How do I overcome my fear of supernatural and self-inflicted punishment?
January 31, 2010 2:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I overcome my fear of supernatural and self-inflicted punishment?

You may have read from a previous post of mine that I'm really obsessive. I have a very bad example of obsessive compulsive disorder, and although I have made headway on many things which worry me, I still have fears that something will punish me if I do something wrong, if I don't punish myself. In the past this has been because I ate meat (I moved to vegetarianism) and then because I ate animal products (veganism). Now I'm obsessed that if I use any animal product, which is unavoidable for vegans, something will punish me. You could say this was a God or anything supernatural. What are some tips I can use to avoid this problem?

Side question: I saw a black spec in my pasta and it could have been a bug; I ate it anyway. Will something punish me and/or do I need to do anything about it?
posted by Jazzwick to Religion & Philosophy (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'd like to point out I'm already in therapy.
posted by Jazzwick at 2:11 PM on January 31, 2010

I'm afraid that this question is beyond the scope of AskMeta. Obviously you have an acknowledged mental illness (OCD) and you're going to need therapy and/or medication. Are you seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist? If you're having this level of difficulty simply living your life, I strongly suggest seeing a psychiatrist rather than "only" a therapist.

You know the answer to your question about whether something will punish you for eating pasta with a black spec on it. The very fact that you're asking it is an indication you need more significant medical help than you can possibly get on AskMe.
posted by Justinian at 2:17 PM on January 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

(note: yeah I know you're in therapy. When I said "Are you seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist?" I wasn't asking if you were seeing either of them, I was trying to find out WHICH you were seeing because I think you're at the point where you should talk to the latter, given they can prescribe appropriate medication if necessary.)
posted by Justinian at 2:19 PM on January 31, 2010

Response by poster: I'm seeing a therapist at the moment.
posted by Jazzwick at 2:20 PM on January 31, 2010

I agree with Justinian. We can tell you over and over that nothing will punish you, that you're not doing anything wrong, and it will not make a difference, because you have OCD. If you could just simply change your thought patterns based on something someone told you on the internets, you would not have OCD. So yes, you need a psychiatrist, and potentially medication if that's what they prescribe.
posted by desjardins at 2:21 PM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

You could say this was a God or anything supernatural. What are some tips I can use to avoid this problem?

Your God sounds like a bit of an obsessive and didactic dick; perhaps you can alleviate your fear by consciously embracing a religion where the deity is either a forgiving and friendly sort, or one who can't possibly give a crap about you and your trifling mortal concerns.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:24 PM on January 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

What punishment do you fear? Can you imagine it as something concrete you can handle?

Can you see the "punishment" for using animal products as the guilt you feel about it? The punishment for eating the pasta as knowing you may have eaten a bug (probably not--are you sure it wasn't pepper)? Then you can decide whether certain things (eating meat) are worth the punishment (feeling guilty), and you may feel more in control.

If it is more serious than that, which it seems to be, your therapist (or a psychiatrist) is the one to ask.
posted by sallybrown at 2:27 PM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: I'm not a vegan, a mental health professional, or any kind of cleric; this is all just my opinion.

Maybe instead of punishing yourself you could do something to 'honor' the animal for its sacrifice? In my mind I picture something like a 'swear jar'. Keep a jar in your home and when you use an animal product put in a small payment. When the jar is full you can use the funds to make a donation to an animal cause you believe in like the Humane Society, the SPCA, or PETA. When you make your 'payment' to the jar do something to make yourself let it go. Say a little prayer or just verbally thank the animal for its sacrifice. Just punishing yourself doesn't really do anybody any good, by doing something positive you are at least putting good 'vibes' out into the universe.

I have to agree with all the people above. The Internet may be able to give you ideas, but you need to see a professional one-on-one to deal with your mental health. It seems to me that you've gotten yourself into a no-win situation and that medication can help with that.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:32 PM on January 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm on medication, although I confess I don't have I can have at the moment. I think I only meant to look for advice as a booster, although I appreciate your advice.
posted by Jazzwick at 2:33 PM on January 31, 2010

I'm seeing a therapist at the moment.

