Some people have been asking to see the “script” used in my ERP exposure recordings. I’ve finally found the text (copied pretty much verbatim from the recording I listened to four times a day for about twelve weeks). If you have religious scrupulosity, this may be triggering. (That’s the point, after all!) But maybe it will help you create your own imaginal exposure.
And yes, I know that what’s below is ugly— I lived this script for three months. I hated it with my whole heart. But listening to this over and over for three months set me free.
“Okay, Jackie, this is a way for us to confront your obsessional fears, and it’s a very typical way that we deal with obsessional concerns with OCD therapy. We use exposure by imagination because it offers us the ability to be very creative and to exaggerate the negative consequences. Now your obsessional fear just so happens to be something that isn’t going to happen for years and years and years, and we have no way of knowing if there’s negative consequences—that you go to hell, that you don’t go to heaven. We don’t know what’s going to happen, just as we don’t know if someone would get cancer or be poisoned. There are delayed consequences with this fear, and it’s relating to every action that you take, how you communicate to people, the kind of worker you are, how well you worship.
“Today I’m going to read this script, and I may add some content, but I want you to vividly imagine happening what I’m describing. This is something you’re going to listen to repeatedly until you no longer find it bothersome. And it goes without saying, no rituals before, during, or after.
“As you’re listening to this today, as you’re listening to it on your own, I want you to focus on the content as if it’s happening right now, as if you’re in the moment. Try to let yourself be immersed in what I’m describing. Don’t try and distract yourself. Tell yourself, ‘I need to take that risk and not do my ritual.’
“While you’re listening I want you to close your eyes. I want you to imagine, Jackie, that you’re in your home … and you’re in your room. And focus on what you see as you’re waking up, as you’re sitting up … if there’s light coming into the room … how it smells in your room … the temperature … how the floor feels under your feet as you get up. Pay attention to all your senses right now as you’re in your room, about to go through your daily routine of waking up.
“You wake up and immediately you have a blasphemous thought. Something that relates to the Holy Spirit, and you’re thinking something horrible and disrespectful toward the Holy Spirit. And you don’t do anything about it. You don’t say a prayer; you actually say, “I’m gonna take that risk.” You say, “Fuck it. I don’t care.” And this stays with you the rest of the morning and sets the tone for your day.
“Eventually you get out of the house, and you’re still having that bad thought, but you don’t do anything about it. You feel almost like that thought is chasing you, trying to get your attention. “Hey! Jackie! Pay attention! You’re thinking something horrible; you’d better do something about it.” This is OCD talking. It wants you to do a ritual; it wants you to pay attention to these things as if they’re really, really important, and as if there are huge ramifications if you don’t pay attention.
“But you keep disregarding. “Nope, not going to pay attention to that. So I had a blasphemous thought, and I’m going to hell. I’ll just have to deal with that.”
“On your ride to work, you listen to the radio, and they’re cursing—saying fuck over and over. And you picture yourself saying outloud “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK.” And you imagine yourself saying “fuck you” to the Holy Spirit.
“And you know that’s unforgivable and that you’ve just sealed your fate, but you’re not going to do anything about it. You’re not going to pray.
“Now you start to think about what it might be like to be in hell. And you’re just letting that image come. You’re focusing on hell right now because you think that’s where you’re heading. I want you to give me a distress rating right now.
“So you have that disgusted feeling. You’re aware that you’ve had blasphemous thoughts and had blasphemous feelings. You’re hoping to get some relief once you get to work. Usually that helps to distract you, but it’s a bad day.
“You start to have a conversation with your co-worker as you settle into work. Your co-worker starts to boast, “I’m doing so well with contacting all my students,” and you start to have the thought, “I haven’t been doing that. I’m terrible. I’m supposed to be good at my job, but my students never hear from me. I’m having a terrible influence on my students.”
“But you purposely lie. “I’ve been in touch with all my students and love me so much.” You and your co-worker part ways, and your co-worker is secretly upset with you. He’s pissed because you one-upped him. He’s telling everybody so. Telling everybody, “That Jackie is so stuck-up and conceited.” You imagine him telling your boss that, and your boss says, “I agree. She can be quite conceited. We’ll have to keep our eye on her.” You imagine this spreads like wildfire, and everyone is talking about this communication you had. Everyone is mad at you now, they don’t like you, and you’re probably going to get reprimanded or fired.
“But you say, “Well, I can’t do anything about that.” You don’t try to prevent bad things; you don’t try to offer an explanation.
