I think I was about 14 when this particular compulsive thought decided to burrow its way into my head. We had some dear friends over from out of town, and though it was one of the most exciting events of the year for myself and my brothers, I suddenly found myself reeling from a curveball thrown at me by my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tendencies. One minute, I was running around the house laughing at the top of my lungs, and the next minute, curse words were suddenly coursing through my brain. Immediately, I felt shock and shame. I didn’t curse, but the words wouldn’t go away.
Even worse, phrases would work their way into my thoughts, phrases that cussed out other people, and even worse, God. Of course, this set off a whole new set of alarm bells when I considered the Bible verse, Matthew 12:31,
“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.“
This whole inner battle became apparent within about 2 hours. By God’s grace, I was old enough to realize that these words were stemming from my disorders, and not from my heart. Although I was still largely attempting to ignore my tics, I was more open to accepting my struggle with anxiety and OCD by that time. I honestly didn’t know much about my disorders at that point, but I knew there was something inside of me that made me worry more than others, and although it filled me with shame, I was driven to go to my mother before I’d tormented myself for too long. The struggle was too close to childhood memories for me to wait very long.
My parents say I was anxious even as an infant. I was saying my first words by the time I was three or four months old, and as I grew, my language and observation skills grew quickly with me. According to my mother, I was one of those children who understood too much about the world around me from a young age. I was sensitive to arguments, news reports, and even changes in routine.
While this meant I was a quick learner and good helper to my mother, I wasn’t old enough to understand how to filter the information I received. With age comes life experience, those lessons we learn that teach us how to balance stimulation and information with probability and likelihood. When children learn to take in more information than their brains know how to process, it can often mean anxiety. For children like me who have OCD or OCD tendencies, it means unlikely outcomes that have been conjured up by young minds are suddenly blown out of proportion, and no matter how unrealistic those outcomes are, they often cause cyclical fear that plays on “Repeat” in the child’s head.
Is This Normal for People with OCD?
Yes. This particular struggle is called an obsession. Beyond OCD’s article, “Helping a Child Who Has OCD,” describes obsessions as, “…involuntary intrusive thoughts, images or impulses that cause unbearable worry, fear or discomfort.” It then describes compulsions as the way people with OCD cope with the obsessions. (Although I must not that not everyone has an equal number of obsessions or compulsions; it’s on a spectrum.)
This particular obsession makes the individual feel alone and often in despair. There’s nothing quite like the terror of feeling that you’re bringing down damnation upon yourself without even knowing why you’re doing it, wishing you could stop. As alone as this obsession can make one feel, however, WebMD says that the, “fear of thinking evil or sinful thoughts,” is a common trait in OCD. Not all people with OCD will have this obsession, but it occurs often enough to be of mention.
Worry Wise Kids article, “What happened to my child? Taking charge of “bad thought” OCD,”says a red flag that a child with OCD is struggling with these thoughts is when, despite his or her strong love for God, he or she starts talking about, “hating God or making deals with the devil. And these thoughts are singular to children. I talked to a woman a while back who was convinced that she didn’t love God because she kept cursing the Holy Spirit in her mind, despite the fact that she was taking her faith very seriously and seeking to know God as well as she could.
I can tell you from personal experience that it’s torture. I don’t remember much time as a child that I didn’t love God. I grew up in a Christian family that loved and protected me, and I was taught from birth that Jesus loved me as well. I never questioned that until the disorders began to take form in my little mind. For nearly a year in elementary school, I feared constantly that I was too sinful for God to love because my OCD would make me think horrible thoughts about God that used bad words. I went to sleep for many nights, fearing I would die during the night and that God would send me to Hell for my crimes.
At the time, I was too young to know how to discriminate between the thoughts that were truly mine and those that were from my OCD. As with most obsessions, however, it eventually wore off. My parents continued to assure me of God’s love, and so did my Sunday school teachers (whether they knew it or not), and by and by, I began to realize that God really did love me, just like the Bible said. Then, during my teenage years, the cussing obsession started, and at first, I felt eight-years-old again. Helpless and horrible.