Yeah, I know, I'm suggesting you see a psychiatrist instead.
posted by Justinian at 2:34 PM on January 31, 2010

Oh, ok, if you're already seeing a shrink and are on medication then I got nothin'.
posted by Justinian at 2:35 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're experiencing this level of worry and anxiety. It sounds really painful.

There isn't anything an internet stranger can say to put a lid on your OCD. There isn't anything your best friend can say to put a lid on your OCD. Therapy and meds are your best bet.

You might ask your therapist about exposure therapy. I'd suggest that you start exposing yourself to the things that make you fear retribution, but I think that could be damaging without a professional to assist you with the resulting emotions.

Keep going to therapy and get your med management from a psychiatrist.
posted by dchrssyr at 2:46 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know if rational analysis of your situation is something that would help you at the moment, but consider the following: mankind has existed for thousands of years. There are literally billions of humans, alive now and long dead, that never ever had scruples like this. Why should you single yourself out and try to be responsible for not "abusing" any kind of animal? Why would a higher power require you, and only you, to live a life so restricted, and only threaten to punish you?
Maybe you should acknowledge that living up to those goals that you set yourself (or that you feel are imposed on you) is impossible, and that you can't reasonably deserve to be punished for failing to achieve the unachievable.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:48 PM on January 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

I highly recommend this book by Claire Weekes (in conjunction, of course, with continued work with your doctor and therapist).
posted by Wordwoman at 2:52 PM on January 31, 2010

Here's what do do: Write the words *Breathe-Smile* on the mirror you use when you brush your teeth in the morning.
When your worrisome thoughts arise, pause; Breathe- Smile. I won't explain why and how this works, but it only works if you practice.
Your worries are only thoughts, thoughts can change.
posted by hortense at 3:01 PM on January 31, 2010

A few points from someone who has OCD, and had suffered pretty badly from it at times:

- Fear of punishment is one of the fundamental obsessions among people with OCD (and many who do not, I imagine). So while going through therapy, the point won't be to eliminate such fear, but to manage it in a way that you will be able to live your life...which, believe me, is extremely possible.

- I'm quite surprised that your therapist hasn't challenged you on your decisions to restrict your diet based on your fears. "Giving in" to your obsessions like this only tends to make them worse. Are you really worrying any less now that you've become a vegan?

- You really sound like a prime candidate for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It will allow you to ask fundamental questions such as: What am I worried about? What will happen to me if I do not give into my worries? It will also let you challenge your worries in a way that PontifexPrimus has done above. Really, it's something you should seriously consider

Good luck!
posted by hiteleven at 3:02 PM on January 31, 2010

You might look into Jainism to see how they deal spiritually with inadvertently harming animals. Your relevant search term is ahimsa.
posted by desjardins at 3:06 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you ever actually been punished by god?

I'm not talking about you doing X and then completely unrelated situation Y happening. I'm talking about thunderbolts coming down from heaven, angels with flaming swords, etc. Has the thing you fear, in whatever form you perceive it taking, ever actually come true?

Even after everything that you've done, has anything bad ever actually happened as a direct consequence of you making a mistake?

Ask yourself that question. Seriously consider it. And then consider it again next time you start obsessing.
posted by Solomon at 3:43 PM on January 31, 2010

If you're at all appreciative of Christian monotheism, well, the Bible says Jesus ate fish on a couple occasions. And it's full of various "recipes"...or at least mentioning of various dishes and meals including meat.

The saying goes "ignorance is bliss" but quite often it's education that cultivates understanding. My recommendation would be to research the ties various religions have towards foodstuffs. Things like keeping kosher, buddhist veganism, christian avoidance of gluttony, that sort of thing.

Matthew 15:11 - What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.
posted by carlh at 3:44 PM on January 31, 2010

Side question: I saw a black spec in my pasta and it could have been a bug; I ate it anyway. Will something punish me and/or do I need to do anything about it?

OP, since you have diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder, you probably know that asking a question like this is a form of reassurance seeking. Reassurance seeking may be comforting in the short run, but in the long run it will manage only to prolong the uncertainty and fear. It's not the end of the world to seek re-assurance (in the past I have done a fair amount of this myself). But remember that you need to build up a tolerance to the uncertainty that you experience, in order to gain a level of comfort and relaxation.

