Are there any positive things about religious OCD? Yes! When it comes to a chronic anxiety disorder like religious OCD, mindset is everything.
Everybody has some kind of “thorn in the flesh.” Victims aren’t made by circumstances, they’re made by the mindset they choose to have towards those circumstances.
For example, let’s think of two American soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Both are double amputees. They both have access to the same medical services and they both have supportive families. But one loses himself in hopelessness and alcoholism, while the other goes on to become an inspirational speaker and an athlete—despite the handicap. What makes the difference? Mindset.
If we choose to look at obsessive-compulsive disorder as a horrible, terrible anxiety disorder that rules and ruins our lives, we have begun the process of victimizing ourselves.
On the other hand, if we choose to see OCD in the kaleidoscope of thorns and blessings upon the pathway of life, we will see how even the hardships make us who we are. We will learn to accept the presence of this thorn. We will allow its negative energy to propel us higher up the mountain of God’s plans for us.
To help us reframe our scrupulosity in a way that avoids victimization, I’d like to suggest a list of 10 positive things about religious OCD. And if you think of more, please add them in the comments below!
1. Religious OCD leads us to have our minds constantly on God.
One positive element of religious OCD is that it leads us to have our minds constantly attuned to spiritual things. While this is often an unhealthy, obsessive-compulsive way of relating to God, it can also be a beautiful thing. It can make us more open to spiritual consolation and more in-tune to God’s voice. Although it can be a challenge to extract the obsessive-compulsive part of our spiritual lives, what lies underneath is a precious spiritual orientation that not everyone has.
2. Scrupulosity makes us highly conscientious people.
The fact that we are scrupulous means we are always anxious to do what’s right. The “anxiety” part of that equation isn’t nice, but the devotion to morality and righteousness is an amazing thing. Our society needs more people who are sticklers for what’s right. This is particularly true in our post-Christian era. To a large extent, morality has been slaughtered by a relativist worldview which says everyone can create their own version of right and wrong. Society needs people whose internal compass points to true north. The fact that we pressure ourselves in areas that aren’t necessary is annoying. But society has always had its small percentage of moral sticklers to bring balance, and we are good, due-paying members of this club!
3. People with scrupulosity are more likely to be sensitive and caring.
Scrupulous people are some of the most sensitive and caring people I ever meet. Part of this might be related to the high correlation between scrupulosity and the HSP trait, which I have observed is much higher among the scrupulous than in the general population. HSP stands for “Highly Sensitive Person,” a concept explored by Dr. Elaine Aron over the last few decades. The sensitivity traits that Dr. Aron discovered explain why we process information slowly, feel things intensely, and are hypersensitive to external stimuli. But it also uncovers that we are extremely creative, compassionate, and experience a deeper level of cognitive processing. If you have scrupulosity, there is a much higher chance that you are also HSP, and that’s exciting! Visit Dr. Aron’s website to test yourself!
4. Suffering from chronic anxiety makes us more compassionate towards others.
Whether or not we are HSP, suffering from religious OCD makes us much more compassionate towards others. Most of my scrupulous clients admit (usually with some shyness) that they are known for being particularly kind, caring individuals. Is it because we’ve suffered that we deal tenderly with others? If so, perhaps it is comforting to remember that every cloud has a silver lining. If we naturally share comfort and compassion with others because we’ve needed it ourselves (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-7), then we can say that there are indeed positive things about religious OCD.
5. OCD is covered by health insurance and disability.
There are a lot of “mystery” diseases out there, but OCD is not one of them. There’s a boatload of medical research on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although the general public tends to have a very simplistic understanding of OCD, it is listed in the “Blue Book” of disorders that may make you eligible for receiving disability. I hesitate to mention this point, because it can be viewed in a positive and a negative way. A negative way to view disability is to see it as a crutch for a “forever” disorder. That’s not what I wish to say. You can make improvement and see your OCD go into remission. However, it is comforting news to know that if you are struggling severely with this disorder in a way that affects daily life and employment, there’s a safety net that can provide additional support.
