OCD and Spiritual Guidance

Many religious faiths believe in spiritual guidance, inspiration, or revelation.

In my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you rarely go a Sunday without hearing about someone’s experience with inspiration or promptings from the Holy Ghost/the Spirit.

The scriptures, church magazines, and stories from church leaders are full of examples of someone being warned of danger, following the warning, and being protected.

Sometimes the Holy Ghost’s warning is described as explicit and clear, other times the Spirit’s message is described as subtle and the reason for the prompted action is not understood until later when the person realizes they were being protected.

Here are a few examples:

a church member being prompted to not immediately go forward when the traffic light turned green which protected him from an accident,

Harold B. Lee warned as a child to not go play in a shed,

various church members being prompted to do things like turn their car around, compile a cookbook, or purchase a specific house,

Wilford Woodruff being prompted to move his carriage and the next morning finding a tree had fallen where it had previously been parked

a woman being inspired in the middle of the night to check that the back door was locked, following the prompting, and in the morning discovering footprints leading up to the backdoor

Stories like these can be inspiring and can help you to believe in God’s individual care for each one of us and His hand in our personal lives.

But, the emphasis on listening for and heeding thoughts and feelings can lead to added distress for sufferers of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Those who suffer from OCD experience anxious intrusive thoughts similar to the kinds of spiritual warnings and promptings people talk about at church. Like the woman in the last example, it is common for a person with OCD to have the thought “what if the door isn’t locked?”

Other common OCD thoughts include “the stove might not be turned off!” “are the windows shut?” and “I may have forgotten to unplug the curling iron!”

Individuals with OCD keep receiving these thoughts and so keep doubting they checked “good enough” and subsequently have to check and re-check things over and over again.

By being taught to follow thoughts and feelings that “pop” into your head, even if they don’t make sense, because they might be spiritual guidance or warnings, OCD sufferers have an additional hurdle in their efforts to overcome this disorder. In therapy, they are taught to ignore threat-related thoughts that come into their minds because those thoughts are “just the OCD”, but people of faith may experience extreme distress at following that counsel because they may worry “what if its not OCD, what if its a message from the Spirit?”

I don’t believe it is wrong to teach that God guides His children, because I believe He does. I just remember my experience as a young child and as a teenager, unaware that I had OCD, and believing that my thoughts to check the door, the stove, etc. were promptings from the Holy Ghost to protect me and my family.

Later, once I received a diagnosis and treatment, my therapist gave me some helpful advice: “If its anxious, its OCD”. I try to follow that advice when worrisome thoughts pop into my head. I know God knows that I have OCD and hope that if He wants to prompt me or warn me, He will do so in a non-anxious way that I can recognize isn’t the OCD.

Does anyone else have any advice for how to help children understand that although God can prompt and inspire us, not every thought or feeling is a warning from Him?

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