OCD and The Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer 

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference. 

Many of us are familiar with this beautiful prayer, and I happened to come across it soon after writing last week’s post on hyper-responsibility. It struck me how these words sum up so much of what those with OCD struggle with, and it can be easily related to hyper-responsibility. While there is no doubt we can all benefit from accepting the things we cannot change, it is especially important for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, as this acceptance is necessary for recovery. In Dan’s case, he needed to accept the fact that not only was he not responsible for the well-being of others, this goal was out of his control.

To me, the next line, Courage to change the things I can, is so meaningful in regards to OCD. I know firsthand how difficult therapy was for Dan, and I have connected with many other people who have talked about the immense challenges that come with treatment for OCD. I can honestly say that those with the disorder who are fighting it are some of the most courageous people out there. This is one of those things that is so hard for those of us who don’t suffer from OCD to understand, and while I may not totally comprehend the depth of suffering that comes with OCD, I know it is real. To engage full force in therapy, whether in regards to hyper-responsibility or any other aspect of the disorder, is nothing short of courageous.

And wisdom to know the difference. Ah, now this can be a tricky one, especially in regards to hyper-responsibility. There are those in our society who don’t feel any connection to others, and may not even take responsibility for themselves. Theirs is an “every man for himself” attitude. Many of those with OCD, as we know, are at the opposite end of the spectrum, feeling responsible for everyone and everything in the world. So how do we know where that “happy medium” lies?  How can we care about others and be contributing members of society without feeling totally responsible for everyone? How do we find that wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change? This is an ongoing issue, and I appreciate all those who shared their insight with comments on my last post.

There are no easy answers to these questions, and even when we find them, the answers may very well be different for all of us. Maybe the best we can do is to truly care for all aspects of ourselves, including fostering and nurturing our relationships with those around us. When we do this, perhaps serenity will follow.

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13 Responses to OCD and The Serenity Prayer

  1. 71 & Sunny says:

    Janet, this is just what I needed to hear right now. I’ve just finished a few difficult ERPs this evening (some intentional, some not) and I am struggling. This post was comforting. Thank you.

    • ocdtalk says:

      You’re welcome. I think the fact that you are doing the ERP’s is courageous. I’m sorry to hear you are struggling…you’ve overcome so much and this too shall pass. I’m thinking of you!

  2. I think Tom Jefferson said something to the effect that my rights end where your nose begins. Meaning of course, doing harm to others is against the law.

    I tend to see non-physical situations as a matter of manners and respect. But I also observe the Rules of Three which came to be from my love of baseball as a child:

    Three strikes in terms of your failing to respect me and that’s an out.

    Three outs, the inning is over and I distance.

    I can call it a game at that point, insititute a rain delay or send someone back to the minor leagues of Little League or no league.

    Much depends on the importance of the relationship. I might have to put up with a boss for lots more innings; I will go overtime for my husband and children and some other relatives and friends. Am I bit of a what some call a compulsive care taker. Yes. But this strategy helps me protect myself a bit. I am planning to turn it into a blog post.

    Thank you for your sharing, it will help many.

  3. ocdtalk says:

    Thank YOU for sharing your “Rules of Three.” There is a lot of wisdom there!

  4. Brooke says:

    there is another version of this prayer in one of Dr. Ian Osborn’s books… but that book is at my apartment across the country and I’m at my parent’s house… The version I am about to post though is a longer version and directly from the book. I had this prayer on my wall in my apartment and prayed it every day to help me get through the day:

    “O Lord my God, Be not far from me. Hurry to help me, for many thoughts and great fears rise up within me, afflicting my soul. How shall I escape them unharmed? And how shall I get ride of them? “I will walk before you” says the Lord, “and will humble the great ones of the earth. I will open the doors of the prison and will reveal to you hidden secrets.” Do as you say, Lord, and may all evil thoughts fly away in your presence. This is my hope and my only comfort- to fly to you in all tribulation, to confide in you utterly, to call on you from the depths of my heart, and to wait patiently for your consolation.”- From the Imitation of Christ

  5. Janet, I love the Serenity Prayer. The hardest part for me, also, is to have the wisdom to know the difference. I love your suggestion at the end of you post to “care for all aspects of ourselves, including fostering and nurturing our relationships.” Making sure that we are responsible for taking care of ourselves and nurturing ourselves, so that we can then nurture others–wonderful!

  6. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks Tina. The Serenity Prayer has always been one of my favorites also.

  7. I really loved this post! (I love reading all your posts) But it really is so fitting for OCD and once again so helpful in helping us without OCD to better understand and help our loved ones who suffer.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thank you, Gina! The more I learn about OCD the more I realize there are more similarities than differences between those with the disorder and those without…..like I’ve said before, the big difference is in severity. Hope you are well!

  8. jstewart84 says:

    I have this written in my wallet- It definitely helps to remember these words when you are in the middle of an OCD-related anxiety meltdown!

  9. ocdtalk says:

    Yes, it’s a great prayer…….for so many people and for so many different reasons. Thanks for commenting!

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