So I'll help you out this once: I would think it extremely unlikely that the black spec in your pasta was a bug, or any living creature. And in the off chance that it was, it was no big deal. No one will punish you for eating that spec. If there is a God, it would seem unrealistic that he would punish someone for an honest mistake (as opposed to an act of willed evil). I really think you have nothing to worry about.

You say that you are in therapy, which I think is really helpful. And also the meds, those are good too! Are you going on a regular basis? Is your therapist a CBT specialist? When I was struggling, I found CBT to be the most effective. And I know this sounds silly, but making sure to eat well and to exercise daily is EXTREMELY helpful with OCD-type anxiety. I also found reading and educating myself about the disorder to be of great help. Part of fixing the disease is understanding it. A really good starting place is the book "Stop Obsessing!" by Edna Foa. I don't want to go into it too much in the post, but if you feel like you need more resources, just memail me.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I prefer to look at it like this: the natural fabric of mortal life involves killing and eating. The creative power behind the universe's origin might just as likely get pissed about some tiny speck having the pretensious belief that it can inflate it's ego by trying to take itself out of this wheel of death and consumption, so carefully balanced on a planetary scale. Not an individual scale.
posted by Redhush at 3:47 PM on January 31, 2010

I can relate to this. I actually started having trouble with the idea of eating vegetables since they are alive. A friend said to me that unless I was going to learn how to photosynthesize I would have to get over this notion.

God will not be mad at you if you accidentally ate a bug. In fact, you can be sure that even if you purposely ate a bug, God would forgive you.

This is part of the circle of life. God created it and God loves you. God wants you to be content and happy, not miserable and fearful. God created lions and lambs for a reason, the lions eat the lambs. This is not terrible, it is life. Be mindful and thankful to the animals and plants you consume and use. In fact, you could honor God by enjoying the food you eat and taking good care of yourself, since the food is God's gift and you are his child.

Instead of putting your efforts toward punishing yourself, perhaps you could try to be helpful in some way? Maybe you could volunteer to help at a no-kill shelter? take care of a feral cat colony? volunteer at a food pantry?

Keep up the therapy. I know what you are going through.
posted by fifilaru at 4:28 PM on January 31, 2010

Perhaps you've read or heard that OCD seems to be associated with strep infection for a (probably) small percentage of sufferers:

Over the last ten years, there has appeared a mounting body of evidence that suggests there is a small subgroup of individuals whose childhood onset Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders may have been triggered by streptococcal throat infections. This association of an infectious cause with a neurobiological disorder may also be true for tic disorders, such as Tourette's Disorder, Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), and possibly Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

These conclusions were drawn from research conducted by Drs. Susan Swedo, Judith Rappaport, and their associates at The National Institute of Mental Health. During the late 1980's, they observed that children with Sydenham's Chorea, the neurobiological manifestation that follows bouts of Rheumatic Fever, had an unusually high percentage of OCD symptoms, including both obsessions and compulsions. Rheumatic Fever is caused by Group A Beta hemolytic streptococcal bacteria, commonly known as strep throat. In a vulnerable subgroup of children, the immune response to the bacteria goes awry, causing the antibodies to mistakenly identify the basal ganglia (an area deep within the brain) as foreign bodies. The basal ganglia then become inflamed as a result of this "mistaken identification." This chain reaction is what is known as an autoimmune response, when the immune system misidentifies an individual's own cells as foreign. ...

If your OCD involves an element of autoimmunity, you may be able to make it more tolerable by doing what you can to calm your immune system down.

I'm not necessarily suggesting you go to a Rheumatologist for a work-up (though I'd be fascinated to know what one might make of you), but since you are already obsessed with what you eat, I recommend you take a look at the blog of a scientist who thinks that the gut is the royal road to controlling inflammatory processes.
posted by jamjam at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Er, I am not a mental health professional, TooFewShoes, but the advice you gave sort-of sounds like it could be an idea for not a coping mechanism for the OP, per se, but a compulsion through which to dissipate the anxiety produced by obsessive thoughts.

