Help for Scrupulosity: 3 Awesome Tips to Try Today (With Free Worksheets!)

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on May 26, 2020; Updated on Aug 4, 2020

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.

help for scrupulosity is in 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

help for scrupulosity involves 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. ??‍♀️

Not so.

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.

help for scrupulosity - clinging 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.

the bible doesn't support scrupulosity's toxic desire for certainty

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. 

help for scrupulosity - Job didn't have certainty

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.” 

help for scrupulosity - saying 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.  

help for scrupulosity - it's ok to not 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.

scrupulosity, Psalm 131, and letting go

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?

  1. Admit that your desire for absolute certainty is unbiblical and unreasonable.
  2. Begin identifying triggers that make you very concerned to “know for sure.” Use the downloadable worksheet below for help.
  3. 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).
help for scrupulosity - free downloadable printable worksheet

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?

Perhaps because,

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.

Jesus doesn't expect us to have infallible knowledge

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.

help for scrupulosity requires balanced theology

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

help for scrupulosity involves sitting still

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.

Scrupulosity tells us to fix and analyze but God's word tells us to be still

When the scrupulous person experiences intrusive thoughts, the automatic reaction is to analyze, fix, and compensate.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

Kind of.

Sort of.

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.

why am I bothered by uncertainty

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.

scrupulosity is not about answers it's about emotions

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.

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.

scrupulosity - Jesus had all the right answers

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.

  1. Identify the intrusive thought.
  2. Greet the intrusive thought and let it be there.
  3. Label the emotions that the intrusive thought arouses.
  4. Carry these emotions to God and ask Him to “prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies” (Psalm 23)
Infographic - Disengaging from Intrusive Thoughts

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.”

Say hello to your intrusive thought

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.

“Hello, there.”

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.

label the emotions of scrupulosity

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.

our shepherd will prepare a table of feasting for us

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 and intrusive thoughts

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.

help for scrupulosity - free downloadable printable worksheet on intrusive thoughts

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.

taking responsibility can go too far with OCD

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.

people with OCD can delegate their worries

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
scrupulosity - turn to God in trust

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.

  1. Recognize Obsessions When They Strike
  2. Transfer Responsibility to God
  3. “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.

scrupulosity - transferring responsibility to God

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.

It is about entering into a relationship of total dependence with Jesus Christ.

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.”

prove your trust by resisting compulsion

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.

Not so.

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).

believing is sweating work

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.

help for scrupulosity - magnification of points of 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,

jaimie eckert signature
  • Good morning, Jamie. I am a therapist working with my 2nd client with scrupulosity. I have found your articles to be extremely helpful and insightful. I look forward each week to the next email with a link to more information. I was a pastor for 25 years and was at a loss how to help one of the men in our church who struggled with scrupulosity; I wish I had found your website at that time. Thanks for all your work and insight!

    • Thanks for your comment, Joel! I’m so glad to be of help wherever I can. Certainly God comforts us so that we may comfort others. May you be empowered for the work God has called you to do!

  • I just read this a couple days ago and I believe that the Lord led me to this site. I went into a severe depression a couple years ago and this very thing was happening to me. Bad thoughts about my Father in heaven. I was absolutely horrified thinking that it could be me, that these thoughts were mine. and the fear was debilitating. It put me into a severe depression. I have gotten much better but sometimes I get the intrusive thoughts, but after reading this I know its not me and within a couple days of reading this I feel so free, I know GOD led me here. just reading that GOD loves me and understands my problem and leave the responsibility to HIM just cleared my mind. I pray for all of the people who have commented about their experiences, some were so heartbreaking. I want them to know GOD loves you and he knows your true hearts for HIM and nothing will snatch you from HIS hand. GOD bless you all and I pray for complete healing and freedom from this condition over all who have read this. In Jesus name amen! See you all in heaven!

  • Something that helps me with scrupulous thoughts is this: the Jesus that other people know, and love is the same Jesus that loves me. He is kind to help restore the thinking that has distorted my image of him & God.

