When Your Thoughts Threaten to Control You

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Here’s When Your Thoughts Threaten to Control You

How can we help our friends whose thoughts threaten to control them, and the harder they try to fix it, the worse the situation gets? Many people occasionally struggle with obsessive thoughts, but when they trigger debilitating anxiety and all-consuming fear, that might be a sign of OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

My friend Meghan was diagnosed with OCD years ago, after struggling through her early life wondering why she just couldn’t get past certain things as her peers did. Over the years, I have casually thrown out Bible verses like “be anxious for nothing” to suffering friends like her, assuming that if they just believed Scripture, they wouldn’t worry or be afraid. Not surprisingly, glibly firing off snippets of Scripture isn’t as helpful as one might think, and it usually alienates people more than alleviating their pain.

God tells us in Matthew 6 not to worry about tomorrow or to fret about our daily needs because he cares for us, which is often all we need to set our minds at rest. God’s word does deep work in our lives, changing our perspective, showing us our sin, encouraging us to trust him. But Scripture is not meant to be a “happy face sticker,” which is often what we slap on people’s fears as we throw out verses.  For people dealing with extreme anxiety, simply reminding them not to worry just adds to their burden. They are desperately seeking and searching, yet nothing seems to be helping.

So how do we respond to people who are dealing with crippling anxiety and fear? How can we love others well when their fears cross over into mental illness?

Meghan recently wrote a fiction novel, Loving Naomi, based on her struggles with OCD which helped me understand more about the condition. People with OCD often have repeated, scary intrusive thoughts and feel they aren’t in control of their minds. As a result, they’re often terrified that they’ll unwittingly act on their intrusive thoughts. Yet the more they try to push those thoughts away, the more powerful these thoughts become. While there are many categories of OCD fears, the obsessions are all-consuming and frightening.

After reading Loving Naomi, I was struck by how incapacitating those experiences can be and wondered how I could support my friends who struggle with unwanted thoughts as Meghan has. I mostly write about physical and emotional suffering, and while I have been anxious and depressed over of my circumstances, I haven’t experienced out-of-control anxiety. But I want to help take away the stigma people often associate with mental illness which sometimes makes sufferers feel too ashamed to seek outside help. God works through psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and medication just as he works through other means of grace. Seeking outside help for a mental condition is no different than seeking it for a physical one.

Meghan has helped me see that we can love people who have OCD by pointing them to Jesus and a therapist and offered some practical suggestions to that end. She said that to make progress, people need to unlearn the way they’ve processed information, and this takes professional help, time, and diligence. Meghan’s friends and family wanted to be good sounding boards, but they often got tired of her repeating the same concerns and eventually their well-meaning suggestions felt more like judgment than help. Out of frustration and despair, she stopped talking about it entirely until she found a counselor who was able to help her face her fears directly rather than simply trying to push them away.

Meghan reminded me that while we can’t always change the situation directly, we can keep praying for people who are struggling with OCD or other forms of mental illness. We can reassure them that God created their brains in this unique way for a purpose and there is no shame in their suffering. We can encourage them to seek help from therapists and to stay on medication as we support them on this journey by praying for them and regularly checking in. Prayer is an important part of this battle, as we know it dismantles strongholds. None of our struggles are merely against flesh and blood but all of them, whether physical or mental, have a spiritual component.

Some people with OCD battle outrageous and blasphemous intrusive thoughts and wonder if God has or will abandon them because of them. As believing friends, we can point out Scriptures that speak to God’s sovereignty, his unchangeable love and his grace and power that works best through our weakness. These Scriptures were most helpful for Meghan:

 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” –  2 Corinthians 12:9

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Philippians 3: 12-16

Sitting with someone struggling with OCD can be uncomfortable and confusing, especially when the truth feels so obvious to us. Yet, God calls us to reach out in compassion to others and help carry their burdens. With patience and caring, we can walk with these friends through the process of therapy, while reminding them that God never makes a mistake. Remind them that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Assure them that God has not abandoned them and that this struggle may be the making of their faith. Remind them that OCD is lying to them, but God never will. The Lord is ever faithful and shines light in the darkest places of our lives.

Special Bonus Tips from Meghan:    

Top 10 Things NOT to Say to an Anxious Friend

1.      “I’m sure it’s all in your head.”

2.      “You are overthinking this. Just let go and let God.”

3.      “Why would you worry about that?”

4.      “Oh everyone feels a little anxious sometimes.”

5.      “You have a great life! What do you have to be worried about??”

6.      “Maybe you should get a hobby, so you don’t feel so concerned all the time.”

7.      “Why are you asking about this again?” (insert irritated sigh)

8.      “Stop stressing about it. I’m sure it’s fine.”

9.      “Why are you making this such a big deal?”

10.  “Other people deal with far worse things, so you should be thankful.”       

source : https://www.vaneetha.com/journal/when-your-thoughts-threaten-to-control-you

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