As hiteleven suggests, it's probably antithetical to treatment to try to develop a ritualized, "giving in" approach to dealing with obsession-produced anxiety. Keep at therapy, OP, but please—and this may be an insultingly obvious assertion, but worth repeating—avoid new rituals that could turn into new compulsions.
posted by Keter at 5:17 PM on January 31, 2010

I used to do this. Please look into medication if you have not already. Effexor XR worked for me. Sure, I did CBT as well. But really... let's not kid around here. You don't need to live this way.
posted by Kloryne at 6:57 PM on January 31, 2010

I'd like to clarify - I don't mean "...let's not kid around..." as in CBT doesn't work. It does. I mean, please get yourself stable now. It may mean drugs. Then you may be in a better position for CBT to do its job. In other words, if therapy alone isn't working, don't continue that route without considering medication. :)

(I obviously have some pent-up anger left from having loved ones shame me out of taking medication when I needed it. I lost a lot of years during that time.)
posted by Kloryne at 7:06 PM on January 31, 2010

At the risk of annoying the mods with a deleteworthy answer, I'm compelled to tell you that there really is no supernatural anything, let alone an entity that metes out punishment for eating a bug.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:58 PM on January 31, 2010

Jazzwick, I don't want to be giving you ideas for a new compulsion. Please take my idea to your therapist and discuss it with them. Your mental health professional is going to be the only person who can give you specific advice.

My idea is just something to keep you from 'punishing' yourself. I know how self destructive that can be, and I wanted to give you an idea of how to do something positive instead of negative. I am the furthest thing from a professional, and I don't want to give you a new thing to obsess over.

Please keep seeing your therapist, and I highly recommend medication. I know you say you're on meds, but it sounds like a re-evaluation is in order.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:17 PM on January 31, 2010

I would like to concur with Kloryne that medication is indeed an excellent route to good mental health. I was nervous about taking SSRIs for years, but I'm currently on Cipralex/Lexapro and it is amazingly beneficial.

I mentioned CBT because your obsessions sound like sure-fire cases for CBT treatment...but yes, don't ignore the medication route either.
posted by hiteleven at 9:24 PM on January 31, 2010

It's unfortunate that my answer was deleted, because you need someone to bluntly tell you, from a vegan/vegetarian perspective (I'm a vegetarian), how misguided your views are. I don't think we're doing you a favor if we shield you from criticism.

Apparently I made the point better in this comment, which wasn't deleted:
trying to reduce cruelty to animals is great. I try to do this too. But if it means being cruel to yourself, it's not worth it. I have no doubt you can stay at least a vegetarian (if not a vegan) and work on your problems, but PUT YOURSELF FIRST. One of the components of being a good ethical vegetarian is setting an example for other people to show them: "Look, being a vegetarian/vegan works -- it's a bit of a sacrifice, but it's not that bad." Right now, you're doing the opposite -- you're showing the world that veganism doesn't work and is miserable. Realize that this severely detracts from whatever good is accomplished by being a vegan. You're one person who's a vegan, but you might inadvertently convince 10 people never to try veganism if you keep on going like this.
The OP in that question apparently found it useful, since he said:
You make an excellent point about setting an example for other people to try vegetarianism. In the last few years several of my friends have eaten less meat as a direct result of my influence and the education I've shared with them. One girlfriend went fully vegetarian after years of complaining how much of a pain vegetarians are to have dinner with. And I feel horrible that I may be setting a poor example for more people.
Mods, please don't delete this. This is a direct answer to the OP's question. It's my attempt to be useful. Maybe the OP won't find it useful, but that's for him to decide. We should not sugarcoat our honest response to the OP's deeply problematic thoughts.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:00 AM on February 1, 2010

I am not an OCD sufferer, but I was a therapist for years and so vetted lots of treatments and books for my clients. One of the most helpful seeming books that I looked at was Brain Lock, in which the authors discuss methods of cognitive self-therapy and behavior mod to change the reader's responses to obsessions. I think it is well worth a look.
posted by thebrokedown at 6:53 AM on February 1, 2010

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