SCRUPULOSITY: A form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in which people are overly concerned that something they do or say violates religious doctrine or morals. In fact their concerns or behaviors exceed or disregard religious law or standards. Imagine the overly scrupulous person who fasts worrying that swallowing his or her own saliva would break the fast. Imagine worrying that you weren’t confident your prayer would be answered; therefore you believe you don’t have enough faith. Imagine having to repeat a prayer until you felt it was just right. Imagine feeling tortured by these fears and doubts most of the day or most hours of the day.
People with religious scrupulosity OCD fear blasphemy, death, going to hell, and a loss of impulse control. They hold themselves to standards that exceed their religious authority’s teachings. Sometimes they experience intrusive morally repugnant thoughts or images. They interpret the strength of their emotional reactions as urges and fear they will lose control. As a result, they may not attend religious services or read religious literature or scripture. They hope avoiding these experiences will decrease the chance that their morally repugnant thoughts will be triggered.
They may experience behavioral compulsions like excessive trips to confession or seeking reassurance from family or friends. Mental compulsions may include excessive praying or repeatedly trying to balance bad thoughts with good thoughts or sacred images.
For the people who experience religious scrupulosity, hear the good news, God knows you have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Everybody experiences intrusive thinking or images. Most of us recognize these thoughts pop into our thinking without invitation. Sometimes we can see what triggered the thought and often we don’t. We shake our heads, focus our attention on valued activities and move through our day without obsessing.
If you experience intrusive thoughts that make you miserable, cognitive behavior therapy can help. If you want to learn more about scrupulosity visit the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation International website: IOCDF.org. We have a special interest in helping with Obsessive-Compulsive and related disorders. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We get it. Maybe we can help you find some peace.
David Barnhart, EdD
Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor