Last updated on June 26, 2020  by 
Jaimie Eckert

Get My FREE Devotional Book!

Psalms for the Scrupulous: A 14-Day Devotional for Anxious Believers. Download it free today-- $9.99 value!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to sufferers of scrupulosity and heard them talk about the bodily sensations of religious OCD.

  • That feeling of fleeting movement in the chest — was it the Holy Spirit departing forever?
  • That shift in the inner gut — was it a demon entering your body?
  • The long-lasting internal numbness — is it evidence that you’ve grieved the Holy Spirit?

Spiritual interpretations of bodily sensations are actually quite common for people with religious OCD. How and why does this happen? And does the Bible offer any advice to help us interpret subjective physical experiences? In this article, we’ll talk about the bodily sensations of religious OCD.

Is It Common to Have Bodily Sensations with Religious OCD?

Let me get straight to the point and say that it’s really common for people with ALL kinds of OCD to have frightening bodily sensations that they label with frightening interpretations.

It's common for people with all kinds of OCD to have frightening bodily sensations

Let me give you a few examples so you see that you are not alone in this.

  • People who suffer from OCD themes relating to sexuality may experience an unwanted groinal response to their intrusive thoughts. They then obsess about whether the unwanted thought actually made them aroused or not.
  • People who suffer from health anxiety (formerly known as hypochondria and having many overlapping features with OCD) experience relatively normal and short-lived bodily sensations such as twitching, throbbing, pulsing, moving, shifting, or aching in various body parts. They become hyper-fixated on these sensations and obsess about what fatal disease they may have.
  • People who suffer from religious OCD get normal bodily sensations that they interpret spiritually, obsessing about the Holy Spirit leaving them or the devil entering them.

Not everybody with scrupulosity has anxiety about bodily sensations, but a fair number do.

Across the board, obsessive-compulsive manifestations of all kinds have a tendency to over-interpret physical reactions — whether it is the terrifying groinal response of sexual OCD, the minor headache that is believed to be a brain tumor for health anxiety, or the anxious hot flash that is perceived as the hand of divine judgment in religious OCD.

It’s common. But is it correct?

How Should the Christian Interpret the Bodily Sensations of Religious OCD?

Research about OCD shows that this disorder can give not only false thoughts but also false feelings and urges. Just like the obsessive-compulsive brain can create a lot of distracting noise and static, the body can, too.

People with OCD tend to perceive these physical sensations as having important meaning, and will then create a very subjective interpretation that cannot be justified either by medical or Biblical explanations.

What does the Bible say to the scrupulous Christian who believes he or she can “feel” the departure of the Holy Spirit, the disapproval of God, the divine hand of judgment, or the entrance of a demon?

Interestingly, although the Bible does not use the words “obsessive-compulsive” or speak directly to the disorder, there are many helpful principles that can lead us beyond this issue.

The Subjective Nature of Bodily Sensations

One of the main issues with Christians knowing how to interpret physical reactions is the subjectivity of these attempts.

There is no book that can help you translate whether you’re getting the spine-tingling feelings of glory or the spine-tingling feelings of terror. Many sensations that are commonly interpreted as something “spiritual” — tingling, waves of heat or cold, a rushing feeling, trembling, ecstasy, lightness, heaviness, dizziness, sweating, or internal movements — can be understood as either negative or positive.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me give you a Biblical example.

Let’s just do a simple word search on “trembling.”

If you had a fit of trembling right now and felt compelled to interpret the phenomenon in a spiritual way, would you give “trembling” a positive or negative meaning?

There happens to have been a lot of trembling in Bible days. And sometimes it was a good thing. Sometimes it was a bad thing. Sometimes it was just a normal sign of physical aging. Take a look at the chart below.

Bodily sensations of religious OCD

The Bible recognizes that some of the same bodily sensations can indicate totally different spiritual situations.

But with scrupulosity, we become the sole interpreter of our experiences. It takes on an almost mystical quality, where we are constantly internally-focused, looking for physical phenomena to confirm our obsessions.

But who can say whether your tingles come from the Holy Spirit, the devil, or a pinched nerve from kneeling too long?

It’s all so subjective.

It flies in the face of everything the Bible teaches about how God communicates with us — through His Word, through Providence, through godly counsel. It makes SELF the final arbiter of truth.

With the bodily sensations of religious OCD, we become the sole interpreters of what those sensations mean.

The Manufactured Nature of Bodily Sensations

I’m not from a very charismatic faith background.

