Indoctrinating the child with certain religious beliefs relating to how one should think can provide extremely fertile ground for the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) due, in part, to a phenomenon known as THOUGHT-ACTION FUSION.
The phrase ‘thought-action fusion’ refers to the dysfunctional belief that to merely THINK about doing something unacceptable is as morally reprehensible as ACTUALLY DOING IT (this idea has been famously elaborated in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four in which the Party (government) has individuals entertaining politically unacceptable thoughts arrested by the ‘Thought Police’ for ‘Thought Crimes’).
But how are religion and the phenomenon of thought-action fusion interconnected?
Perhaps the most well-known quote from the Bible that is based upon the concept of ‘thought-action fusion’ is reported as having been spoken by Jesus in Matthew V, 27-28:Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh. on a woman to lust after her hath committed. adultery with her already in his heart.
According to this quote, then, thinking about adultery is as immoral as actually committing adultery. However, given our thoughts are automatic and beyond our control, this seems a little unfair.
Indeed, research shows that actively trying to suppress thoughts we find disturbing serves only to increase their intrusiveness.
This idea is most frequently illustrated by psychologists in the following way: TRY YOUR HARDEST, FOR ONE MINUTE, NOT TO THINK OF A PINK ELEPHANT.
You get the idea – not only is it impossible but it causes us to think more about pink elephants than we would have done had we not been given the instruction in the first place.
Similarly, some of us may have been taught, as children, by religious instructors, not to have impure thoughts as this is sinful. We may, to this day, therefore try our hardest to suppress such thoughts. Result? Like with the ‘pink elephant’ example, but to a much greater extent because this instruction may be repeated ad nauseam throughout our childhood, we can think of little else leading, in the most severe cases, to religious-based obsessive-compulsive disorder.
And, of course, OCD and anxiety go hand in hand so if, on top of the religious dictate not to have impure thoughts, we are also informed that if we do we will suffer eternal agony immersed in the flames of Hell, our condition is hardly likely to be ameliorated.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).