Anxiously Confessing Sin: Scrupulosity Data

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on Jan 11, 2024; Updated on Jan 25, 2024

Are you ritualistically, anxiously confessing your sins in a way you know God didn’t intend? In a recent survey of 431 people with religious OCD, I asked them to respond to the statement, “I can be too intense or obsessive about confessing my sins.”

In this short post, I’d like to share their responses with you and a few suggestions for what you can do if you find yourself anxiously confessing sin.

Scrupulosity Data: Confession

Anxiously confessing sins is a common theme for people struggling with scrupulosity. Of the 431 respondents, more than half (53.14%) said this is “always” or “often” an issue they struggle with. Only 4.18% said they are “never” too intense or obsessive about confession. Below you can see the breakdown of their responses.

Data about scrupulosity: Confessing Sin Without Anxiety

There was also a statistically significant correlation between one’s denomination and this issue being a more persistent, “always” sort of issue. (Denominational correlation is a recurring theme in many of our scrupulous struggles; in future blog posts, I will share more data from this survey, and you will see that respondents from different denominational backgrounds tend to have different compulsive behaviors and obsessional themes. So if you look at the data below and feel like your faith seems to have better scores, just wait till my next blog post!)

In my survey, I broadly asked respondents to choose which category described them best:

  • Catholic
  • Orthodox
  • Charismatic
  • Non-Denominational
  • Protestant

This was actually a difficult question to compose, because there are around 30,000 Christian denominations. Many of them overlap and have varied definitions. “Charismatic” and “Non-Denominational,” for example, can mean quite a few different things. But, with that said, here are the results. Unfortunately, I only had 3 out of the 431 respondents who identified as Orthodox, and since this is too small a number to be statistically helpful, I have removed these 3 from the following graph.

As you can see, those identifying as Catholic seem to struggle with confession more than all other groups. 30% of Catholic respondents said they “always” struggle with being too intense or obsessive about confession, compared to 11.54% of charismatics, 16.67% of non-denominationals, and 15.51% of Protestants.

Even adding the “always” and “often” categories still yields higher results for Catholics than for all other groups:

  • Catholics: 65.71%
  • Charismatics: 53.85%
  • Non-denominationals: 55.08%
  • Protestants: 47.06%

This makes Catholic respondents to this survey about 20% more likely to struggle with confession than the runners-up, non-denominationals, and about 40% more likely to struggle than Protestants.

Again, to my Protestant readers–just wait till I post the data about salvation fears. And charismatic friends, wait for the data on obsessing about hearing the Holy Spirit speaking to you. We’ve all got our struggles!

When it comes to anxiously confessing sin, this appears to be something that strikes people from all denominational backgrounds, with a slight but statistically significant trend towards Catholics.

When it comes to gender, there was also a correlation, with women being about twice as likely to say they “rarely” or “never” dealt with this issue in comparison to men.

There were also strong and very consistent correlations between respondents’ answers to this question and other questions dealing with prayer compulsions, which confirms my theory of “symptom clusters.” Essentially, you may not have ALL the symptoms of religious OCD that exist, but you probably have your own unique “cluster” of symptoms that orbit around the same general sub-themes.

Solutions to Anxiously Confessing Sin

I could write tomes and tomes upon this subject of confession. For now, though, I’d like to merely give a bird’s eye overview of some of the biggest problems that people with scrupulosity experience in regards to anxiously confessing sin, which I have tried to express in the following examples.

Josh is 23 and lives at home with his parents. He goes to them almost every day to confess things to them that he feels like are sinful. He constantly asks them, “was this sin?” and looks for reassurance that he is still ok with God. They tell him he’s splitting hairs and being too fanatical, but to him these concerns feel very real.

Pedro always has a long “grocery list” of sins to confess to God. He dreads his quiet time, because it’s agonizing to confess every thought, look, word, and motive from his day. His prayers take so long that it’s starting to have a negative impact on his marriage. And Pedro himself admits that he resents these prayers, which are “boring” and don’t make him feel any closer to God. But he dares not skip his confessions, because it would be awful to live in his sins. 

Sarah hates having to go to confession after mass because it takes so long and she doesn’t want to have the pressure of others waiting in line behind her. She has a special arrangement with the priest so she can come make her confession at a different time when she won’t feel so pressured. She fixates on figuring out if something is a moral sin or a venial sin and tries hard to confess with her heart and not just her lips. Even her priest tells her she’s being too scrupulous, but she can’t seem to let these issues go. 

Judy feels that almost everything she does is sinful, but she now knows that she has something called scrupulosity, which can make her sense sin where there is none. This is helpful knowledge, but now she feels the need to constantly “sift” every “conviction” to figure out if it’s from God or from her OCD. This new “sifting” obsession makes her even more focused on “figuring out” her sins and confessing “perfectly.”

