You know you have scrupulosity, and you’re tired of pestering your pastor or priest for spiritual reassurance. You’ve scoured the internet for medicine that can alleviate your feelings of spiritual anxiety. You desperately need help for scrupulosity, but what can you do to make it stop?
Well, what if I told you that there are 3 actionable, implementable things you can do TODAY to see immediate improvement in your scrupulosity symptoms?
And what if I told you that every single one of these tips comes directly from the Bible?
Not from some secular therapist’s notebook. Not from a clueless advice-giver in an online forum. From God’s Word.
I mean, honestly, God is just amazing. He gave us one single book that puts all the important stuff we need to know in life in one comprehensive package. Yeah, around here, we love the Bible. It’s our main textbook for how to overcome scrupulosity.
So we’re going to check out a few tips that will help you do just that.
And guess what? To make this even easier, I’ve included FREE DOWNLOADABLE WORKSHEETS!
Grab them right here and let’s get started!
Tip 1: Get Help for Scrupulosity by Letting Go
I was born in Hawaii and I grew up on the east coast of Florida. Naturally, you would assume I’m a terrific swimmer and surfer. ??♀️
I’ve always been moderately afraid of water ever since a near-drowning incident during childhood. But before that even happened, I have a distinct memory of my father trying to teach me how to swim at a crystal-clear spring in Florida.
Of course, my older brother had prepped me for failure before I even got in the water.
“Springs are so deep, they go all the way down to the center of the earth,” he told me. “Some people, when they sink down, are never seen again.”
When my father carried me in the water away from the dock, it appeared that my brother was correct. I looked down and saw only a deep, dark abyss.
“Do you remember how to paddle like I taught you?” Dad asked.
I was frozen. I couldn’t remember anything.
He tried to pry my arms away from his neck. “It’s ok. Let go of Daddy and try paddling.” Let go? How could I let go? If I started sinking down to the center of the earth, how could I be sure he would be able to rescue me?
All of a sudden, clinging to his neck seemed like the best strategy for staying alive. There was no way on God’s green earth that I would be “letting go” anytime soon.
Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
Having scrupulosity feels a lot like floating over a deep abyss that goes down to the center of the earth. But instead of clinging desperately to Daddy’s neck, we cling to a sense of certainty and control.
(Aren’t sure if you have scrupulosity? Take this free scrupulosity quiz!)
To test if you have this problem, focus for a moment on your worst obsession or intrusive thought. Now, ask yourself, “how would I feel if I could never be 100% sure that this obsession isn’t true?”
- What if you could never know for sure that you’ll be saved?
- What if you could never know for sure that you didn’t originate that blasphemous thought?
- What if you could never know for sure that you’re in the right religion, that you’re following God’s will perfectly, or that your lifestyle is entirely pleasing to God?
If you’re like me, you’ll find that these challenges to your deeply-held desires cause intense anxiety, especially if it’s your first time challenging your addiction to certainty.
But letting go of the unhealthy need for certainty — especially your need for a level of certainty that doesn’t exist — is key to getting better. And the first step to finding help for scrupulosity is to admit that you are addicted to certainty.
It’s like alcoholics anonymous. Just imagine yourself in a dim room, surrounded by a dozen other folks on folding metal chairs:
“Hi, I’m Jaimie. I’m a certainty-holic.”
When you admit that chasing after a sense of control is the most important thing in your life, you will have taken the first big step in getting help for scrupulosity.
And I’m going to show you that the Bible doesn’t support the toxic desire for certainty that is so common among scrupulous people. Nope, you won’t find any admonitions to certainty-holism in God’s Word!
Scrupulosity’s Toxic Desire for Certainty: Not Biblical
I love the Biblical story of Job. I’m sure you remember the riches-to-rags narrative of this faithful man who lost everything overnight and ended up with painful boils to boot.
Job sought for answers that would bring certainty about his condition. But when God spoke out of the whirlwind, He didn’t give Job any certainty.
