- What is Scrupulosity OCD?
- How Rachel discovered she had been struggling with it
- How to determine if this is a normal level of spiritual concern or could be OCD
- Exposure and Response Prevention
- Learning how to sit with discomfort and ambiguity
- Getting to know the character of God and filtering information through that lens
Verses discussed: Phil 4:6, 2 Cor 10:5
Resources and links:
More information on ERP and OCD
Transcript of Episode 8
Hope for Anxiety and OCD Episode 8
Hello, if you are new to the show, we are all about reducing shame, increasing hope, and developing healthier connections with God and others.
Today on the show. I am interviewing Rachel Hammons. I did not know Rachel until I started doing some research for this podcast.
I wanted to talk with people who were struggling with anxiety or OCD and were Christian and also listen to podcasts. So I did probably almost 10 interviews with people and Rachel happened to be one of those people. I was able to glean so much valuable information that helped me in knowing what to put in the show. I ended up following up with Rachel a while later and just saying, “Hey, would you be willing to share your story on the podcast?” She graciously said yes.
Rachel Hammons is a counselor in the Nashville Metro area. She specializes in working with people who are struggling with OCD. She also struggles with OCD herself. [00:01:36] She is going to talk with us a little bit more about scrupulosity OCD, how it’s affected her life and how she came to find out that she had it, which is a very interesting story.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Rachel Hammons.
Carrie: So Rachel, tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you’re doing.
Rachel: I’m in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m licensed in the state of Tennessee. I’ve been working with a lot of individuals with OCD over the past year or so. As I’ve started to do more private practice work, I started off thinking I was going to go more like the trauma route. As I started to learn more about what OCD was I also started to actually see that in myself. I really found a passion for it. So doing my practice work with OCD.
Carrie: So you really didn’t recognize OCD traits within yourself until you were in school, studying OCD?
Rachel: Well, yes and no. I know we’re going to get a little bit into some of my story but I definitely recognized that there were what I would have called more type-A tendencies.
Even though I never really wanted to be a type-A person I always saw myself kind of “I want to go with the flow. Everything’s fine but then I had these really strong needs for structure, black and white thinking things that I would misunderstand, and a really big obsession with making sure that I was doing the absolute best and the absolute right thing.
I just always attributed that to, “I was very type A” or in the more nonchalant way like, “Oh, I’m so OCD.” Even though that phrase is not super helpful, but then after I do more of my professional life and after I graduated even in grad school, we covered OCD but it was more just their obsessions and compulsions, and usually related to like cleaning or going back and checking to make sure you didn’t hit someone with your car.
As I started to do more research and finding my niche with counseling, I’m learning more about what OCD was, especially the subtypes of OCD. This whole subtype called scrupulosity that had to do with moral and religious OCD. As I started to learn more about the symptoms and signs of that, I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s me.”
Carrie: A lot of people don’t know that that exists. I’m glad that we’re talking about it today. A lot of times people do associate OCD with people that have an organized closet or that clean a bunch or are obsessed with germs. There are these different subtypes. We’re talking about scrupulosity, OCD. How would you kind of define that a little bit?
Rachel: First of all when it comes to OCD, there are several different subtypes that you can experience. There tends to be overlap between lots of them and any one person. I mean, typically you had kind of one or two that’s like those are your struggles, but it can vary over your lifespan. Each of them has kind of unique facets.
OCD in general is going to be comprised of obsessions and then usually followed by compulsion. So if you take that same model and you apply it to what we call scrupulosity, it’s going to be obsessions and then usually followed by compulsions all-around religious and moral issues.
What I think is interesting is you don’t have to be of a religious faith to have scrupulosity. Personally, I am and I would identify myself as a Christian, but there are lots of people who will still experience the obsessions. Again, usually followed by compulsion, but not always around these moral issues.
So in a nutshell, that’s what it is. There are a lot of specific symptoms and things that I’m sure we’re going to get into.
Carrie: How has this affected you personally?