Gregory is so worried about possibly forgetting a sin that he writes things down. He writes down when he does something sinful and he marks it out when he’s done a “good enough” prayer of confession. Unfortunately, he gets stuck leafing through his notebooks making sure he didn’t miss anything and to reassure himself that he’s already confessed certain sins that come to mind. 

Gina committed a genuinely real, genuinely big sin eleven years ago. She can’t seem to let go of it. She has confessed it thousands of times and has revisited the episode in her memory until she’s confused about what’s real and what’s imagined. She keeps hoping that she can “figure out” the sin and finally feel forgiven, but the chronic rumination and confession keeps it alive in her consciousness. Her chronic confessions of it prevent her from forgiving herself.

Do any of these case studies resonate with you? Are you anxiously confessing sins over and over again, or with too much particularity and intensity? There’s much that can be said about true biblical confession, but let me say one simple thought for now: let’s not forget that true confession is born out of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in convicting me, and is drawn out of me by a divine work of grace. The Bible says,

Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.

Psalm 19:12

You and I can’t “figure out” our sins and confess them “just right.” This sort of self-focused mindset will keep us in a state of morbid fixation, anxiously confessing sin (which may or may not actually exist) till the cows come home. What we CAN do instead is rely on God to convict us through His Spirit and to remind us clearly of anything we need to confess. 

Conclusion

If you’ve been stuck in a state of anxiously confessing sin, the first thing I’m hoping this brief article will do for you is to help you realize you’re not alone. More than half of the people I surveyed who have scrupulosity admitted this is “always” or “often” an issue for them. And as you can see from some of the case studies I’ve presented, confession compulsions can take a variety of forms. If you struggle with this, you are not alone!

But the second thing I’m hoping this will do for you is to have just a small reminder that the solution for this problem–as is the case for all our obsessive-compulsive concerns, and is the case for all our sins and woes in this life–is Jesus.

Jesus wants you to confess and forsake your sins, and He provides the necessary means for you to experience true confession. Confession is not meant to be a spiritual “trap” where He is testing you to see if you miss anything. Jesus is your friend, the friend of sinners. He does not stand afar off, waiting for you to “get it right” before you can feel secure in your relationship with Him. He is beside you, helping you to make your confessions so that you can receive the forgiveness that He purchased at such a high price.

Keep trusting in Him, keep doing the things that you know will contribute to OCD management, and your OCD will resolve itself in time.

If the data interests you, let me know in the comments. I’ve got plenty more I can share from the survey!

Best wishes on the journey,

  • Hi Jaimie,
    Just a simple response regarding this topic. My faith is Roman Catholic and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that we are at the top of the list when it comes to Confession becoming a compulsion for us. This has been my greatest struggle with Scrupulosity.
    Thank you for the information that this provides us.
    Jerry

  • Jamie,

    Your work is such a godsend! I could go on, but please know that you have made a significant contribution to my healing journey, and I am thankful for it.

    I find the survey info fascinating and helpful. To me, the patterns highlight how scrupulosity is a condition.

    Best Regards,

    Jon

  • I would love to see more data especially as it pertains to Protestants. I am from an Anabaptist background which is Protestant but adds the Catholic tradition of confession to clergy. For those with scrupulosity that presents the immediate question of “where is the line where I should confess to man?” I have made great progress by learning more about grace and mercy, but it has been a long miserable journey.

  • Jaimie!!! You are a true God-send!! God has used your articles and I’m sure your prayers over the years to
    Help set me free!! I was struggling with scrupulosity for soooo many years, many times choosing to walk far from God in order to give me some similitude of peace from all the barrage of condemning thoughts. It was producing such death to my soul. I’d never experienced suicidal ideations until after I became a Christian and constantly wondered where was all this peace and joy other Christians spoke about. But then I found your articles and others that put a name to what I’d been experiencing for so many years. You also brought hope that I wasn’t alone and that God had a way to deliverance!!! Thank you for being willing to share your suffering experiences so that we can experience the comfort that God used to comfort you!! 2 Corinthians 1. All glory to God!!

  • Hello It has nothing to do with the post but i have this situation…it makes me anxious to think that God wants to speak to me to serve or to do something, and having those feelings of anxiety makes me feel a type of guilt, I don't know how to say it, I mean, it's like why? Why should I feel anxious about thinking that I serve God or thinking that He speaks to me? That is, I should feel excited and not bad. I hope you understand me.