6. The struggle with religious OCD forces us to grapple with the nature of faith.
From our best understanding of science, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a biological thing. It involves hyperactivity in areas of the brain responsible for error processing, which translates into an agonizing tendency to doubt and question everything. OCD themes might attack our sense of cleanliness, symmetry, sexuality, or religion—but when our spirituality is brought into the mix, it is a unique opportunity for us to grapple with the nature of faith. What does it really mean to “believe?” Is it ok for the believer to have doubts? Does God save us because of our superior intellect and doctrine, or because of His grace? Grappling with the true nature of faith can be intellectually and emotionally demanding, but I believe it makes us better Christians in the end.
7. The struggle with religious OCD forces us to grapple with our understanding of God’s character.
Piggybacking off the former thought, OCD also forces us to think deeply about who we believe God is. This takes us down to the bedrock of our faith. It pushes us to analyze our worldview, considering what is really “real” about this divine being we call “God.” What does God expect from us? What does He perform for us? Is He holding us at arm’s length, waiting for us to dot all our i’s and cross all our t’s before He accepts us? Is He eager for judgment and punishment, or does His heart melt with longing and compassion for strugglers like you and me? Considering these kinds of questions helps us to reshape a biblically informed worldview, which is a powerful process that not everyone will be desperate enough to experience for themselves.
8. The intrusive thoughts of religious OCD are ego-dystonic–they could be worse!
We hate those unwanted, intrusive thoughts that “pop” into our minds and set off a rumination marathon. But it could be much worse. OCD thoughts are considered ego-dystonic, meaning we don’t enjoy them and we feel they are at odds with our true beliefs. So with my deepest compassion for those who suffer from other more serious mental health disorders, we can cling to this little grain of truth with a lot of hope: we are not psychotic, delusional, or hallucinatory. We are in our right minds, and we know the repetitive thoughts we struggle with are weird. It’s profoundly comforting to be able to sit back and say, “because this disturbing thought disturbs me, that means there is something very RIGHT with me and my mental health!”
9. Some people would say our compulsions give us badges of honor.
Recently I was speaking with a client who is getting callouses on his knees because of how many hours he spends in compulsive prayer every day. Like many, he is unable to stop because of the anxiety of not being sure he has completed his prayers “just right.” But while we work towards the ability to see God in His true character and the ability to release our compulsive energy, there’s still humor in these situations. During the seven years I lived in the Middle East, I would encounter men who had forehead callouses. Such a callous was called a zebibah, or a “prayer bump.” Pious Muslims would earn this mark from consistent prayer over the years. Younger men sometimes desire this callous so much that they rub their foreheads with sandpaper to achieve the “pious look!” We’ve got to see a bit of humor in our situation. Our bruises and callouses would probably earn us a bit of admiration in other contexts!
10. For better or worse, religious OCD has made us who we are.
Some of us have struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder since our teen years or childhood. Others have had a more recent onset. But whatever the case, religious OCD has made us who we are. When we look back at the choices we’ve made, the people who we’ve chosen to mentor us, and the lifestyle we’ve created, most of us will recognize a bit of OCD in the mix. Sometimes, the chronic spiritual anxiety holds us back from enjoying life. But other times (as I can see in my own story), it holds us back from making serious mistakes that we won’t recognize until much later. For better or worse, our own personal story of redemption is wrapped up with this thing called anxiety. It is the thorn in our flesh, the cross we bear, and the broken vessel that keeps us dependent on God. It may be hard to identify positive things about religious OCD, but believe me–they are there.
Positive Things About Religious OCD: Conclusion
Chronic anxiety–yes, even the kind of anxiety that edges into our spiritual lives–is hard to bear.
But it isn’t the end of the world.
We survive it.
We live meaningful lives.
We experience joy like a patchwork quilt, interspersed with edges of realness that keep us connected and sympathizing with the world’s pain. And our mindset presses forward. With Paul, we say,
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Dear friend, don’t let your struggle with scrupulosity victimize you. In Christ, you are not a victim, you are more than a conquerer! Reach high with the hand of faith and ask God how you can channel your anxious energy and pain into something positive.
What about you? Can you think of any more positive things about religious OCD? Share your ideas with the scrupulosity community in the comments section below!
Best wishes on the journey,