All right, enough of my story. Let’s talk about the affliction itself. There are different kinds of OCD. The common denominator of each form is anxiety and obsessional thinking, though the bully wears different masks.
Let me explain how OCD works. First, there is what Dr. Steven Phillipson calls a “spike.” This is an anxiety-provoking thought that seems to demand all attention. It gets flagged as threatening, and for that reason, like a merry-go-round, it comes back again and again and again. To deal with the spike, people develop rituals. These seem to restore peace, but it’s only temporary, and can consume someone’s life. Understanding that, here are the different stripes of OCD:
These are people who fear getting sick from germs and develop the ritual of washing their hands or body to avoid contamination. Door knobs, door handles, toilet seats, shaking hands, or embracing another person all present dangers to a washer. In severe cases, people have been known to wash their hands for hours a day, even until they bleed. Other rituals related to this are simply not going out in public at all, or avoiding any physical contact with people.
These are people who constantly “check” to avoid something catastrophic from happening. Seeking to avoid a fire, they’ll develop the ritual of checking whether they left the iron, stove, or curling iron on. They’ll check outlet receptacles or cables to prevent fire hazards. Others will obsess about leaving car lights on or locking doors. It is not at all uncommon for people with this kind of OCD to check items between 10 to 100 times. As I mentioned in my story, I used to check the refrigerator to make sure I didn’t leave the door open. There are some cases where a person might, while driving, fear hitting someone in the road and turn around to look for a body. Sometimes this is done for hours.
The TV show “hoarders” has made this form of OCD popular. It’s the simple idea that “if I don’t keep this item, I might be losing something important.” The result is the ritual known as “hoarding.” It often results in a cluttered and sometimes grotesque living environment, where the hoarder compiles a junkyard full of belongings.
Responsibility Obsessive-Compulsive (OC)
This kind of OCD is based on the idea that “if I don’t do this, it says something about my character.” For example, a person with Responsibility OC will see a piece of trash on the street, and think that if they don’t pick it up, it says something about their integrity or humility. So their ritual will be to pick up whatever trash they see. A boy hears his grandfather say, “If you’re too rich to stop and pick up a penny, you’re too rich.” In the years that follow, the boy has a tremendous amount of anxiety whenever he sees a penny. He feels obligated to pick it up. Now, as a Christian, there’s certainly good I ought to do, and there’s good that every man ought to do. The difference between a person with OCD and a healthy person is that someone with Responsibility OC can be consumed with their obsession, and often has a tremendous amount of anxiety associated with the act. Sometimes you just need to leave the penny on the ground.
Also called “Pure-O,” this type of OCD sufferer has no outward rituals, except an inner conversation Dr. Steven Phillipson calls “ruminating” that originate with a paramount, un-answerable question that seems to demand all attention until it is resolved. The answer always seems to be right around the corner. The questions can be spiritual in nature: “Can I lose my salvation?” or “Have I committed the unpardonable sin?” They can be sexual in nature: “Am I gay?” or “Why can’t I stop thinking about that person?” A person with Pure-O “lives inside their own head” and can spend hours ruminating in isolation.
As a Christian, you can see how the devil can use OCD to enslave a person into legalism. OCD sufferers need a revelation of the grace of God if they’re ever going to see the joy in the gospel. Seeing the standard of God’s law, they obsess about being holy, not blaspheming, or not committing the unpardonable sin, and the dead works begin. They seek God’s approval, which is frighteningly elusive, through their performance. Only the cross of Christ makes us righteous in the eyes of God. Without this revelation, legalistic Christianity is just about the worst thing on earth for an OCD sufferer.
There are many other forms of OCD: Perfectionism, Superstitious OC, Body Dysmorphia
Health OC, and even some forms of eating disorders. Again, the common denominator of “spike-ritual” is the same.
Next week, I’ll talk more about the spike-ritual cycle, and how we can find relief and even freedom from the bondage of OCD.
Let me remind you that I am not a doctor. I am a pastor who does a lot of counseling, and have suffered from OCD myself, but with the material I’ve presented in this blog, I want to be sure the reader understands that I’m not claiming to be a professional. What I know came from my own research as I’ve sought to understand my own affliction. I pray that something I’ve shared enlightens or encourages you.
articles by Dr. Stephen Phillipson, ocdonline.com
Stop Obsessing, by Edna Foa
The Bondage Breaker, by Neil T. Anderson