I didn’t grow up dancing, swaying, jumping, or being slain in the spirit at church.

With quite a bit of international travel under my belt, I have come to appreciate many different modes of worship. I feel comfortable saying a loud, hearty “amen” in African churches just as much as I appreciate the dignified silence in German churches.

But ecstatic worship experiences is not something I grew up with.

When I got my BA in Biblical Studies, I chose a small, conservative Bible college. One of my professors talked to us about epistemology — that is, the philosophical route we take to arrive at truth.

“Historically, relying on physical or personal experience to arrive at objective Bible truth has never been a reliable epistemology,” he told us.

Then he made an unforgettable demonstration.

“I’m going to preach for 5 minutes,” he said, “and by the time I’m done, you will get tingles down your spine.” Although he was generally a very calm, rational speaker, he modulated his tone of voice and preaching style to a dramatic pitch. He became intensely expressive. He preached the most charismatic 5-minute sermon I’ve ever heard.

When he finished, everyone in the classroom was astonished.

We’d all felt it.

The shivers.

The tingles.

The falsely manufactured bodily sensations that he had created through his preaching style.

That’s when I realized that bodily feelings may not be helpful signals for my spiritual life. It’s entirely possible for other people, environmental factors, and even myself to manufacture sensations and then create faulty messages from them.

Think about it. The worship team plays soft music during the prayer, and it feels so much more meaningful. You see television advertisements for food, and you suddenly start to feel hunger pangs. The more you think about your itchy ankle, the more it seems to itch.

Physical sensations can be manufactured — either by ourselves or by other influences.

Bodily sensations of religious OCD can be manufactured

So why would we put so much weight on the bodily sensations of religious OCD as some kind of ultimate message from God? It doesn’t make sense.

The Predictable Nature of Bodily Sensations of Religious OCD

Bodily sensations can be subjective and manufactured, but when it comes to religious OCD, they are also quite predictable.

In another post, I talked about intrusive thoughts about the devil, and spoke particularly about the cycle of emotions that accompany these intense obsessions. I drew a diagram which I will copy here, indicating the rising emotions of the OCD spike.

Often, at the peak of the obsessive-compulsive episode, people may “give in” or cognitively “agree” to whatever intrusive thought they have been violently resisting. They then may plunge into a state of mental silence, during which they experience numbness, emotionlessness, or even depersonalization (feeling like they are not themselves).

Religious OCD Cycle: Reconciliation Stage

In this sense, certain emotions and bodily sensations are predictable in the OCD cycle.

Despite having my own scrupulosity well under control, I do sometimes have spikes during times of high stress. But I am now very competent at understanding and predicting what will come next.

I know that a flurry of compulsive ministry activities will be followed by rising levels of panic, anxiety, and heart palpitations. Then comes anger and intrusive thoughts against God. Then comes the mental explosion and a drop of mental silence and disassociation.

It’s predictable.

Thankfully, it’s ever so much rarer than it used to be, and when I find myself on the roller coaster, I can literally tell myself what’s coming next.

So when I do get a racing heart or numb feelings, I no longer try to interpret it spiritually. I know it’s not God. It’s my OCD.

God Doesn’t Speak to Us Through Our Bodies

The Bible doesn’t teach that God speaks to us or communicates ANY important spiritual truth through bodily sensations. Rather,

Can you find any Bible verse where God communicated an important truth to someone through their liver, knee, or eyebrow? Did God ever help someone know their eternal destiny from shifting intestines or a twitching eyelid?

I haven’t found evidence for that.

But for the person with religious OCD, it feels so real. I get it. I’ve been there myself. I’m just trying to help you cognitively recognize that it isn’t an appropriate way to receive truth.

You know it doesn’t make sense.

You can just feel it in your bones. ? (Sorry — bad pun!)


The bodily sensations of religious OCD are hard to ignore. It seems like there is meaning in them. But the truth is, physical feelings are spiritually neutral. Sometimes, the same tingle can appear in two completely opposite contexts.

But more importantly, the Bible never asks us to interpret physical sensations. It’s just not on the table for discussion. These tremors, tingles, movements, and aches might have a meaning, but they don’t have a spiritual meaning.

As someone with religious OCD, you can learn to pay less attention to these bodily feelings and assign less importance to them. You can reach a point where a feeling (or lack thereof) no longer sucks you into an endless rumination cycle.

But the first step to take in making progress is to recognize that God is not communicating anything through your bodily sensations.

God is not communicating anything through your bodily sensations.