How I Fought Back
When the obsession hit the second time around, however, during my teenage years, I was old enough to understand (after my initial reaction of shock) that the thoughts weren’t ones I was choosing. So I went to my mother and hesitantly said,
“I keep thinking curse words in my head. I don’t want them, but they’re still there….” I didn’t know how to explain it from there, however. Blessedly, my mother was wise enough to recognize the symptoms of an obsession when she heard about them. Instead of being alarmed by them, she smiled gently and reassured me. She’d explained OCD to me when I was young, but now that I was older, it began to really make sense. I can’t tell you the feeling of freedom that ran through my veins that day. The two hours of torture it had taken me to tell her were more than enough for my taste.
It’s not always easy to differentiate between the thoughts that are my own and the thoughts that stem from the OCD. Part of my healing process from these obsessions was simply growing up. Learning that life goes on, and with it, still seeing that I loved God, was a powerful tool. Reading the Bible with help, learning that the people God loved in the Bible weren’t perfect either, that they were forgiven, helped me also to see. The more I learned about the attributes of God and the more I learned about OCD, the more I began to realize that He wasn’t going to punish me for the way my brain worked. After all, He’d created me; He knew more about what I was struggling with than I did.
How Not to Help Someone with OCD Fight “Bad Thoughts”
Everyone with OCD works differently. Where medication really helps some, therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can really help others. For some people, it’s a combination of treatments. There are many ways, however, that can hurt more than help, and can be done with all the right intentions. In short, if someone with OCD comes to you for guidance, please don’t do these things:
- Acting shocked or horrified – The individual who struggles with these thoughts already feels terrible enough about them. It’s hard to walk around thinking you’re a depraved monster who spews out evil, or that you’re going to Hell for thoughts you don’t want and can’t control. If someone comes to you and shares this struggle, he is probably desperate for affirmation that he isn’t going to be damned for his struggles. Instead, he needs a calm voice and a gentle composure. He needs to know these thoughts are not his own.
- Telling him to just block the thoughts – This works about as well as telling someone with a cold not to sneeze. Instead, Worry Wise Kids has some good advice, “Let the thought come in and go out like any other thought- don’t try to stop it, don’t push the pause button, don’t try and force it out, play out the movie.” I can tell you that trying to block the thought only makes it worse, something akin to the idea of, “Don’t think about red elephants!”
- Telling him if he has enough faith it will go away – This is along the lines of the faith healers’ techniques, using the idea of “name it and claim it,” often touted by people like Joel Osteen. Telling him to just have more faith is doubly hurtful because it conveys that (1) he’s not trying hard enough, and (2) he is lacking in faith. Remember, OCD has nothing to do with spiritual beliefs. The strength of my faith does not determine how my brain works. If that were so, all the strong Christians would be perfectly clear-headed, regardless of age, and their bodies would be in Olympic shape. Obviously, this is not so.
What You Can Do
You don’t have to be an expert to comfort a friend who struggles with these “bad thoughts” from his or her OCD. In fact, if you’re not a licensed practitioner, it’s probably not a good idea to try and go too deep with the homemade therapy. There are ways you can help, however.
- Be gentle and kind – Your friend or child will probably open up more when they have established that you’re a safe place.
- Don’t push too hard – It’s one thing to speak when you’re approached, but it’s something else completely to push the subject. That will raise alarm bells in a head that’s constantly ringing with alarms in the first place.
- Remind your loved one that the thoughts stem from the disorder, not from her – She will probably need this reassurance on more than one occasion. This is a common symptom, and it’s not unique to her. She is not cursing God, as the thoughts are unwanted, and God knows that.
- Don’t be afraid to contact professionals – If you are a parent, don’t be afraid to ask your child’s pediatrician. If the individual is a friend, you can seek out local resources that are there specifically to help your friend. If your friend is unwilling to seek help, you can still call these professionals and ask about what you can do personally to help.
- Don’t give up on them – Being around a person who constantly struggles with doubts and dark thoughts can be draining. The greatest love you can show your loved one is that you still love him, and that you don’t condemn him the way he condemns himself. Know that you won’t “fix” this person, but you can be one more soul who will always see him as a precious creation of God.
- Pray for them – As I said before, you’re not going to “fix” this person. Even if you have to take a step back for personal reasons, even if you can’t be there for him or her physically, you can always pray to God to comfort the spirit of your loved one. In the end, He’s the only one who can equip and quiet the mind that’s hurting.
Have you or a someone you love suffered from this symptom of OCD? Please share you thoughts, questions, and advice in the Comment Box below. And don’t forget, you can sign up for my newsletter for extra resources on neurological disorders, education, and spiritual encouragement. As always, thanks for reading!