Religion and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Help for anxiety related to
religious and spiritual concerns
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can manifest in several different ways, with each form of the disorder causing distress and anxiety in a unique way. One type of OCD that can commonly go undiagnosed is religion or religiosity OCD (sometimes called ROCD). People who suffer from this form of OCD may feel shame and dispair, as the obsessive thoughts usually include immoral or blasphemous acts in conjunction with important figures in their religion. Individuals who suffer from these types of obsessions are typically hesitant to share them, as they do not want to be judged or condemned by religious leaders or members of their faith community. This fear and need for privacy can lead many who are suffering with this type of OCD to feel isolated in their distress.
It is important to realize that one’s religion does not cause ROCD. Instead OCD is an entity of its own with the only connection being how OCD symptoms manifest in individuals who consider religion an important part of their life.
What are the signs of this type of OCD?
This type of OCD can look very different across religions and denominations. Many times relgious OCD includes “scrupulosity,” which is basically seeing sin where there is none or worrying that you have sinned or done something immoral in almost every situation. Another common problem is intrusive religious thoughts, and typically these are centered on religious figures and can cause high levels of anxiety. The compulsive responses related to these obsessions tend to vary widely across religions and denominations, but may include prayers or trying to cancel out bad thoughts with good ones.
The Catholic faith has been studied in relation to OCD because of its highly ritualized components. Catholics who suffer from OCD are likely to experience scrupulosity, engage in compulsive praying, or straightening of religious figures and books. They may attend confession frequently because they fear they may have missed confessing a sin. They may worry about mishandling the Host during communion or seek reassurance from priests about the morality of minor matters.
Individuals in protestant religions are likely to suffer from an inflated sense of responsibility of their thoughts. They may focus on the importance of controlling their thoughts and they are likely perfectionistic. They will often overestimate the consequences of making a mistake or sinning. They may worry about committing the unpardonable sin or even missing the rapture. Protestant Christians may engage in rituals such as checking to verify they did not commit a sin and frequently praying for forgiveness. They may work hard to suppress immoral thoughts, re-read certain scriptures, and seek reassurance from clergy.
An Orthodox Jew may engage in obsessions about cleanliness especially related to dietary restrictions. They may also worry about studying or praying correctly and maintaining purity for themselves and their families. Typical rituals include washing, checking, praying, and meeting with rabbis for reassurance.
It is possible for people who do not believe in God to have worries in these areas. For example, even an atheist may experience fears about Satan taking his soul if he does not perform a ritual perfectly. Although he may not actually believe this can happen, he may perform the compulsion to combat the anxiety caused by the obsession.
Symptoms of religious OCD can cause individuals to feel great shame or withdraw from those around them. Religion and spirituality is a very important aspect of many people’s lives, thus these type of OCD symptoms must be approached with great care and respect. Although most people with such concerns have sought help from leaders in their faith communities, very few clergy are trained to recognize or treat OCD. At Louisville OCD we have extensive experience working with this form of OCD. We have found that it is very important to match the treatment plan to each person’s faith and values. Through our collaborative approach with our clients we have had a great deal of success treating religious OCD.
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