Once you recognize this fact, you’ll be free to view them as “false sensations” that can be treated just like any other OCD obsession.

So where are you in your experience? Do you have a lot of scary physical sensations that feel like something of spiritual importance? Or do you recognize them as false sensations and are at the point of trying to deal with them appropriately?

Drop me a line below and tell me a bit about your experience with scrupulosity’s bodily sensations.

Best wishes on the journey,

jaimie eckert signature

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. I really appreciate your insights on this subject. I have religious OCD, and I am grateful for the explanations of what’s happening inside me. That it doesn’t mean anything about my spiritual standing with God. I have been on my own journey of how to navigate the triggers, rumination, resistance, explosion and silence. It’s definitely a trip I don’t love taking. I have learned much in the process which I am actually thankful for. I want to express my gratitude for your insights. They help me understand me. You’re awesome 🤩

    1. Hi Ashley, I’m so glad it’s been a bit helpful in some way. You’re right, weird bodily sensations mean nothing about your walk with God. You got it! Hold onto this truth the next time you get triggered. God is with you every step of the way!

  2. So I experienced something far greater than any man probably ever experienced…I got tricked into saying"I love you" to the devil and opened my heart to him years ago in 2017..I was so afraid of the devil after he attacked me in New Hampshire that I thought I needed to love him in order to conquer that fear…I thought that's what god wanted me to do…so there was a memory of a women I saw on a Jesus movie that played satan in the flesh…To make it easier to love the devil, I envisioned the women I remembered from the Jesus movie and pretended we were out for dinner…(as an act)..I was a real good actor back in that day and really could pull off meaning it well…then my heart opened up and I loved (like a love you would give to your wife) the women I remembered but directed the love towards satan and then not even a second goes by, a big thunderstorm hit my house and then I felt almost I can describe as blackness thick as cigarette smoke and fast like the wind cover my heart (my love/care/intimacy/feelings) I couldn't cry anymore because the blackness was covering my entire heart! Then the devil came inside me and told me that I was going to hell…My gut told me I was cursed by god for doing that and since then…Iv never experienced my heart again…Iv never experienced the in depth fullness of my love/care/feelings that come from the heart again. Those feelings are hidden, engulfed by blackness thick as smoke…and idk if it's the enemy's blackness or gods curse upon me for what I have done…
    Just the other day, I felt some kind of love from my heart to Christ and I thought in order to move this spiritual black smoke out from my heart, the smoke that’s hiding my heart, I have to say “I love you” with my whole heart to Christ like I did to the devil that very day so it may reverse the curse but as I attempted to say “I love you” to Christ with my whole heart the other night, the darkness thick like smoke engulfed whatever little love I had for Christ and now I’m back to square one again…my love is hidden again and I can’t feel it…it’s like there’s a spiritual tapeworm that keeps engulfing my love/care everytime I try to love someone! Could it be the devils evil power around my heart or could it be a physical sensation like described in this article? It was like dark invisible smoke fast like the wind coming into my mouth and into my heart covering my love/care/took my ability to cry. What could it possibly be?

    1. Hi Joey,
      I can’t tell you all the exact answers you’re looking for, but I can tell you a few principles from Scripture.
      1. God does not tell us anywhere in Scripture that we must love the devil in order to overcome our fear. Instead, we are told to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
      2. The cure to our problems is to love and depend upon Christ, as you’ve intuited…but it’s not really possible for us to say “I love you” with the whole heart. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” We don’t have power over our hearts to do anything good with them. We are dependent upon God to make an act of grace, to reach down and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Thus, it would be a misnomer to think that if only we can do some good deed with our whole heart, we’ll be fixed. This places the focus on you, when the focus should be on God. Instead, trust that God will heal you in His time and His way. Trust Him, thank Him, pray to Him. But do not get caught in the compulsive loops of trying to fix yourself.
      3. If you feel very bothered by physical sensations, or if you cannot “feel” as much as you wish, it may be helpful to look into the concept of depersonalization/derealization. This can affect a portion of people with scrupulosity. It isn’t my specialty per se, but what I can say is that the Bible doesn’t say anything about DP/DR. If you have this absence of emotions/feelings, I’d classify it more like blindness or a broken leg rather than any sort of spiritual defect. Try not to view emotional problems as spiritual problems, because this will just make it more worrisome and harder to deal with.

      All the best,


  3. Hi,,,,Your writing is extremely helpful and I can relate to the bodily sensations that you are talking about. I especially want to focus on how God communicates with us. I watched Shawna’s video below and it was helpful. Are there any other resources that you suggest learning more about communication from God? Thank you.

