Scrupulosity Among Christians [Religious OCD]
Scrupulosity (a.k.a. ‘Religious OCD’) is a type of OCD in which obsessions and compulsions affect one’s faith experience. With regard to Christianity, some believers may be obsessed with thoughts of having lost their salvation or having committed great sin (that they did not actually commit) and they, therefore, become significantly distressed as a result of having such thoughts.
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Some persons who struggle with scrupulosity may assign extraordinary spiritual or moral value to menial decisions (e.g. choosing one pair of socks over the other out of fear that wearing pair may cause one to go to heaven and the other cause them to go to hell).
There are also some believers who suffer from scrupulosity or other types of OCD who adopt the act of seeking reassurance as a ritual. Such individuals may ask questions regarding their beliefs, just to get reassurance. For instance, one may ask his/ her therapist, pastor or loved one whether they actually did not sin when they did something that they are concerned about or which to them might be sinful. They may question whether the Bible really isn’t talking about them with reference to a particular scripture that may sound condemning to them and cause them some significant distress.
In an attempt to deal with their distress or ‘feel better’, believers with scrupulosity may sometimes engage in ritualistic acts such as excessively repeating certain prayers over and over again, repeating certain verses from scripture over and over, or feeling like they have to repeat the cross sign over their body in a certain number or ratio.
The obsessions and/or compulsions an individual with scrupulosity experiences can be quite distressing and time-consuming – so distressing that sometimes a person may start avoiding church or religious practices so as to avoid triggering the obsessions/compulsions. These believers may avoid church, or if they go to church they may leave if they hear something in the sermon that triggers an obsession or compulsion. They may also stop looking at Jesus on the cross or participating in any event or activity that triggers their obsessions.
Our Treatment Approach
When it comes to the treatment of scrupulosity as a form of OCD, we generally approach it by first offering education to the individuals who suffer from it. Education mainly involves teaching the individual two important associations with regard to their condition. The first association is that their obsessions/ thoughts/ urges lead to their own distress and the second association is that rituals that involve compulsive behaviors such as praying over and over again, only lead to temporary relief of their distress.
We help a person who is struggling to understand that the motivation behind the compulsive behavior isn’t sound, it actually leads them to become more distressed by offering them temporary relief, as opposed to complete relief, once and for all. For instance, for someone who has ritualized the act of praying, it is important to make them understand that in earnest, they aren’t actually praying.
As professionals who share Christian beliefs with our clients, we have found that it is easier for Christians to take such information more easily coming from a Christian mental health specialist as opposed to a secular one. They are more receptive to the former since they can identify with them in terms of their faith. Eventually, as such believers gain more understanding of their situation, they make progress in their recovery by learning how to realistically combat their fears/ beliefs. They are able to deal with the main underlying issues that cause them to ritualize and ultimately grow in their faith and their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Whenever we have the opportunity to treat believers who have scrupulosity, the ultimate joy comes when I see them being able to cut off the rituals and relate well with God and themselves. They become more at peace with themselves and become more aware of God’s presence in their lives, thus they are able to lead better lives.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with scrupulosity or other kinds of mental health conditions, please feel free to reach out to us at Next Step 2 Mental Health. Our team of competent professionals would be more than glad to help you through your situation.
Call us at 502-339-2442 to book an appointment or email us at email@example.com.