OCPD and Religion

The “meaning of life” is one of the many questions that a lot of sensitive people think about. This contemplation often leads these people to explore different religions. But among these sensitive thinkers, there is a smaller group whose personality makes them more likely to miss the point of those religions that are centered around a personal God.

People with OCPD are more likely to miss the point of religions that are centered around a personal God.

Having lived all their life using their exceptional logical reasoning skills to figure out the answers to their many questions, many people with OCPD develop the idea that all things can be figured out by the power of their mind, including God. This idea, however, comes from their all-or-nothing tendency to generalize: “I have figured out A and B with logical reasoning. Therefore, I can figure out C with logical reasoning.” As a result of this generalization, many people with OCPD ignore descriptions of God as an entity that is beyond human reasoning. They will then continue their ineffective pursuit of trying to figure out the validity of this God.

People with OCPD like rules and routines. They feel good and in control when they are able to follow them perfectly. When they break them, however, people with OCPD feel guilty and out of control.

This is no different when people with OCPD misuse religion. Much like the previous example, people with OCPD are likely to feel either good or guilty by their ability or inability to follow the rules and routines of religion perfectly. The only difference is, people with OCPD are likely to confuse these feelings as spiritual experiences when they occur in the context of religion.

As discussed in my earlier post titled “Discernment and Judgment,” people with OCPD can be quite judgmental when their gift for discernment is poisoned by all-or-nothing thinking. This can lead people with OCPD to judge themselves and others harshly when anything less than religious perfection is achieved. But rather than recognizing that these judgments are rooted from their own OCPD, many people with OCPD will falsely claim that it is the God of their religion who makes those merciless judgments. In the end, these false claims contribute to the misrepresentation of different religions and their God.

What people with OCPD will eventually find with this kind of empty relationship with religion is that it does not fulfill them. They may then hastily conclude that religion does not work, even though they may have never pursued it properly to begin with.

Some of the world’s religions believe in a personal, all-powerful God who is on the side of humankind. If this is true, it would make sense for all humankind to hand over their control of their lives to this God. However, since letting go of control happens to be the most difficult thing for people with OCPD to do, many of them hardly ever find out whether or not this belief is true.

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO PURSUE RELIGION WITHOUT USING IT AS AN EXTENSION OF YOUR OCPD (OCPD):
Assume that your inner voice that makes extreme judgments is wrong. Does God really speak like that? Or is that just you? Familiarize yourself more with who this God is and what kind of relationship He has with humankind so that you will be able to differentiate between your own voice and His. Ask yourself if the purpose of this religion is to gain more control over your life or lose it. If the purpose is to lose it, then you are probably missing the point if you feel in control through your perfect ability to follow all the rules and routines. Does the God in question promise that He will take care of you if you let go of control and place your trust in Him? If so, let go of control. Anxiety and stress will probably follow as you have been using control all your life to protect yourself. That is normal. But be comforted in knowing that, if this God really exists and keeps His promises, He will probably keep this one too.

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21 thoughts on “OCPD and Religion

  1. Stavros says:

    And so… what do you suggest to such people?

  2. RemyG says:

    I personally ended up neutral, religion, atheism, and agnosticism weren’t enough for me, nor was the theory of evolution. I had to come up with my own theory that explained everything, and ever since I’ve been content. I love to learn about and understand others’ standpoints though.

  3. Nick says:

    OCPDers also become intolerant with others’ more moderate religious beliefs. While many holy people are pure and perform their religious rites without looking with disdain at the less faithful, my ex-wife did not know how to compromise in any of her religious beliefs for the sake of our combined family and even for the sake of her three natural children. Her first husband is more modern than her and, due to her intransigence in religious dogma, her oldest child has left her and moved in with his father when he comes back to NYC regularly from his out-of-state boarding high school. That may be one repercussion of an OCPDers not being able to loosen their religious principles for their significant other, their children, and their neighbors and community: they run the risk of chasing away those closest to them.

  4. pathogen7 says:

    In my own experience, I am definitely very concerned about the ‘correctness’ of my beliefs. For a long time I thought that I could resolve my moral questions by figuring out in my head what the most important value should be, and deriving other moral beliefs from that. I was definitely mistaken!

    However, I don’t think it is right to see God as being ‘beyond reason’, and to simply settle for supernatural belief because we can’t find a good way to think about such beliefs. I recommend that you aside the quest for the right beliefs and the right moral code, and instead just see the world as it is. Ironically, just like belief in God, this also involves giving up a measure of control: instead of deciding what to believe you need to let the world show you what is true. Don’t try to judge what you find, and try to be aware of the assumptions and biases that you may bring to the search.

    What I found was that there was no convincing evidence for the existence of God, or for the existence of any objective moral system. What I noticed instead is that moral judgements originate from the human sense of empathy. These days I am not particularly concerned by the lack of hard moral guidelines in my life, because I trust my emotions to guide me to moral ideas and responses, and reason is only used to sort out contradictions between moral ideas. I’m also not too bothered by the varied and incoherent beliefs of others. I understand that finding the truth and facing it is a long and hard process, and that many people just don’t have the fortitude or the patience to do this (but, OCPD people probably do!).

    So, I am an OCPDer, an atheist, and a moral relativist. And being all of those things at once does not cause me any special difficulty.

    • Daniel Kim says:

      There are many different ideas of who God is (if He does in fact exist). Some say He’s within reason. Others say He’s beyond reason. Who is right? No one can say. But I don’t think I would be very impressed by a God who could be figured out by human reasoning, even if it was done by the smartest human being ever to walk the face of the Earth.

      I actually am not on a quest for the right beliefs and the right moral code as you suggest I am. Like you, I do see the world as it is. I just happen to additionally believe that there might be more. Because of my curiosity and love for learning, I actually always think there might be more to what is currently believed to be true and real by science/evidence. Like my blog 🙂 I believed that there was more to OCPD than what doctors and psychiatrists have said to be true. This additional belief starts with “faith.” If my additional belief could be proven by science, it would no longer be additional belief, would it?

      • Pathogen7 did not suggest that you should be on a quest for the right beliefs and the right moral code. You decided this yourself. Most likely because you have made this blog for the reason of discovering whether there is something more in the world than what you just see.
        I agree with pathogen7, that God should not be considered beyond reason. The world is as it is and we should see it like this. However, the longer I live, the less problems I have with my dichotomous thinking. It is a tool of reasoning, for, as pathogen7 said, discerning clashes of personal morals. It caused pain when it was generalized into preaching, judging and punishing. It needs to have it’s boundaries set. Like a nuclear plant. In the reactor uranium is welcome, outside of it – toxic. So is dichotomy. I also agree that once we have our moral code complete, we can sit back and let emotions (which are based on this code) cruise us through life with calm, because we know we are right, we have a coherent system, which is targeted towards fairness and the best for all human kind. I guess… I would call it maturity.

      • Daniel Kim says:

        Pathogen7 said: “I recommend that you [set] aside the quest for the right beliefs and the right moral code.”
        I then said: “I am not on a quest…”

        I think you might have misunderstood our exchange of words. I am aware that Pathogen7 did not suggest that I should be on a quest. He instead told me the exact opposite… that I should set aside that quest, to which I basically replied, “I am not on any quest so there is nothing to set aside.”

        Again, I do see the world but I just additionally believe there might be more. Back in the day, people thought the world was flat. That was how “seeing the world as it is” looked like back then and no one disagreed… except for one person who believed that there might be more. And he was right! Just like him I carry the attitude that there might be more. And in my experience, this attitude has not been toxic. This attitude is what birthed my blog and people now contact me about how I have saved them from committing suicide, how I have saved their marriage, etc.

  5. Cali310 says:

    Normally I use the “people once thought the world was flat and we now know it’s not” line to try convince my friends that what was written in the Bible over 2000 years ago probably is not true and we know a little more now than we did then. But the way you have used it also makes sense. These debates usually start by me defending gay rights and women’s rights when people use the Bible to limit those rights. I was raised a Christian but my views changed a couple years ago in college when I became a Physics major. Adam and Eve conflicted with evolution and I told myself both can’t be right. I recently graduated. Even though I bounce around between being an atheist/agnostic I am coming to realize my black and white, either/or rigid thinking and am willing to let go control, and let go finding the truth. I still go to church with my family and they do not know my change of beliefs. They would probably be heartbroken and I am still struggling with it. I think I may have ocpd and well as avoidant pd and am starting therapy soon. I am realizing it is ok to not know the secrets of the universe and just live. I will keep an open mind to my childhood religion. Maybe there is a higher power.

    Thanks for sharing your viewpoint.