  • Hi Jaimie – can I share with everyone here something that helped me when I was deep in an anxiety loop. I got an email from a healing ministry that said Jesus is the same person now as the one who healed the blind man, the woman with the blood flow, and all those other people. He’s sitting right next to you now – what will you say to him? I found this really helpful as it gets away from all the formulaic prayers, and I could just cry out to him as a friend

  • Confession I understand. Commiting adultery at an age of 60 plus am not able to accepy my fall.
    Every situation around me despicable, spiritual dryness, poverty , stiff neck, indisicipline and alcoholism. Pray for my redemption, I want to witness for Jesus aand be an overcomer. I do not understand my depletion and being a penitent sinner, God is too Holy so am scared of His wrath

  • thank you Jamie. I've been through a awful 10 months of torment. Your posts have and are a blessing to me but the struggle is still ongoing. I worry because I do pray earnestly enough for ours salvation even my family as I'm so fixated in getting my walk with God right and my obsessive disorder of trying to feel 100% saved..100% a good person etc etc which I know doesn't save but the grace of God does but so Hard to let the control go and this I think? is not giving me the rest and trust and if I have the thought I've not prayed for family etc boomed the ocd mind says "your not saved because you haven't got the desire to pray for others and all you care about is yourself" so I pray just to tick boxes which is so awful..what do I do! I am better than I was as I'd never heard if religious ocd and I thought for years and years I was just left feeling g not sure about my salvation..my love for Jesus etc etc and I had a stumbling block…its a difficult road but I hope this will get better …..xxx

  • Would have been interesting and instructive for Lutherans- both confessional and liberal- listed as an option, since we don't fit into the other categories very well. "Protestant" takes in an awful lot of territory, including several of the other categories listed in the survey!

    Our belief that ALL human activities are, in themselves, tainted by sin and acceptable to God only by grace, for Christ's sake, might have yielded some interesting statistics.

    • Yes, very good point! I thought about listing out a more comprehensive list of 30+ options, but that becomes a bit unwieldy in the data analysis stage, and I probably wouldn’t have a large enough pool of responses for many of the groups to be representative. But you’re right, this survey isn’t perfect and any attempts to quantitatively describe the scrupulosity community will certainly be an ongoing process. Keep the suggestions coming, I always find them helpful!

  • Great new post. I was just wanting to ask, any tips on how to differentiate between the Holy Spirit and your brains just making things up because that used to be a big problem for me and sometimes still is.

    • Katie, you are such a godsend! I DO have a resource I just put together, and I went to link it for you but could not find it. Turns out I had gone through all the trouble of recording a video on this exact topic but it got lost in my computer files and I never actually uploaded it. Do you know about my YouTube channel? I’ve just scheduled the video to come out on February 6 (I always try to work a little bit ahead of the game…so I’ve already got other videos scheduled before that…) but February 6 it will appear on my channel and I would highly recommend taking a look at that! The title of the video is “How to Identify False Guilt.” I put some of my best tips in there.

  • Hi Jaimie,
    I am so grateful that you posted this. Extremely timely for me since I am wondering right now whether I need to have my Confession heard this week. I am Catholic and one of the times when I was totally consumed by Scrupulosity, I went to Confession 4 times in 8 days. I was trapped n the obsessive, compulsive cycle and has been my primary issue for the 4 plus years that I have been trying to cope with this affliction. About 6 months ago, I concluded that being in this continuous Religious OCD cycle was getting me nowhere in pursuit of relief. With courage, I placed my condition, which I consider "medical", in the hands of our Savior, trusted in His mercy, and did my best to stop using Confession as a compulsion. As of now, I have been receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation once every 2 to 3 months. What I continue to struggle with are thoughts and words that, for lack of getting into specifics, are contrary to my faith in various ways. I am hoping that, in due time, refusing to take ownership of them will eventually starve them. All the best!

  • Your articles have been very helpful. You really know how to word the symptoms or feelings just how they are felt. God bless you for your insight and caring enough to write these articles.

  • Hi Jaimie,

    As usual spot on. I am a Catholic suffering from Religious OCD and confession was always a source of mixed feelings for me: On one hand, I felt blessed to be able to clean myself from carrying the sins, on the other hand, I felt I didn't do it properly, extensively, detailed enough… Throughout my experiences I have found that most of the priests are not fully trained on identifying OCD traits during a confession. I have been sharing my experience and learnings with them so they can, hopefully, help others in the future.

    Thanks for all your contributions, islands of peace in an ocean of despair

    Doug M.

  • Confession OCD is one I thankfully do not struggle with. The only time I did was when I felt I had been rude to someone and I asked God for forgiveness and did not feel forgiven. I went round in circles for a bit and then remembered I just had to trust God's promise in 1 John 1:9.

    Now whenever I don't feel forgiven I remind myself of God's promise and 'do the next thing.'

    Don't trust your feelings. Feelings are deceiving.

  • 'Confession is not meant to be a spiritual "trap" where He is testing you to see if you miss anything."

    Thank you so much for that. I grew up with the idea of God as the cranky old man with the whip, and though yes, I know better, it can still be hard to shake.

  • Wow! I was just struggling with deciding whether a certain sin was mortal or venial and it was causing me great anxiety. Then, I open my computer and this article shows up! God has certainly granted me great graces through you and your ministry! God bless you and your work!

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