Rachel: I’m actually really excited to share just a little bit about my story because as a counselor I don’t use a lot of self-disclosure, so I’m not sharing my story with all my clients. It’s a piece that I’ve learned about me within the past couple of years, a lot of people don’t know the whole story. So I kind of looked back in preparation for this, just at several different things that I noticed, like from my past, as well as some of the things that I’m still struggling with.
I’ll kind of start with looking back. As I said, there was a lot of black and white thinking. There was a lot of doubt and OCD is sometimes termed like the doubting disease. So I was definitely doubting like, “Is this right? Is this the best thing? Is this true?” I definitely liked some aspects about that, about myself because I like being able to really seek truth, but then OCD twists that, especially with scrupulosity and having it be so much of a mental obsession. It twists what is good and what is truth and what’s most important to you and turns that into this obsession. I know we’re going to get into a little bit later, what does support look like from other people.
Specifically, right now with the church and the environment I grew up in when you see a very studious, responsible kid that’s reading their scripture, that’s asking questions a lot of times, the initial thought is, “Oh wow. This kid is really on fire for God.”
There was a huge mental health component to that where I was like wrecked with anxiety over making sure I got the right answer. Some of the things that I look back on and some of them I kind of laugh about. The first one I’ll just tell you is I think the most obvious obsession and compulsion that I ever experienced. When we were younger, my mom had specific TV shows that we were allowed to watch and that we weren’t allowed to watch. There was never any really comparison like this one’s really bad or this one’s really good. It was just like, “these are the ones you can’t watch.” So one of those that I wasn’t allowed to watch was SpongeBob, but for some reason, in my head, SpongeBob became like the epitome of evil. My mind was just like SpongeBob is bad.
So initially you can start to see that black and white thinking, but where that would come up for me is at the time a lot of people had those SpongeBob flush toys in their car or the dice that you would hang from your rearview mirror. I remember specifically walking past cars as we’d get out to go to the grocery store and seeing those [00:08:43] and I had to say “I hate you” a certain number of times to SpongeBob to get rid of the evil. I thought it wasn’t necessarily super distressing unless there was a lot of SpongeBob or like SpongeBob was on at the doctor’s office. I felt so guilty and this evil was next to me. I had to keep saying, “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.” Sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head.
Carrie: Sometimes I think people don’t realize that the compulsions can be internal. Their child may be struggling with something and they say, “I don’t think they’re really struggling with that” but they don’t realize what’s going on necessarily in that child’s head at those times.
Rachel: That’s I think is one of the reasons that OCD in general, but particularly scrupulosity tends to go really under noticed or underdiagnosed because what you see is this kid that’s working really hard to follow God or to follow even their schoolwork or obey their parents, but what you don’t see is the internal distress that kid is going through. Especially in my case, if you don’t know that that internal distress isn’t necessarily normal or doesn’t have to be that way, you just assume that that’s like what you’re supposed to be doing or that you’re more on fire for God than other people are. Not like in a judgment way, like I’m holier than now, but just in a way of like I’m really, really trying hard to know who God is and what he expects of me.
Carrie: It was just the water you swam in basically. You didn’t necessarily know anything different.
Rachel: Right. One of the ones that developed as I got a little bit older and one that I think is still fairly difficult for me is, I don’t know if you remember the verse it’s like the classic worry verse where it says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, present your request to the Lord.” [00:10:48] I think this is an example of where OCD twists what is really good, and makes it very confusing. As I read that, I always read it as a command like my biggest fear just as a heads up was sinning. So my obsessions revolved around making sure that I didn’t cross whatever this random black and white line was, and making sure that I didn’t sin.
Other people with their scrupulosity can have things like “this is going to send me to hell, that’s my biggest fear,” “I have blasphemy.” Mine was specifically “did I sin or not?”
When I would read that verse, it was comforting in the sense that I knew God didn’t want me to worry, but I read it as don’t worry and this is the command. If you’re worrying, you’re sinning. The thing that I always struggled with was I couldn’t control my worry. I knew especially as I got older I can’t control my emotions. I can control what I do with my emotions, but my thoughts and my emotions are going to come into my head and yet still in the church, they talk about like, “if you’re worrying, give that over to God and then your worries go away.”