“You start swearing profusely around your peers. You actually say in an appointment, “Fuck that. You don’t have to do that.”
“And you think about how you’re going to hell for what you’ve done this day. Imagining what it will be like in hell, separated from God forever. The rest of the day you’re purposely doing and saying things to hurt other people’s feelings. And you’re so preoccupied that you tell the kids from church that you don’t have time for them and don’t care about them.
“You’re still thinking terrible thoughts toward the Holy Spirit. And you don’t do any sort of prayer. You don’t get reassurance. It just continues. Distress rating, please.
“Your boss finally calls you into his office and tells you to get yourself in order. And you say, “Why the fuck do I have to do that? Fuck it. Fuck it all. Fuck this job.” He is really angry now, and you know it’s all your fault. You don’t do anything to apologize.
“And you can’t stop it, you just keep saying, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” You feel terrible about your language and your terrible thoughts toward the Holy Spirit, and you feel like you have no control over them even though you don’t mean them.
“You’re thinking about hell again. And you’re picturing this vastness, this empty blueness you once saw in a video depicting hell. And you’re imagining that you can’t praise God in hell, you can’t pray. You realize that you’ll never be joyful again. You would love so many things about life, except that you are condemned forever to hell. You are fucking going to hell.
“When you get home from work, you fight with your roommate. You say some hurtful things, she starts to cry, and you don’t make any effort to apologize. You ignore a phone call from a friend because you’re upset, and later you find out it was very important. And because you ignored it, your friend got very depressed. And it’s your fault that your friend is so sad.
“Your head continues thinking, “fuck, fuck, fuck” all evening. You’re thinking, “fuck, fuck, fuck” while you chew your supper, while the TV’s on. It only stops when you start to talk to other people.
“You keep focusing on this image in your mind of hell, of what it would be like to be there. About how long forever really is. And your mind caves in on itself trying to consider eternity.
“You forget to take your medicine, and you’re awake all night then, trying to fight your thoughts. Quick distress rating.
“Now we just went through one of the more upsetting scenarios. I want you to listen to another scenario. I want you to close your eyes.
“I want you to imagine that you do go throughout the day focusing on the upsetting thoughts that come into your head. You don’t do anything to resist them. It’s uncomfortable, but you remind yourself, “What I’m starting to learn is the less I resist the better I feel, the more control I have. If I can just remind myself that I can’t do anything about those thoughts, I don’t mean them, there’s nothing dangerous about having them. Because I don’t believe these things that I’m thinking, there’s no danger in thinking them.”
“But the less you resist the thoughts throughout the day, you see that that brings you more comfort. It’s unusual, it’s outside of your comfort zone, but you remind yourself that you’re in more control when you stop resisting your thoughts. You stop avoiding them. You stop seeking reassurance. And you learn that you can go throughout a day tolerating uncertainty.
“Your co-worker may or may not be mad at you, but you don’t do anything about it. You hear the word “fuck” – you focus on the word in your mind right now and it’s just a word. You can say it. It doesn’t mean anything. You can say it to your roommate. You can imagine yourself saying “fuck you” to the Holy Spirit. You can tolerate that thought. You don’t have to prevent it.
“The less you resist, the more control you have, the less intrusive these thoughts become. You can get back to worshiping in a reasonable way, the way others do. Not praying obsessively, repeatedly. You focus on how you have lived your life, things you’ve done, your involvement in community activities and your church, and you look to find your own reassurance, reminding yourself of what you are doing and things that you don’t do. You don’t purposely go around trying to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. So it’s upsetting that that sort of thought comes into your head, but you don’t need to do anything about it. It’s just a random thought. Like “It would be great to win the lottery or go on vacation.” But there’s nothing we need to do about these thoughts. They are irrational fears. You don’t try to reason with them. You just let them come, you don’t do anything about it, you don’t pray, you don’t ask other people for help, you learn you can tolerate the thought and the thought will go away when we decrease the importance we place on them.
“Your high distress rating today was an eighty-five. I want you to listen to this repeatedly—four times a day, but only in two settings—so, twice through two times. I want that distress rating to be decreased by fifty percent or more. I want you to learn to tolerate focusing on the images you’ve written out, that I’ve described. Listen to this repeatedly until it’s not quite as bothersome. Your distress rating last night while writing this story was only a twenty. It got easier as you adjusted to the task. It may be more bothersome to listen to it read aloud now. It’s reasonable to say that this will get easier too.”