In fact, nowhere in the book of Job do we find that this poor sufferer ever found out about the cosmic conflict that played out just behind the theater curtain. Instead, God’s majestic response was calculated to get Job to admit how much he doesn’t know: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”
God proceeded to describe the wonders of creation, mysteries that Job cannot understand. Mysteries of geoscience and weather, mysteries of birth and death, mysteries of transcendence.
His speech climaxed with descriptions of Behemoth and Leviathan, two magnificent and powerful creatures that are completely beyond human strength and domestication. He spent significant time describing these two creatures, and hammered it home that things exist in the natural world that are so above and beyond Job’s powers that he should not be surprised when there are things in the spiritual realm that he does not comprehend.
If we stand before Leviathan with knocking knees, how much more shall we bow with humility before Holy Mystery?
“Who then,” God said in his description of Leviathan, “is able to stand against Me?” (Job 41:10)
The parallel is clear. There is creature, and there is Creator. There are known things, and there are mysteries. As it says in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” God does not expect us to have absolute certainty, even in matters of faith.
As one author noted, we cannot know matters of faith absolutely, but we can know sufficiently. This is perhaps what Paul meant when he said that “we know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
After God’s speech, Job’s answer is breathtaking. Rather than arguing that he had a right to know answers to all his questions and uncertainties, he crumbled in humility before his Maker. Job’s entire response can be summarized in three words: “I don’t know.”
For me, this has been a key phrase in overcoming OCD. Being able to say “I don’t know” and to live within the tension it causes until the anxiety passes is simultaneously difficult and freeing.
When I begin to have spikes of anxiety about whether my life is purposeful enough to please God, instead of making some form of compulsive self-sacrifice to “solve” the intrusive thought, or instead of mentally chanting verses to help me feel faithful, I simply sit. The voice rages on, pressing me to perform some ritual or behavior that will assure God’s favor. How do you know for sure you’ve done enough? I answer, “I don’t know.” And more importantly, I don’t have to know.
Sometimes, help for scrupulosity involves letting go of everything you thought you had to do.
Faith might be one of the most paradoxically difficult things a scrupulous person has to learn, because for us, having faith involves pressing hard against a mountain of neurological anxieties. But God loves the OCD sufferers, and He invites us to come to Him. He wants us in His kingdom. And He tells us that it’s ok to rest ourselves in the hand of a Sovereign God and not know everything.
Because He knows. I’m certain of that.
Another passage that I really love is Psalm 131. It’s short — only three little verses. It also supports the idea of letting go, using the metaphor of a weaned child. It says,
Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.
This psalm is very simple. The writer, David, craves knowledge that is impossible for him to know. Instead of fighting for it, he chooses to calm himself like a weaned child. This leads him to a new experience of trust and hope in the Lord.
Weaning is not easy. It’s not easy for the mother, but it’s certainly not easy for the little one, who desperately feels like she needs the connection and sustenance that comes from her mother’s breast. Without the calming influence of breastfeeding, she feels emotionally upset, especially when the person who can provide the breastfeeding experience is right in front of her but does not give it.
But the thing she thinks she needs so badly is no longer helpful.
Making It Practical: How Can We Let Go of Our Need for Certainty?
Let’s talk practically here. Scrupulosity makes us hyper-addicted to certainty, but how can we be like Job? How can we learn to let go and be ok with not knowing?
- Admit that your desire for absolute certainty is unbiblical and unreasonable.
- Begin identifying triggers that make you very concerned to “know for sure.” Use the downloadable worksheet below for help.
- Apply the promises of God about letting go against these anxieties. NOTE: the scrupulous person should not seek for verses that directly address his or her intrusive thought, but should cling to Bible verses that speak of trust and faith in the context of necessary uncertainty (see worksheet for a complete list of helpful verses).
Download the Free Printable at the Top of the Page!
Some verses that are helpful include Paul’s statement, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
In John 16:12, Jesus told the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Even at the moment of His death, He did not expect them to have perfect knowledge — not even of critical, life-changing truths that might have prevented them from forsaking Christ at His darkest hour. Why was Jesus ok with them having partial knowledge?
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14).
These kinds of verses can help us to embrace the reality that God does not expect total assurance and knowledge. Although Christian evangelism and preaching often emphasizes “assurance of salvation,” remember that this assurance is always based on faith, not absolute certainty.