Carrie: “Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ”, which I imagine is super challenging.
Rachel: Right. So I was trying to find and I am still trying to find this balance of God comforting me by saying, “Hey, you don’t have to worry because I’m here or is God saying “don’t worry.” I think that’s one of the ones where OCD is still like, “I don’t know. It might be a command.” And so if it’s a command, you better make sure you’re not worrying at the same time. I’m also like, “That doesn’t make any sense because I can’t control my worry. I’m doing my best.” So there’s still this struggle or I guess this fight of “am I sinning or not.”
Even though you know in your head what you feel is probably accurate, OCD still brings in that doubt and that tiny bit of doubt or that tiny bit of uncertainty is where the individual OCD tends to struggle the most because OCD says, “it’s better to be safe than to take that risk” and that risk is really big. So in my head, I’m like if I take that risk of don’t worry being kind or gentle or like you are okay instead of a command, then what if I start to just let myself worry and then I’m sinning. So it’s better just to not worry, which doesn’t exactly work.
Carrie: Right. I think another thing that’s important to point out is the compulsions provide some temporary relief, which makes it super hard not to engage in them. So it’s like, there’s this temporary relief but then the kind of feeding that cycle just ends up increasing the whole picture and making it worse. It’s hard because you want that momentary peace, I guess.
Rachel: Exactly. Which is what you see. I think the contamination aspect of OCD is where you see it most clearly. If I’m afraid that I’m contaminated by germs then my compulsion is to wash my hands. Washing my hands initially makes me feel like I’m clean from the germs, but then the OCD brings in doubt. That probably contaminated me so I have to wash my hands then and that probably contaminated me. So I have to wash my hands then. You see this cycle start to develop and actually changes in your brain start to develop where your fire alarm sense of anxiety is heightened.
If you look at the physiology of what’s going on in the brain in individuals with OCD and anxiety, that amygdala, that emotion center of the brain is actually hyperactive and it’s more active, more sensitive to things going wrong in our environment.
The way that I like to describe it is like it’s a broken fire alarm. [00:15:05] If my fire alarm is really great if there’s an actual fire, but if I’m cooking some steak and some steam gets up to the fire alarm and it goes off, that’s really annoying. So OCD is basically turning that fire alarm into something that is much more sensitive than it needs to be. Then as you follow that pathway of these obsessions and compulsions that pathway gets stronger and stronger and that fire alarm continues to be heightened and heightened.
If you apply that to scrupulosity individuals with OCD, their brains are going to get more and more sensitive to this potential, like times that I might be sinning or fears that I did something that angered God. If you aren’t able to resist those compulsion’s or practice ERP in a way that is helpful, not overwhelming, but helpful, those portions and that connection between the two is just going to get stronger and stronger.
ERP basically just says we’re going to restructure that so that the pathway isn’t as strong, but that ultimately means you’re not doing the compulsion, which is what calms you in the first place.
Carrie: Right. ERP stands for exposure and response prevention. So how does that work?
Rachel: ERP in general, like you said is exposure and response prevention. Basically, there’s two aspects to it. There’s the exposure piece. The part of exposing myself systematically in a way that’s not overwhelming to my system, but systematically exposing myself to what I’m afraid of in my case, potentially sinning.
The response-prevention is basically asking you to stop doing the compulsion. So you expose yourself to the thing you’re afraid of. You also take away the safety net of the compulsions and you do those simultaneously again in a systematic way so that eventually you learn one anxiety isn’t dangerous.
Anxiety is going to go up and it’s eventually going to come back down or at least I’m going to be able to tolerate the distress of the anxiety and that whatever my OCD said was actually so fearful is probably not as fearful as OCD made it up to be in my head. That being said, I think there’s one really important piece when it comes to scrupulosity, for example, contamination OCD. If I’m really afraid of mud getting on me and I think mud is contaminated in any environment, touching mud is going to be something that brings up anxiety.
