Intrusive thoughts about taboo or blasphemous topics can plague OCD sufferers. For those who are religiously inclined, it raises a critical question — does God forgive OCD thoughts?
Defining OCD Thoughts
OCD is a condition that is marked by the presence of obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that cause immediate anxiety. Often obsessions are about a taboo topic, such as sex, sexuality, violence, blasphemy, or increasingly in recent years, racism. These are often called “intrusive thoughts.” Compulsions are things we do in response to an obsession in order to reduce anxiety or discomfort.
Buddhism and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are very different ways of understanding people. They were developed thousands of years apart, in different hemispheres. Yet they don’t conflict as much as you would think.
“In the words of the Buddha, … ’We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.’ It’s an idea that’s in line with current thinking in psychology. In fact, this simple philosophy – that changing the way we think can change the way we feel – underpins the practice of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), an approach widely used in clinical psychology and counseling, as well as stress management programs.” So writes Kathy Graham, in a thoughtful article on Buddhism and happiness.
“In a time where no one seems to have enough time, our devices allow us to be many places at once — but at the cost of being unable to fully inhabit the place where we actually want to be. Mindfulness says we can do better.” — Time Magazine cover article on mindfulness, February 3, 2014.
The below excerpt was originally voiced to Psychology Today in 2009, but is still very helpful today! The question below was posed to Judith Beck, Ph.D., an authority on cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s so concise and helpful that I’ll include the entire answer here:
Many people find it difficult to understand what goes on in the mind of a hoarder. Most people can look at a broken appliance and throw it away without a second thought. To a hoarder, however, throwing away that broken appliance is an unthinkable as throwing out away a brand new appliance that was purchased yesterday. If you think you might be a hoarder, or are trying to help someone recover, here is some information that can help you.
A recent and important research study out of neuro-imaging researcher Sara Lazar’s lab (my old lab) at Massachusetts General Hospital was published in late January. The study found changes in the structure of the brains in people who completed an eight-week class in mindfulness meditation. This result is another piece of evidence that that the adult brain can experience far more physical changes than previously thought.
This study suggests that we can change our brains in just eight weeks! The authors of the study tell us that in their study, people who completed the eight-week mindfulness meditation program experienced changes in parts of their brains “responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”
For several reasons, mindfulness and meditation have been the subject of more and more well executed scientific research over the past twenty years. Much of this research has investigated the effect of meditation on mood and on the brain’s ability to regulate emotion.
Other research has investigated the capacity for meditation to help people suffering from anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. It may be that the study of meditation’s ability to make us happy has gotten more publicity than the study of meditation’s capacity to reduce anxiety. However for people with diagnosable anxiety disorders, the potential to be gained from meditation is perhaps greater than it is for everyone else. Meditation can “quiet the mind,” and pave the way for certain types of anxiety (e.g., worry, panic attacks) to improve.
A previous posting on my other blog discussed the recent controversy over “effective” psychotherapy. A more recent article in the LA Times outlines the two sides of the debate. Regardless of what you think about this controversy, one important message to take away is that it’s important to consider whether your therapy is helpful. That may sound obvious, but whatever the reasons you sought therapy to begin with, it can be helpful to periodically ask yourself whether you feel that things are tangibly changing for you. If not, have a frank discussion with your therapist — a good therapist will share your desire for tangible meaningful change and would welcome such a discussion.