Most forms of Christian help for scrupulosity will emphasize this important distinction and help us embrace our sense of dependance on our all-knowing God.
Brainy Section: Advanced Information
The type of Christianity that arose after the Enlightenment emphasized a very brainy type of religion. If Christianity during the Dark Ages was steeped in superstition, ritual, and sacraments, Christianity in the modern age was highly cognitive and emphasized personal responsibility.
This is part of why Dr. Ian Osborne argues that the post-enlightenment church saw a rapid rise in scrupulosity cases. The personal responsibility of the new wave of individualism meant that every person was responsible for figuring out and applying faith for themselves.
And that could be very overwhelming for those who had natural tendencies towards control and certainty. Although the modern church emphasized personal responsibility, knowledge, understanding, and spiritual assurance, it did not always emphasize these values in tandem with faith, trust, and dependence on God.
While it is important to have an individual faith, healthy theology will always have a dual emphasis on intellectual rigor and intellectual humility.
We strive to know, but we also bow before Holy Mystery, recognizing human limitations and the difference between creature and Creator. Any theology that insists on 100%, absolute certainty will lead to arrogance and imbalance.
Tip 2: Get Help for Scrupulosity by Sitting Through Your Intrusive Thoughts
If the first tip for getting help for scrupulosity is to let go of certain needs and addictions, the second tip is to sit still through the worst parts of religious OCD.
Sounds counterintuitive, right?
Well, stick with me, because I promise that if you can grasp this one thought, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the pack in learning how to manage your scrupulosity.
Imagine that you are a highly controlling, overbearing mother. What do overbearing mothers usually do? They squash the life, joy, and willpower out of their children. They can’t stop interfering, controlling, hovering, commanding, and fixing.
Uh-oh. This is starting to sound like us, OCD folks! ??♀️
But the storylines are so, so similar. You are the highly controlling mother, and that little child is your whole life. You squash what should be an enjoyable life because of your addiction to certainty and control.
Granted, in many cases, OCD has biological underpinnings, whereas overbearing parenting does not. So it’s easier for me to tell the obsessive-compulsive person, “it’s not your fault that you’re this way.” But nevertheless, the cure is the same for the obsessive and the controlling mother.
Let go a little. Sit STILL, woman! Don’t give in to the urge to control.
When the scrupulous person experiences intrusive thoughts, the automatic reaction is to analyze, fix, and compensate.
- We analyze our intrusive thoughts to determine the source (whether it was truly from us or not), we analyze the meaning, and we analyze the impact it will have on our spiritual lives.
- We try to fix our intrusive thoughts by arguing back against them. We do all kinds of mental gymnastics to force ourselves back into a line of thinking that we feel is “correct.”
- We compensate for our intrusive thoughts by compulsive behavior like prayer, devotional rituals, confession, sacrifices, vows, penance, or the right kind of thoughts that will “cancel out” the intrusive thought.
And this cycle of trying to control our intrusive thoughts works.
Well, at least for a little while.
But soon, the same thought is back again, piercing through to the very soul.
To return to the parent-child metaphor, it’s similar to how children of highly controlling mothers often become rebellious. The more you try to control your child, the more deviant, angry, and determined he becomes from being forced into your mold for so long.
The better way — for both overbearing mothers and scrupulous people like us — is to sit still and resist the urge to control. If you want to find help for your scrupulosity, consider whether you’re willing to give up control.
Why Should I Sit Still Through Intrusive Thoughts? I Feel Like I’ll Die If I Don’t Do Anything.
It’s very possible to sit through your obsessions. I, for one, can tell you that it is possible, because I’ve done it successfully many times.
And I can tell you that after the initial anxiety spike, my overall anxiety goes down much more effectively than when I enter the obsessive-compulsive spiral.
One of my strongest triggering obsessions is the “what if” question about whether or not I have purpose and meaning. For me, this is a very spiritual question, as I have always sought the “purpose-driven life” of service to God.
In times of success and in times of failure, I will often get intrusive thoughts that make me question the purpose of my life. It is not always a verbalized thought — sometimes it is a feeling of shame and worthlessness.