When you talk about scrupulosity, you’re not only dealing with these obsessions and compulsions, but you’re dealing with something that’s so central to what this person believes is right and wrong. You’re dealing with this core value. If I asked somebody to do something that’s against their core value, which is not what ERP promotes, but if you misunderstand it and I asked them to do what I might think is a sin, I’m essentially creating this moral injury. That’s not treating the OCD, but instead eliciting this potential sense of shame and going down this I just have to do what’s wrong.
ERP instead promotes sitting with that uncertainty piece. So the obsessions where I’m really concerned, “is this a sin?” “Is it not?” “I’m not sure where’s the line”. We’re kind of coming up to that line and playing around with it a little bit, to sit with that uncertainty to recognize there’s probably not a line at all, but again, in a way that’s not violating this person’s sense of right and wrong. I feel like that was a little confusing.
Carrie: It is. For example, if you’re having a fear and uncertainty about sinning, does that look like going a couple miles over the speed limit? Does it look like sitting with the sense of, “what is this right or wrong” or just sitting with that anxiety for a little bit and not trying to avoid it?
Rachel: Yes and no. Everyone experiences their scrupulosity or their OCD a little bit differently. For some people, if they also have the core fear of not sinning, that OCD tends to fixate on certain aspects of not sinning. So there may be certain aspects in your life that you’re totally okay with uncertainty, but then OCD is going to take certain ones and be like, “this is the one you’re going to focus on.”
I think where you can start to differentiate, is this OCD, or is this a legit thing I need to kind of explore.
Stepping back just a little bit, one thing I like to talk about with my clients is this difference between information seeking and reassurance seeking, meaning when I’m looking at if I sin or not, am I going through that scenario in a way that’s not anxiety-provoking like I’m just thinking, “Okay, is this a sin? I’m not sure. I think I need to do some more research. I think I want to reread that passage in the Bible. I think I just want to understand” and that’s not an anxiety-driven cycle. That’s just like, “I want to understand and I want to grow closer to God in the way that I’m acting” and that’s good.
When it becomes reassurance-seeking, it’s usually this anxiety-fueled like, “I’ve got to see if I did it wrong. I’m not sure I might’ve. Let me read the passage. Let me read the passage again. Let me double-check.” Holding those two is one way you can assess if it’s OCD or just an issue that needs to do a little bit more research on, [00:21:07] or is it a little bit of both.
Carrie: So often they have a tendency to seek reassurance from the people that are closest to them. That could look like a parent or a spouse or with some of these types of things that may be even a pastor or a church leader. I think that’s why I’m so excited that we’re doing this to open up that conversation.
[00:21:27] There maybe somebody listening to this who’s been providing a lot of reassurance and not realizing that that person may have OCD.
Rachel: Right. So like you said if that looks like you going to a pastor to check like, “Hey, is this a sin? Did I mess up?” or going to your parents, “Hey, was this wrong? Is this okay?” Those are good questions, but OCD is going to bring in not only are you asking that question the one time, but it’s going to bring up this doubt and this doubt it tends to also be followed along with, for me personally, like “where is that exact line between this is right and this is wrong? By asking that question over and over again, maybe I’ll get a certain total response. Maybe I’ll get a certain phrase and response and that lets me know everything is okay. Whereas when I’m information seeking, I’m not looking for a specific response, I’m just wanting to learn more.
Carrie: I think it’s good to normalize. There is a normal level of doubt within group identity. “Am I saved?” I hope we all ask that of ourselves once or twice in our lives. Is there evidence in my life? Is this situation right or wrong? Are they moral things? Does God love me or not? Those types of things are normal doubts, but then what you’re talking about is something that’s repetitive and it’s very anxiety-provoking and ongoing.