  4. What about the positive feelings we recieve when a particular verse in Scripture speaks to our particular issue, or the comfort we feel when we recognize that God is in control and things will turn out okay, or the feelings we have when sometimes, the Holy Spirit consoles us during the times when His presence isn't obvious in our life? I have some OCD issues; most about whether God loves me because I haven't been good enough or prayed enough or was not forgiving enough. Since I have approached Christ's Church; moments of consolation and the comfort of God's mercy has come through healings that were preceded by feelings of contrition and feelings of love for the Father and peace that has stilled my ragged soul. Jesus promises to make me a new person and the OCD feelings will dissipate over time; but I will keep the positive feelings that God gifts us and during the dry seasons, I will drink from His word and wait. At some point in my journey, I will come to believe more fully, that God's grace is sufficient and consolations will be rarer and my faith will be stronger; and I won't need the feelings.

    1. Hi Randy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. There is nothing wrong with the consolations received through our feelings. However, it’s good to be cautious because feelings can be a double-edged sword. They can bring consolation and they can bring unnecessary anxiety. I do think God soothes us in our emotional center and can even give us what one of my Bible professors called “the tingles.” People speak of feelings of warmth, joy, a physical sensation like a hug, etc. And that’s fine. Feelings are God’s to give, but there are two things we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t demand them, negating our entire spiritual journey in the moments when they aren’t there; and we shouldn’t pin spiritual interpretations on every single bodily sensation that we experience. Otherwise, I do understand what you’re getting at. There are moments when “feelings” bring a lot of consolation, and that is fine. 🙂

      1. I agree completely, concerning "demanding" feelings of consolation. From personal experience, I can see an addictive component to the "feel goods". I believe God understands that about us and allows us to go through dry times to test our faith. I thank you for your insights and will continue to seek out your learned opinions.

  5. Hi, I’m not sure how much my issue is scrupulously or plain OCD that is tied to my faith.
    I just feel like God is always against things I’m interested in because I feel more drawn to them than to Him. So then I feel tension at the possibility He wants me to get rid of that thing.
    So I’m the end I just am afraid of my interests being prohibited by God.

  6. This is a great read Jaimie. I've been wondering about this myself and I'm glad to see the biblical connect behind it. Thank you for this!

  7. Thank god for this, I watched
    The Scrupulous Mind Knowing God’s voice and she talked about having something in your life that shows god love and I think it this two of my biggest questions have been answered through this your first article (i forgot the name but there's a pic of a guy holding a bible you went REALLY into the topic about blasphemy OCD, and now I have been feeling the same numbness like Emily when I read the first article the thoughts went away I still had some I think its bc the stress went away knowing what I have is normal and I realized I was "doing too much" I went "loose" and wore earrings and ate junk food this was big for me bc I was overthinking these things, right now my mind repats I am cursed god is blessed EVen I say it in my head bc when I stop blasphemy happens and sometimes my mind can get quite then when I don't think anything then I wonder if I've been healed this whole time and its me saying all this? I also saw this person comment on a youtube video something in between the lines of "when your saved by Jesus you completely changed " I do compare my self to others who live for christ, and the " are you really a born again Christian? ", and they talk about the "renewing of mind ", and " if you don't seek his face you'll go back to the world" I took a break from the bible bc to much blasphemy came and there was a time when I couldn't feel anything, right now I would say I'm at a good point I don't plan an hour to read the word or how much pages i need to read, and NOW I like when I'm reading. I deleted my youtube acc and made a new one bc I just felt like it wasn't good for me to many Christian youtube channels and with my ocd I can't handle that it makes it more confusing of hearing gods voice, and the videos like – I had a dream of girls being tormented in hell for abortion- Im not with abourtion but like idk videos like that just move me in a werid way expecially the comments like " there going to hell for wearing clothes like that" It's not a comment from love, I feel I must wait for God to tell me what he wants me to wear not sum1 else bc then when I see sum1 in a crop top its the most UNnormal thing and then my OCD kicks in saying "It's bc your not of this world no more you "woke" and don't go back", thinking like this makes life uncomfortable and then the " this walk isnt susposed to be an easy deal with it this may be the cross you have to carry and your damed if u regect it " comes in and I just get lost. Right now the best things i do to just stop working thank god bc i think he put this in my head is just trusting him I don't plan out my day or think of ways to be righteous I just let it happen when I think of a "good day" I don't think ab if I prayed more that day or if it was bc I prayed less.