I know the cognitive answer, of course. The answer is simple.
God created us for His glory. He loved us and brought us into fellowship with Himself through His Son. I have worth simply by reflecting His glory, even if I never become a Hudson Taylor or D.L. Moody.
But with OCD, it’s not about having the right answers.
You know what your obsession is. Chances are, you’ve heard “The Answer” a gazillion times.
But that feeling keeps coming back. The feeling of fear, shame, impending disaster, anxiety, loss of control. And you hate the feeling that you get with the intrusive thought.
You think the thought is the problem, so you attack the thought.
But you already know the answer to whatever your obsession is about — blasphemy, sin, salvation, you name it. When you enter the obsessive-compulsive cycle, you’re not reacting to the thought, you’re reacting to the emotions behind it.
And while thoughts can be “solved” pretty easily, emotions cannot.
We fight against the unwanted thought, but it only binds more determinedly, sticking to us like wet tar. And so our anxiety goes up. And up. And up.
But what happens if we choose not to engage the thought in the first place? Well, that’s when you really start to help your scrupulosity get better.
I have an older brother who was really quite torturous when we were small. He used to provoke me terribly. My mother always repeated the old nursery rhyme, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” She told me to ignore my brother and act as though nothing he said or did bothered me.
Easier said than done.
Ever had someone hovering six inches away from your face for twenty minutes, chanting, “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you, BRACE FACE METAL MOUTH?”
Eventually, I learned to suppress my responses.
I knew that if I allowed him to provoke me, things could quickly get out of hand and someone would end up hurt (almost always me). But if I sat still, after twenty minutes of provocation, he would get bored and leave.
In the end, your patience is your strength.
Those intrusive thoughts are like a bully, trying to provoke a response from you. Once you agree to fight back against these bothersome thoughts, you enter the boxing ring.
And you’ll always be the loser.
Interestingly, the concept of sitting still through bothersome thoughts and ideas is not only a key component of clinical help for scrupulosity, it’s also very Biblical.
Is Response-Prevention a Biblical Way to Treat OCD?
One of my favorite Scriptural pictures of Christ is when He stood in the judgment hall before Herod. Sure, when He went before the confused and wavering Pilate, Jesus spoke. He told Pilate enough to convince him of His innocence and divinity.
But not so before King Herod.
Herod tried, of course. He was quite interested in getting Jesus to talk. This guilt-stricken king had at first been afraid of Jesus, wondering if he was John the Baptist risen from the dead (Mark 6:14-15).
Later, it was rumored that Herod had a plot to kill Jesus (Luke 13:31).
But when Jesus finally showed up in front of Herod, the king seemed as delighted as a new homeowner who just got cable hooked up. Certainly, Jesus would be entertaining.
“Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him” (Luke 23:8).
The Bible tells us that Herod “questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing” (Luke 23:9). Jesus was completely silent. By human reasoning, He should have spoken up. He should have argued back against the false accusations. Standing around, like vultures cawing over the nearly-dead, chief priests and scribes “vehemently accused Him” (vs. 10).
But Jesus didn’t answer a word.
Herod, with his men of war, treated Jesus contemptuously. They did everything in their power to goad Him into some kind of reaction. But Jesus didn’t bite the hook.
He remained calm and quiet, refusing to engage.
For Jesus, as with those of us with religious OCD, it is not a matter of head knowledge. If Jesus would have given Herod and the spiteful pharisees a stirring, intellectual sermon, it would not have changed their hearts. “Answers” would never fix the problem.
So in our case, the best response is to follow the example of Jesus and remain calm and refuse to engage.
How Can We Practically Stop Ourselves from Engaging Intrusive Thoughts?
I promised that if you grasp this one tip, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the pack in getting help for your scrupulosity. So here’s the bread and butter of this disengagement technique. There are four steps.
- Identify the intrusive thought.
- Greet the intrusive thought and let it be there.
- Label the emotions that the intrusive thought arouses.
- Carry these emotions to God and ask Him to “prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies” (Psalm 23)
Download the Free Printable at the Top of the Page!
