Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fears about reincarnation

Sep 30, 20224 minute read

Existential OCD is a subtype of OCD that focuses on philosophical questions that cannot be answered, causing a constant loop of intrusive thoughts trying to “figure out” the correct answer. One of the questions that many people suffering with existential OCD struggle with is centered on the idea of reincarnation and the ongoing rebirth of the soul into physical bodies. Distress may center around the inability to find certainty about reincarnation. 

Those who suffer with reincarnation related OCD symptoms may be constantly trying to find meaning for thoughts, actions, or feelings based on prior lives, or be fearful of how thoughts, actions and feelings in this life may affect their next life. Examples may include questions such as “Am I the reincarnated soul of a serial killer?” “Do I have to correct a past wrong?” “Am I here for a special mission/purpose based on a prior life’s experience?” or “Am I living my current life purposefully contributing to my next life?” These thoughts all involve questions about reincarnation and how past or future lives are affected by current actions, which can often feel paralyzing.  
  • Finding their loved ones from prior lives
  • Moral correctness
  • Finding proof of reincarnation
  • Defining a soul
  • Need for certainty about reincarnation
  • Who/what was I in my past life?
  • How might my present life affect my next life?
  • Is this a memory from this life or my past life?
  • How will I find my loved ones in my next life?
  • Do I remember loved ones from prior lives?
  • Is there an “end” to rebirth?
  • What is a soul?

Triggers for people with OCD fear of reincarnation include:

  • Feelings of deja vu
  • Feelings of depersonalization
  • Vivid dreams 
  • Random thoughts that “come from nowhere”
  • Having a memory that they cannot place
  • Odd physical sensations 
  • Religious/spiritual settings or events
  • Religious/spiritual media or books

How can I tell if it’s OCD and not anxiety or normal philosophical/spiritual thinking?

OCD is characterized by a pattern of intrusive thought (i.e. Is reincarnation real? Might I be someone reincarnated? Are these my loved ones from the past?” etc.) which cause distress.The distress is difficult to handle, so people with OCD engage in compulsions to make them temporarily feel better (researching, checking, ruminating, performing a routine, avoiding triggering environments, etc.). Since the relief from engaging in compulsions is only temporary, the cycle of triggers, obsessions, and compulsions is reinforced over time. 

This is what helps us distinguish between normative anxiety and OCD. For someone with OCD, the cycle is so excessive and time consuming that it winds up interfering with their everyday life.

Common compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with OCD reincarnation fears include:

  • Researching about reincarnation, the life of someone they feel they may have been in a past life, etc.
  • Over-analyzing actions to make sure they are morally appropriate for rebirth
  • Ruminating over dreams in order to find meaning or memory of prior life
  • Avoidance of certain people or places 
  • Seeking reassurance that others feel a connection with them

How to treat fear of reincarnation

Existential/reincarnation OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained therapist, it is possible to effectively confront obsessions, decrease the distress that is created by uncertainty, and free yourself from cycles of compulsions. 

As with any form of OCD, treatment of Reincarnation OCD involves helping a person learn to accept and live with uncertainty. Treatment focuses on triggering disturbing thoughts, images, or urges, and training you to resist engaging in compulsions. This teaches you that you are able to handle feeling anxious and uncertain, and it is not a feeling that needs to be avoided or addressed through compulsions. Over time, this allows you to live free from compulsions despite uncertainty, and may also decrease the anxiety you feel when faced with uncertainty around reincarnation.

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

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