  8. Oh my. The numbness in the cycle is the worst for me. It makes me feel as if I don’t care about my faith anymore and THAT scares me (but in the moment, it’s hard to even feel scared-ness). So I have to rely on intellectual knowledge a lot, as in, I have to mentally remind myself that I still want to choose Jesus (and then my OCD will lie to me even about that 😭). It’s SO HARD to believe it’s OCD, because scrupulosity is that torturous—it really attacks EVERYTHING and will morph your doubts, fears and thoughts into worse things when your brain moves on from the current ones. I’m in the numbness right now and even writing this feels so flat and insincere, as if I’m lying or something. It’s frightening. The “what ifs” get so loud when you’re numb too.

    1. You’re doing it right, though, Emily–relying on what we know to be true from God’s promises rather than our feelings…this is the essence of “walking by faith.” No, it isn’t always easy or comfortable, but this is the way we will make it through. We must hang our souls on the Word of God, believing that it is more true than our own emotions.

  9. Best article ever, because I can relate to 100% of the these symptoms. This article gave me hope today after 4 years of thinking that it was over for me. I pray that more people come into contact with your website. This is bigger than anything. HSP with OCD do suffer a lot, they are misunderstood in every aspect and that made me think about Jesus being a HSP. It really must have sucked for Him feeling everybody’s suffering. The truth really set you free. I will be sharing your page to everybody that I know going through this, I pray that they will be blessed and let go of the control..

    1. Thank you, Daniel, I’m glad something resonated with you in this article. You are right, there is LOTS of hope for you! Keep pressing forward and keep your eye on Jesus instead of the challenges and weaknesses of “self.” He’ll never let you down!

  10. This blog post is awesome for someone of the Christian perspective. People of other views may or may not find it helpful depending on how open they are to other perspectives. I’m a Christian and found it very educational and insightful.
    That being said I have one thought on which I will expound – though our thoughts and feelings (emotional, physical and mental) are not a reliable source of information, God does sometimes confirm things through them when they line up with His Word. I give the example in your chart of Psalm 96:9 where the feeling of trembling “can mean awe and wonder” in worship. I think the important thing is not to rely on or or use emotions/thoughts/sensations to dictate to us what God says or what truth is.
    I have a lot more to say on this about discerning God’s voice for the individual having Scrupulosity. I talk a little bit about in the video I’ll link below: Knowing God’s voice. I will likely make sequels to this as there are treasures in God’s Word for those who seek Him – delightful things that bring healing, deliverance and that abundant life Jesus promised in John 10, even to and especially to those who have religious OCD. We are the bruised reeds He will not break and the smoldering wicks He will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3).
    Thank you, Jaimie Eckert, for your anointed blog post. I pray many read it and recognize God’s voice speaking to them personally. There is no voice like Jesus’ voice and no words like God’s Word. May our thoughts, feelings and sensations line up with His. In Jesus Name, Amen.

    1. Hi, Shawna! Thank you so much for your kind words. I have appreciated your videos on scrupulosity and hope you will keep sharing your journey. One thing I loved in the video you linked is when you said, “if you don’t know what God wants you to do, just stay the course.” Such practical advice!

      I think it’s really difficult for the scrupulous person to discern God’s voice/will. Harder than for the average person. It’s so common for the intrusive thoughts of religious OCD to end up seeming like God’s voice, and then we spend excessive amounts of time trying to pick apart the sensations, impressions, and feelings to figure out whether it was really God or not. I don’t doubt that God speaks to us through many ways. You mentioned in your video feeling the love of God through your dog — while I think it’s definitely valid (I would call “pet love” part of general revelation, i.e. what we can know about God through the natural created world) the caveat I would add is that I wouldn’t recommend making important decisions or conclusions about my spiritual destiny based on sensations, coincidences, song lyrics, feelings, etc.

      I think the crucial difference is knowing God’s LOVE AND PRESENCE (what you addressed in your video) versus knowing God’s OBJECTIVE TRUTH and WILL. For scrupulous people like us, I think we can balance our tendency to go overboard by reining ourselves in from subjective, experiential ideas that God is speaking His WILL to us while continuing to be open to seeing His LOVE and PRESENCE. And, I think that is what you are getting at, too, from a little bit different angle.

      Glad to have you here at the blog! You’re a very encouraging, kind person and wonderful to have in support group. I wish you the very best in your recovery!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}