Let’s look at these four steps in more detail.
Step 1: Identify.
The first step in the disengagement technique is simply to recognize an intrusive thought as an intrusive thought. This is a step that pulls on your emotional intelligence. As we discussed earlier, intrusive thoughts are more of an emotional issue than an intellectual one.
The intrusive thought may be preceded by feelings of anxiety, or the thought and feelings may appear at the same time.
Being able to stop and say, “hey, wait — what I’m experiencing right now is an intrusive thought…” oh boy, once you can do that, you’ve made it to genius status. Now proceed to step two.
Step 2: Greet.
Say hello to your intrusive thought. Greet it at the front door of your mind.
“Oh, hello. It’s you again.”
Many people with intrusive thoughts attempt to hide under the bed, in the kitchen cabinets, or behind the shower curtain when those nasty thoughts come knocking. The term for this is “avoidance.”
Avoidance never helps.
Face the intrusive thought head-on by greeting it and calmly recognizing its presence in your mind. Hold the front door open. Let it be there. Don’t hide, and don’t try to violently slam the door on its nose.
Step 3: Label.
Labeling our emotions is an exercise that improves emotional intelligence. For some people — especially those who did not grow up in a warm, emotionally-connected environment where people talked openly about feelings — labeling emotions can be super difficult.
For example, just this morning I experienced an intrusive thought. I paused, recognized it as an intrusive thought (which immediately helped me avoid engagement and argumentation) and I greeted it.
Then, instead of analyzing the thought itself (which will get me nowhere), I put my efforts into labeling the emotions that surfaced with this intrusive thought.
This thought makes me feel disappointment. Shame. Worthlessness. Anxiety.
When you label the emotions that surface in response to the intrusive thought, you’re identifying what really bothers you.
Chances are, the intrusive thought itself is just an avatar for deeply-rooted negative emotions. If you’re really ready to go pro-level in getting help for your scrupulosity, you’ll develop an openness to dealing with not just bad thoughts, but also bad emotions.
Step 4: Carry.
Once you’ve identified your intrusive thought as an intrusive thought, you’ve greeted it calmly without fighting back, and you’ve labeled the emotions that it arouses, you’re ready for the final step.
Carry all your emotions to God and ask Him to do as promised in Psalm 23 — to prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies.
Wait, what –?
You’re probably wondering why we don’t go to God and pray earnestly for these thoughts to STOP.
You’re wondering why step 4 doesn’t have something to do with asking God for answers, reassurance, and cessation of the intrusive thoughts.
After all, doesn’t God want us to be at peace? Doesn’t He want to take these awful thoughts away?
Well, that would be nice. For some people, God does take OCD away permanently. For others, it continues to be a lifelong battle. But the Bible never assures us that we will have a smooth journey without problems and enemies. It just tells us that our Shepherd will prepare a table of feasting for us in the presence of our enemies.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
What does that actually mean, to prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies?
It means that in many cases, God will not take away our enemies — whether those enemies be actual people, or whether they be psychological enemies like intrusive thoughts and anxious emotions.
This final step is an improvement on ERP (exposure and response prevention therapy). In ERP, you learn to face your intrusive thoughts and prevent any kind of response. But in a clinical setting, you are expected to do this alone or perhaps with your therapist.
Christians, though, can engage in the very same response prevention with the added help of a spiritual visualization. We visualize ourselves seated at a banquet table with our Good Shepherd, while our enemies — the intrusive thoughts — hover nearby.
There is no need to pray, give thanks, or engage in any kind of spiritual practice when you are disengaging from your intrusive thoughts. Turning to a spiritual discipline in this moment could easily become a compulsion, a psychological crutch. It is enough to merely visualize yourself in the presence of the compassionate Shepherd who sits with you at the table while your enemies are all around.
The Good Shepherd’s banquet table masterfully illustrates the non-response strategy.
As you linger in God’s presence — resisting the urge to get up and throw rocks at your enemies, the intrusive thoughts — eventually they will weaken, tire, and sneak off. It may take 30 minutes, it may take 3 hours. But if you persist in ignoring your bullies, eventually they will leave you alone.