Rachel: Right. In some ways I wish that there was like a list of this is what scrupulosity is and this is exactly how you treat it. Like you were saying earlier some people are obsessing over like, “Did I go a couple of miles over the speed limit?” Scrupulosity shows up and OCD shows up very differently for different people. The way that you treat it while ERP tends to be fairly foundational for every person, that’s going to look a little bit different. For me, when I challenged myself with recognizing the signs that come up, it’s usually like am I analyzing for doubt? Is there a lot of doubt going on? How long have I been thinking about whether or not I’m sinning? Because usually If you sin, you’re able to look back and probably within five minutes, you’re able to assess like, “Yeah, that wasn’t good” or “that wasn’t right.”
I find going back and forth and back and forth. I’m starting to obsess. [00:24:06] I’m like, “Am I thinking about this really, really black and white? Am I looking for the line between what was right and what was wrong” How anxious am I? Am I anxious to find the answer right now?”
One thing I talk about with my clients a lot is when our anxiety goes up, our judgment or our ability to make rational decisions naturally comes back down. So if I’m feeling really, really anxious, it’s going to be really hard to think about rationally and systematically what I need to do about that anxiety. So if I’m really, really anxious about finding the answer to whether or not I sin it’s going to be really hard to even systematically look at. So instead, I need to maybe take a break and let that anxiety naturally come down. If I’m still worried about it after the fact, maybe I can come back and revisit it, but if it kind of went away, that was probably an indication that it was OCD.
Carrie: I think that’s a good first step obviously with making any behavior change. We have to recognize what we’re dealing with. [00:25:14]
I’m sure you’ve seen this in your practice and I’ve seen it in my practice as well. It’s very common for people to believe that they have generalized anxiety disorder or they may have been to other counselors who have diagnosed them with an anxiety disorder. As we start to dig and ask more questions like, “Hey, do you seek out reassurance from other people in your life?” Or “Do you tend to get stuck on these certain things?” Some of the people recognize, like, “Oh wait, this is not anxiety. This is OCD.” At some level that can be overwhelming, but at some level, it can be freeing.
Rachel: When I read through some of the signs and symptoms of what scrupulosity, what OCD was, there was so much relief in that. Just knowing that you’re not crazy. You’re not totally out there. You’re not dealing with something in isolation. It’s normal in the sense that it’s OCD normal and there’s treatment for it. I don’t have to consistently live with this overwhelming anxiety over whether I’m doing the absolute best thing or the absolute right thing. [00:26:37] That’s going to involve some anxiety in the process.
Going back to what you said, I think what’s really tricky sometimes in the counseling world is assessing, is this anxiety or is it OCD? And while the two have a lot of similarities, obviously each case is different, but with anxiety, you can provide coping skills. Something that’s going to help bring my anxiety back down. “I’m really anxious.” “I’m going to practice deep breathing.” “I’m going to practice grounding skills.” If I do that with OCD, I’m actually not exposing myself to the fear. That’s probably not realistic.
I’m never actually sitting with the uncertainty because I’m just trying to reduce the anxiety cost from the uncertainty. So you kind of get caught again in a loop of, you can almost ride the line between either you’re doing your compulsion to bring the anxiety down, or you’re doing your new coping skill to bring the anxiety down. Then you never actually face and fight and deal with the anxiety that isn’t even necessarily over something realistic. Meaning my anxiety over is this right? Is this wrong? Where’s the line? Am I sitting right now? If I don’t sit with that uncertainty of, I don’t know, I’m not sure I might’ve sinned. Instead, if I try to beat that with coping skills and try to calm that anxiety down, that anxiety is just going to get stirred up the next day, because that’s what OCD does. It brings in that doubt. It brings in that “what if.”
While there are a lot of similarities and while coping skills are even helpful with OCD at times, to know that difference is really important and really crucial because your treatment is going to be a little bit different.
Carrie: Absolutely. With the ERP, there’s an exposure hierarchy, and you’re not going to expose somebody to their worst fear in the beginning. You’re kind of building up to some of those things because I think some people may be listening to this and going like, “Oh gosh, that feels too big to sit with that anxiety.”
Obviously, if there are counselors who are trained in this, who know how to walk you step-by-step through that process to get there. It’s also working sometimes in tandem with other people or providing guidance to the clients of how their parents, spouses, or whoever might be able to respond to them in a helpful way.
