoicing.
By his wounds you have been healed.1 Peter 2:24, ESV
As you struggle through this awkward stage of feeling worse about feeling better, take courage that this is just a stage. Press forward with unyielding faith that God’s divine hand is upon your life. He is leading you, and will never forsake you.
He’s with you.
Even when you’re feeling anxious about getting better!
Best wishes on the journey,