Download the Free Printable at the Top of the Page!
Tip 3: Get Help for Scrupulosity by Transferring Responsibility to God
Research suggests that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have an overactive sense of personal responsibility.
If you don’t check the oven, the house might burn down. If you don’t stop yourself from losing control, you might freak out and attack your colleague. If you don’t analyze every action of your day, you might forget to confess a sin which will prove to be your undoing on the day of judgment.
Although taking personal responsibility is a good thing, it can go too far. That is, it can lead us to develop an inflated sense of responsibility that demands more than is humanly possible to deliver.
Dr. Ian Osborne, who wrote the book “Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” is probably the first medical professional to draw out the relief that obsessive-compulsives experience by transferring responsibility to God.
(I highly recommend his book, by the way. Check out the link above. It is well worth your time and money!)
Because this concept is not my own, I will shamelessly offer you a few quotes from Dr. Osborne’s book that summarize the highly effective strategy he discovered.
Several groups of investigators, led by Paul Salkovskis at Oxford University in England, were finding strong evidence that obsessive-compulsive disorder was uniquely connected to the assumption of responsibility, specifically to “feelings of excessive personal responsibility for harm that may occur to self and others.” These researchers had demonstrated experimentally an intriguing fact: While obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers are easily overwhelmed by the responsibility they imagine to rest on their own shoulders, they are also very good at giving responsibility to others.Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, pages 12-13
He goes on to describe that it is possible to help an obsessive person experience relief by delegating responsibility to other people. For example, someone who obsessively checks the stove can delegate this responsibility to her husband, and she will then experience a rapid reduction of symptoms.
This method was not foolproof, though, and therapists hesitated to suggest it to their patients. Dr. Osborne writes,
Typically, however, this tactic would be employed only for a short time and only as a last resort. For one thing, there was concern that a patient would develop an unhealthy dependence on the person who was assuming responsibility. For another, this other person would probably tire, eventually, of this burden being placed on his shoulders.Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, page 13
Intrigued, Dr. Osborne — who himself had experienced severe religious obsessions — got a hunch.
What if this idea of transferring responsibility could be applied, not to another human being who gets tired and annoyed, but to God? What if people could find help for scrupulosity by rolling the whole weight of their burden onto God’s shoulders?
He dug into Christian history and unearthed the stories of Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Terese de Lisieux. All three of these spiritual giants came from different faith backgrounds — Protestant, Puritan, and Catholic — and all three suffered from debilitating scrupulosity at some point in their lives.
(Click here to read 6 inspiring scrupulosity stories about these spiritual giants and others!)
As Dr. Osborne studied their cases, he discovered a startling parallel with his hunch.
All three, after enduring approximately a decade of severe obsessions and compulsions, experienced a similar, profound insight into the nature of God that worked as a specific antidote for their symptoms. They discovered that God would take responsibility for any and all of their tormenting fears if only they turned to him in trust. These three individuals subsequently made unconditional faith in the power and mercy of God the guiding light of their lives.Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Page 16
How Can the Scrupulous Person Transfer Responsibility to God?
In Dr. Osborne’s “Therapy of Trust,” there are three steps to his Christianized version of cognitive reframing.
- Recognize Obsessions When They Strike
- Transfer Responsibility to God
- “Prove Your Trust” by Resisting Compulsions
Recognizing Obsessions When They Strike
For many people, recognizing obsessions is not difficult. Unlike people with reality-altering psychoses, OCD does not make us hallucinate. We do not see or hear things that are not real, and we have no trouble telling the difference between what is and isn’t appropriate.
Intrusive thoughts are considered “ego-alien,” that is, they come from outside one’s normal sense of self and are deemed as inappropriate.
Dr. Osborne believes that the easiest step in his Trust Therapy is recognizing obsessions. Most OCD sufferers can do this.
Transferring Responsibility to God
The act of transferring responsibility to God is, in actuality, a deeper form of faith.
Most Christians hear the word “faith” and think of a certain creed, list of doctrines, or intellectual beliefs. But Trust Therapy involves having faith in a Person, not dogma.