[00:29:13] Sometimes that means holding off on the reassurance seeking that’s part of the response prevention.
Rachel: Right. I think that a lot of times we think If I just calm this person down if I reassure them if I tell them everything’s okay. Naturally, that’s what we want to do, to comfort somebody, but in reality, there’s a level of uncomfortableness that is so crucial to sitting with to be able to recognize that my OCD was way over exaggerating this fear. There are times where my fear is really legitimate and I’m still obsessing over it in a way that’s taking over my life. So again, sitting with a certain level of uncomfortableness is huge in learning how to treat and sit with OCD.
I guess I’ll use a contamination example cause I think it’s a little simpler. If my biggest fear is sitting in the room with the dog, like maybe I had a bad experience, I’m not going to ask my client to go sit in the room with the dog and play with it for an hour. Instead, I might have them sit, look at a picture of a dog and practice that over and over again. I might have them listen to a dog barking and practice that over and over again because exposures don’t have to be this huge and overwhelming. Not to say that the anxiety itself is dangerous because even if you do get overwhelmed by an exposure, that’s okay.
The anxiety isn’t dangerous. It’s just flooding your system like that. It’s probably not going to be super helpful. So finding systematic ways to work up to getting the life that you want to get is really what you’re going for. If you have a scale of zero to seven, seven is like the fullest anxiety I can have. Zero is fine. You want to find with exposure that starts around a level three or four. So something hard but manageable.
If I was to give you one more example, like in my own life, one of the things that I dealt with a lot as a kid, and it kind of died down for a while and it’s recently come back over the past probably year. I have this phrase or this compulsive phrase that I have to say and it’s, “God, please help me to do the right thing” and that falls in line with a lot of my “I don’t want to sin, I need to do the best right thing, the absolute right thing.”
So whenever I feel a little bit anxious even if I think I might’ve sinned or even if I just am feeling anxious because I have to get up early the next morning, I’ll say, “God, please help me to do the right thing.”
For some reason, that phrase helps bring that anxiety down, even though it becomes really compulsive. The phrase itself starts to make me anxious because I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I keep saying it over and over again” and I don’t need to.
If I was to look at my own hierarchy, I know that if I was not to say that phrase it would make me anxious, but it wouldn’t make me overwhelmed. It would work because it comes up honestly, a lot but eventually I know that anxiety will ultimately kind of dissipate, but right now my brain is still kind of stuck in that loop of “this is just naturally, this is automatic.” So if that gives you just any example of where you might start on your hierarchy, that’s probably where I’d start on the line.
Carrie: Great. Good to know. So how can support systems, spouses, churches help someone who’s struggling with OCD?
Rachel: First of all, I think I’d recommend counseling, but secondly, being able to recognize that the kid who is really perfectionistic on the surface, really diligent, really seeking hard to make sure they understand the right thing. Just checking in like, “Hey, what’s it like for you as you’re trying to understand more about scripture?” Even just asking like, “Is there ever an anxiety that you experienced?” So knowing that the kids who are much more like perfectionistic have a hard time with, I guess, hard time accepting uncertainty, noticing gray areas. All of those could potentially be signs. They may not be an issue for that kid and that’s fine too. Then you start to dig a little bit deeper under the surface and you recognize, “Oh, that kid is actually really struggling with anxiety.” It might just be good to kind of like, “Hey, have you ever thought about what it would be like if you didn’t have anxiety?” “Is that a possibility like a world that you want to live in?”
I think the easiest people to inform or that I think would be really great to know a little bit more about OCD would be the people in the church, the leaders in the church because if they can recognize what is going on I think we’re going to be able to identify scrupulosity a lot easier.
I think that you see a lot of it again. I said earlier, underdiagnosed going on in the church and then parents too, especially if your kids are seeking reassurance all the time, that can be a really big indication. Even in schools, like noticing, “Hey, this kid is really struggling when they make a mistake on their test.”