  6. Abdul says:

    Hi, Daniel Kim,

    Basically, I am born a Muslim, but didn’t learn much about Islam. I grew up more of a Christian/Catholic primarily because of the Christian/Catholic school I went to from gradeschool to college. Not to mention, my mom is also Catholic and we’re living in a Catholic place.

    Now that I am almost 23 years old, I learned more about myself individually and as an OCPDer (Thanks to you!). And I am starting to question almost everything about religion, about Christianity, about God. What’s the best religion for me? Why is X a sin in Christianity? Is God real? These are some of the questions that haunt me.

    My problem is that I can’t just believe things about religion, Christianity, and God just because they taught me to. I want to believe in God, I think I believe in God, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I am just not comfortable fully believing in something that I don’t have a solid understanding of. I want to reeducate myself, relearn the things I have already learned, and try to solidify my knowledge before I could fully believe in God, Christianity, or other religions. Yes I think it’s more of solidifying rather than disproving.

    Am I wrong to feel this way? Am i wrong to think this way? Am I wrong to doubt or question the validity of God/Christianity/religions before I fully believe in them? Is it just normal for a person be like this? Or is OCPD all-or-nothing thinking getting in my way? Is compulsive-doubting getting in my way?

    Thank you very much in advance, idol! 🙂

    • Daniel Kim says:

      If you don’t feel at ease, if you feel anxiety because you don’t fully understand, because you don’t have “perfect” knowledge… Then that’s no good. That’s your OCPD. Facts then become your control mechanism that you rely on to feel at peace… But you will never feel at peace then because you can never fully, perfectly know. You have to learn to be ok with not knowing 100%.

      • Lelouch says:

        What if I believe that my religion (Roman Catholicism) is – in a sense – about GAINING more control? (“You need to do this or you will end up in Hell.”). Although there seem to be some doublethinking (“God is Love”) too. The priests seem to play good cop (“God is Love”) and bad cop (“Do what I say or you will end up in hell”).

        There seem to be some conditions that need to be met in order to avoid going to hell. You need not to be in state of mortal sin when dying. How to be sure that you are not in that state right now? By analizing the past, gaining knowledge, collecting facts, thinking if they apply to your situation, thinking if it is possible that you made an error in your reasoning, by getting reassurance.
        Or you can go to the confesssion and confess things that might or might not be sinful. That you might or might not have done them consciously (“What does it really mean? Am I understanding this right?”) and deliberately (“What does it really mean? Am I understanding this right?”). So you confess,because “You’d better be safe than sorry”. Yes, it’s a scrupulosity. But it seems perfectly rational to act like that (it’s in a way different than much more common “OCD version” of scrupulosity). And you see people without that tendency as either not fully rational or uninformed.

        After confession you might now doubt: “Have I confessed it all correctly? What if I was not completely honest? I’d better do it again.”. And again, and again, and again. You might even have a daily general confessions (from your whole life).

        I know, I know – there are hints for people with scrupulosity. But they not seem to be official. And you may wonder: What if those hints are wrong?

        You intuitively feel that something’s not right with your way of thinking. But why to trust intuition and your thinking? If you were to choose: Life full of suffering VS risk of going to hell, what would you? Especially if you are a master of delayed gratification? You can live your whole life in suffering, just to be sure, that you will not go to hell. Or can you?

        I know, I know – you can never be sure. But it seems to be completely rational to waste your file just to decrease (even slightly) the risk of going to hell. Even if it’s decreasing the risk from 0.1% to 0.09%, it – from a rational point of view – seems to be infinitely more worthy than living happy life here, on Earth. Because we will die in a moment (maximally 100+ years) and hell will never end.

        Can you help me? Can you prove me wrong? Or help me in a different way?

      • Daniel Kim says:

        There’s a lot of stress and anxiety in the kind of religious control you are talking about. You would not need such control if you felt secure. Does the God you believe in offer/promise security? If yes, then why do you need to control so much?

      • Lelouch says:

        “There’s a lot of stress and anxiety in the kind of religious control you are talking about.” – Yes, there is.

        “You would not need such control if you felt secure. Does the God you believe in offer/promise security? If yes, then why do you need to control so much?”

        My personal believe in God is more complex than that. To be honest, I believe simultaneously in a few versions of God (The Judge, The Love, The Absolute).

        But, back to the topic: I don’t have much problem with The Love and with The Absolute. So let’s talk about The Judge.