It is not about having the right beliefs.
It is not about assenting to the correct creeds.
For example, someone who obsessively fears contamination will give God the responsibility for whether he gets a disease or not. Someone who is obsessively afraid of suffocating her baby will give God the responsibility for keeping her child alive. And the person who is obsessively afraid of selling his soul to the devil will give God ultimate responsibility for keeping him faithful.
The best support and help for scrupulosity doesn’t come from books, blogs, or therapists. The best help comes from God.
“Proving Your Trust” by Resisting Compulsions
Dr. Osborne writes that it is not enough to passively trust God. The person with OCD must put forth effort to actively apply this faith in the real world. The way to apply faith, he says, is to resist compulsions. This is what he calls “proving your trust.”
Compulsions are acts done over and over to lessen the anxiety of an obsession. OCD sufferers need to make a concerted effort to lessen their performance of compulsions, because they consume time, cause embarrassment, injure health, and in the long run cause obsessions to become even stronger. For Christians, there is yet another reason to limit compulsions: to prove their trust in God.Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, page 163
While working with scrupulous people, I have encountered those who refuse to put forth effort in battling the disorder. They are the ones who soak up the sympathy, reassurance, and support of others but are unwilling to go through the hard work of making a change.
They want to get better, but they hope it will happen passively. They want help for their scrupulosity, but they hope it will happen without any particular efforts on their part.
Once you transfer responsibility to God, you must fight to keep it there. This is the “fight of faith” that Paul spoke of in 1 Timothy 6:12. It is the same fight that every Christian must endure — the only difference is that the person with OCD experiences the contours of this fight more keenly.
As in salvation, so in Trust Therapy. The rules of the game are simple: when the ball is in Jesus’ hands, you gain ground. When you wrestle the ball out of His hands and take responsibility for it, you lose ground.
The fight is all about leaving your problems, sins, worries, and obsessions with Jesus.
John Bunyan put it this way:
“Run for heaven, fight for heaven, labor for heaven, wrestle for heaven, or you are like to go without it. . . . He that undertakes to believe, sets upon the hardest task that ever was proposed to man . . . believing is sweating work.”John Bunyan
Jesus told us that we must “strive” to enter in at the narrow gate. He said that the kingdom of heaven must be taken “with violence” (Luke 13:24 and Matthew 11:12).
Wrestling our religious obsessions and compulsions to the ground won’t happen by passively wishing for it. Help for scrupulosity, my friends, takes effort.
Dr. Osborne, always practical, gives us the right mindset to prove our trust and resist compulsion.
When an obsessional fear strikes and you are drawn to perform compulsions, try telling yourself: “Right now it is more important for me to trust in God than to make certain that my fear does not come true.”Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, page 164
Thus, these three steps — recognizing obsessions, transferring responsibility to God, and proving our trust by resisting compulsion — form the backbone of Dr. Osborne’s Trust Therapy.
Biblical Help for Scrupulosity: Conclusion
We’ve looked at three different techniques that offer awesome, instantly-applicable help for scrupulosity.
Are they easy to implement?
Are they effective?
What I love best about these methods is that each of them is merely an intense magnification of the best points of the Christian faith.
Tip 1, which talked about letting go of the need for absolute certainty that drives our compulsions, is a magnified focus on Christian humility.
Tip 2, which talked about response prevention, is a magnified emphasis on God’s presence in our pain.
Tip 3, which talked about Dr. Osborne’s Trust Therapy, is a magnified emphasis on righteousness by faith.
If you begin to implement even one of these three tips, I promise you’ll start making leaps and bounds in managing your scrupulosity symptoms.
All of us want to get out of our heads. We want to overcome chronic spiritual doubts and anxieties. We want to feel accepted and at peace with God.
What if that’s what God wants for you, too?
As I hope you’ve been able to see in this article, help for scrupulosity can be found right in the pages of the Bible. God is on your side as you seek to recover.
If you feel comfortable, share with us — what has been the most meaningful insight about God, the Bible, or your faith experience that has helped you develop a healthier spirituality? Leave a comment below!
Best wishes on your journey,