So any place that those people are in all the time if you can recognize those signs and then just kind of give a quick check-in and then knowing the resources, knowing somebody who is in the counseling world who does treat OCD, who does know ERP is going to be like your best bet.
Carrie: Right. So really just supporting that person and that, “Hey, it’s okay to get counseling.” Sometimes we need help that’s professional to help us work through some of these things.
Rachel: Right. There are also several books that you can look into that’s more of like a self-help book, it’s by Dawn Huebner. It’s something like when your brain gets stuck. That’s more of a kid’s guide to working through OCD and so if the signs are really minimal or even if your kid is on the younger side, and you’re just starting to see some of these signs, like exploring what that looks like, it could be a really great resource. At least a good first step to see if that’s all the support that they need.
Carrie: At the end of every podcast, I usually ask guests to share a story of hope, which is the time that they received hope from God or another person.
Rachel: I think that there’s a lot of little moments of hope for me. Looking back on my story like I mentioned earlier, the biggest piece of hope for me was learning the fact that I had OCD. That was eye-opening and huge. I also know that one of the biggest pieces of hope too that I had is if you’re a Christian or if you’re a religious faith reflecting on who you think God is, or even doing some research on not necessarily this specific event, this specific sin, this specific fear, but who is God?
I can learn more about the character of God, and I know that times that I’ve learned more about the character of God the way that Jesus treated people, that’s going to look vastly different than the way that my thoughts tend to speak to me. So when I reflect on who God is, or at least even if that’s a question cause sometimes I’m like, “I don’t know who God is” like, I don’t know how He responds.
Just reflect on something that you know about God. I know that God is love. So if God is love, He loves me and He wants the best for me. So at least I know that I have that support. I have that hope that God just any parents are loving their kids, God wants the best for His kids. God wants the best for me. So at least in that, I know that I have someone on my side that’s walking through OCD or walking through my struggles with me. I think that’s kind of what I tend to reflect on especially when I’m really stuck in the obsessions and I really don’t see an end to this particular one, reflecting back on what you know, grounding yourself in what you know to be true.
Carrie: Right. I think that may be hard for some people to sit with and wrestle with because there’s a sense of, “I do love God. I am trying to serve him with my life and be a good Christian all of those things and yet I’m wrestling with this on a day-to-day basis.”
I’m just kind of curious what you would say to someone with that thought process.
Rachel: One of the biggest struggles for me is making sure that I was doing the right thing. Even in that compulsive phrase that I talked about, like, “God help me to do the right thing.” I’m consistently trying to understand this situation, this particular anxiety. What I tell a lot of clients, honestly, at the beginning of some of our sessions is OCD is really confusing, scrupulosity is really confusing, especially scrupulosity because it’s so foundational to our thoughts and I want to do the right thing so badly.
[00:39:12] So it can get really easy to think about and to get lost in all of the things that I don’t yet have, or that I don’t yet know, or I don’t yet know how to fight. So one, I like to paint a picture of how ERP works, counseling works.
There’s hope. There’s a lot of hope with OCD at the same time remembering the things that you do know. Like I mentioned a little bit earlier, reflecting on, even if it’s not like God’s character still what are some of the things that are your strongholds? What are you anchored in? Maybe I can anchor into the fact that I know I’m saved. Maybe I can anchor into the fact again that I know God is. At least I can take that of the very phrase from the Bible and know exactly what this says, God is love. I can ground myself in that. I can ground myself in even knowing the people around me that I have as my support systems. I can ground myself in knowing that at least I have the letter from God, the scripture in my head.
So going back to at least what you know while you don’t know everything, you know, some things, and it’s gotten you this far. So can we start there and know that there’s hope to build on from there.
Carrie: I think that’s relevant to so many people, not just people who are experiencing OCD, but anxiety, or even just a traumatic experience or a hard season in your life. I know that there have been times where I’ve gone through difficult things and exactly what you said, “Okay. What do I know?” I don’t understand this situation in my life at all. I don’t know why God allowed it here, but I do believe that God loves me. I do believe he has a plan somehow in the midst of all this mess like that, He’s gonna take this and make something good out of it and that really helped me get through that until that was resolved.