        Catechism of the Catholic Church says ( http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm , point 1035):

        “1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. ”

        How there can be security if it is possible that you screw something up so badly that you could go to hell? You need to control yourself to avoid that. You want to be absolutely sure, because hell is said to be lasting for eternity. If it was lasting for – let’s say – 20 years, maybe the need for being sure wouldn’t be so strong. Unborned are lucky because they are not at that risk.

        If there is even a slightest possibility that after life you could go to hell, it seems – in my opinion, from rational point of view – that it is better to be never born (or even conceived, just in case).

        Anyway, thx for your reply.

      • Daniel Kim says:

        Well my understanding of Christianity and Catholicism is that God provided a remedy for this problem that you present. And the remedy is Jesus’ self sacrifice. Yes God is the Judge. But the judgement of past, present, and future already fell on Jesus, no? And if that is true, why are you attempting to avoid that which will not fall on you if you believe… All promised in John 3:16

      • Lelouch says:

        The Catholic Church seem to say that just “believing” is not enough.
        John 3:16 can be countered with James 2:19 and 2 Peter 1:20-21.
        The Cathechism of the Catholic Church is said to be a “compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals”.( http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2011/05/what-catechism-catholic-church#sthash.7GrtbshA.dpuf ).
        And there is this point 1035 which says: “Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell,”. According to this, if you die in the state of mortal sin, you will descend into hell, no matter what you believe.

        I think that this site clarifies pretty much the differences between our beliefs: http://www.whateverycatholicshouldknow.com/sin/mortal-sin/

        This is more or less: the word of the Catholic Church VS the word of the Protestants. Protestant version seems to be more convenient in a way, but I am a catholic.

      • Daniel Kim says:

        When I say “believe,” I’m not talking about anything convenient. I’m talking about what the original Greek text was talking about. For example, if I continue to not be generous with my resources with others because of fear that my needs will not be taken care of, then I am not “believing”/trusting that God will take care of my needs, regardless of whether or not I have settled in my heart and mind that God/Jesus does exist. Why put so much focus on the categorization of sin?

        http://www.gotquestions.org/mortal-sin-venial.html

  7. Abdul says:

    Now, I’m even questioning the good values I have learned in my entire life. I’m even questioning why do I have to be a good man. This questioning gives me anxiety. Why is it like this? How can I deal with this? 😦

    • Daniel Kim says:

      It is within our human nature that we want to be “a good man.” We as men desire it so much that the most common and cliche thing said at a funeral is “he was a good man.”

      The uncertainty of our “goodness” causes us anxiety. Our anxiety can then either lead us to control (try to do things that increase our “goodness”) or let go (believe that we are “good” enough). The first one will never get rid of the uncertainty. The latter frees you from that anxiety.

  8. Jenny says:

    I am a sufferer of OCPD, Depression, Anxiety, Social Anxiety etc. so yeah, you could say they have a significant input on my problem also so here we go. Although I am still quite young, at the age of 15, I still find myself petrified at the thought of religion/belief. I have always classed myself as a Pagan at heart due to my family being Pagan however, now I am starting to doubt whether my supposed beliefs are the ones I want to follow. I am at a constant crossroad with my religious direction, between Christianity and Paganism. I am petrified of the could be punishments of not being a follower of God once I die which means I believe in the Christian beliefs However I also believe in the Pagan ways of living and thinking. I tend to just make excuses for my inability to make a religious decision due to my age and that I will ” find my true religious beliefs once I am older” but I feel that time is crucial and that I am being judged throughout my entire life.
    Any advice? Thank you.

    • Daniel Kim says:

      Being petrified about death is a human thing. Not a religious thing, not a Christian thing… just a human thing. If you do something as an attempt to control your fear, rather than overcoming it, you will be giving into it and that fear will continue to exist within you. The best thing to do is stop reinforcing that pattern of being petrified by life’s uncertainties. Expose yourself to all of life’s uncertainties and just accept them. Although no one can scientific prove that a good afterlife exists, belief in such an idea actually does help us expose ourselves to all of life’s uncertainties and does help stop the unhealthy pattern of being petrified. Feeling like you are being judged throughout your entire life is a normal part of the human experience too, especially for highly sensitive people. If your concept of God is that of a higher being that constantly judges you, then it is healthier for you not to listen to that God. However, if your concept of God is that of a higher being who loves you, is so proud of you, finds you so beautiful, and finds so much value in you that He died for you, then I think it is healthier to listen to this God. It is the latter concept of God that I believe in.

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