Rachel: Yeah. There’s one moment, I guess, that I like to reflect on and this, I guess has a little bit less to do with OCD, but more of just one of the most profound moments that I felt like I had with the Lord. I remember it was when I was in high school, maybe early college. I was preparing for leading a Bible study that night and The Lord had really laid this passage on my heart. I don’t remember what the passage was, but I remember just wanting to know really badly what it meant. I was really confused because there’s a lot of different religions that interpret that passage differently and so I was like, “I’m going to learn what this passage means that I’m going to figure it out and we’re going to talk about it in Bible study.”
So I was like spending probably a couple of hours reading this passage, reading research on the passage, trying to understand. Even then, I guess you can see some of the OCD of like, I have to miss out and I have to figure out the right and wrong answer between it. And I got so, so frustrated because I couldn’t figure out the answer and I wanted to have it for the Bible study. I went outside and I was about to start doing even more research to understand it. I just kind of felt like the Lord say, “Hey, wait, wait, wait, can we pause here?” I remember looking up at the trees cause I was on a back deck that was a screened-in porch and I just felt like the Lord was saying, “Hey, Rachel, look at the trees around you” and I was like, “Okay, so I’m looking and I’m seeing them blow in the wind” and the Lord was like, “Do you see them blowing in the wind back and forth like that?” I was like, “yes.” I was kind of blown away that I was having this conversation with God. The Lord was like, “Do you know, like how I did that? I was like, “No, I don’t know how you made the trees move” and he’s like, “Do you know all of the intricacies of exactly what type of wind and what exactly, what type of molecules and atoms and particles that went into me being able to move those trees back and forth?” And I was like, “no” and he was like, “but you know that I was the one behind it” and I was like, “Oh, yeah.”
So for some reason, hearing that the Lord even though I didn’t understand how the trees were moving, I knew that the Lord was behind it. I know that God is good. I know that He knows the answer, even though I don’t. I kind of took that and I felt like the Lord brought me back to that passage that I didn’t understand.
God was like, “Today may not be the day that you’re going to understand that, but you know that I know the answer and you know that you’re trying to know the answer and that’s okay. Because you know that I know the answer and you are following me. You can just keep following me and eventually, we’re going to get somewhere then we may never know the answer to this specific one, but you at least know that I know, and if you can trust me, you can follow me to the end.”
So that’s I guess kind of my message of hope too for OCD, in general, is if you’re religious or not, like, who are you following? Where are you walking? Where do you want to be in your future?
If you’re religious and you know that God is good and that you’re following Him, at least, you know, that you’re following somebody who knows what they’re doing. That helped me a lot.
Carrie: Awesome. Thank you so much for being brave and bold and sharing your story and what you’ve been through. I hope that really helps and encourages someone else today.
Rachel: Thank you for the opportunity. Just to be able to share some of my story is really exciting for me.
I am so thankful for Rachel being willing to be so vulnerable with us and talk about her symptoms and how OCD has affected her. This is actually the second person on the show that has talked about exposure and response prevention. I’m a little bit frustrated with myself only because I’ve been wanting to talk about EMDR and how it can be helpful for OCD.
I know that I’m going to have some episodes in the future on EMDR and how EMDR can be helpful for OCD. Even though it is not a therapeutic approach that most people think of when they think of OCD treatment, I plan on doing a solo episode in the future regarding why I have chosen to utilize EMDR prior to using any type of exposure-response prevention methods with clients.
If you find that interesting, stay tuned in for later. I just want to throw that out there that exposure and response prevention is oftentimes the recommended therapy for OCD, but it’s not the only thing that works. So I’ll dive more into that in a future podcast. Just wanted to throw that out there.
[00:46:19] Until next time let’s continue this conversation on Facebook or Instagram, or you can always reach me at hopeforanxietyandocd.com
Hope for Anxiety and. OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing is completed by Benjamin Bynam.
Until next time. May you be comforted by God’s great love for you.