  • Would you consider this a good way to handle thoughts and feelings that come with depression as well? I seem to bounce back and forth between anxiety and depression or even days where I experience severe levels of irritation. The fact that I have these feelings or thoughts that go along with them cause me anxiety. Ha ha ha…go figure. 😏

  • Hi Jaimie,
    Just a small advise from you. I underwent a c section for the delivery of my baby boy. I am against seeing a good time for the surgery. But since my mother in law is a Buddhist, I was compelled to request my Gynochologist to deliver the baby between a good time range as suggested by my mother in law. This keeps hurting me that I have sinned against God. This has made my OCD worsened too. I feel really guilty about it. Is seeing a good time against God?

    • Hi Mel,
      I understand what you mean about seeing time, as it pertains to Buddhist tradition. For other readers who may not be as familiar, this is in reference to seeking for “lucky” times or days for prestigious events such as births, weddings, or opening a new business. This is not common in the western world but many many people in the far east practice this as a type of divination of the times. It is not watching the times for practical reasons, like trying to plan an outdoor wedding on a day that will not rain, it is more like searching for a lucky day that bring good things to the people involved. This is my understanding of what you’re referring to, Mel, I explain it further for other readers but also so you can correct me if I’m misunderstanding you.

      I can understand why you would be against divination of the times. I believe the Bible teaches us against this type of practice. However, it seems like you might have made the decision to go along with your mother-in-law’s wishes due to a moment of weakness and not a direct wish to engage in this for yourself. God understands the reasons why we do things. Remember that in general, women have a lot of emotions and hormones during the childbearing season and family members can sometimes be more overbearing than they would be at other times. It’s a recipe for messiness! I do not recommend divining the times, and I think you have the same conclusion, but you may come to God in repentance and ask for His free, full forgiveness. He will not withhold it from you. Do not let the emotions of OCD be more powerful than God’s promise that: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9



  • Hi Jaimie,

    I really love your article. I get evil thoughts about my God Almighty and my family. Like thinking that I don't need God's help, that God can't do certain things but in reality I can't live my life without God. I ask God to take away my life if He is not with me. But I get thoughts against Him whom I love a lot and depend. I get thoughts like I'm asking God to punish my family. But I never want God to punish them. I want God to bless them more and more because I love them so much. So I feel really guilty about myself of being so evil and sinful. I then cry to Jesus asking for forgiveness and pleading God for that thought never to come true and that thought is not true. I feel really frustrated about my life when I get these thoughts. I
    really want to adopt your theory but I feel guilty that if I dont cry and ask for forgiveness from God and tell Him it's not true, God will make that thought of mine happen. Please help me to overcome this. God bless you Jamie for all your effort to bring a solution to people like me with this kind of obsession.

    • Hi Mel,
      I understand what you’re saying. It feels like a jump off the cliff to say we trust our weird thoughts into God’s hands and will no longer strive against them. Emotionally, it makes us feel guilty for not fighting our thoughts. But remember, Scripture tells us that our fight is the “fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12). This is an invitation to put down the sword and remember that “The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

  • Hi Jaimie,

    I really love your article. If you get free time could you kindly communicate with me to the email address below. I need to talk to you. Great help.

    • Hi Mel,
      Thanks for your comment! Unfortunately I’m not able to correspond with everyone who reaches out, as I get dozens of emails every day. However, if you’d like to post your question here I will do my best to answer it briefly, or you can book a private coaching session with me at
      Blessings in your journey,

      • Thank you sooo much Jamie for your response. I have posted my question as a comment. When you get a free time can you kindly reply me. God bless you Jamie.

    • Hi Rickii, that’s a great question, hmm…I think virtual therapy for religious OCD would need to be scheduled directly with your therapist. You can look for an OCD specialist in your area at You can sort to find therapists who specialize in scrupulosity. Here at we don’t provide any therapy, but we do have group coaching sessions, which are more Bible-based than therapy-based. You can find out about that here:

  • Hey there! Im Abigail from Nigeria..
    Ive suffered this for years…as a result couldnt really feel that peace that surpasses was hard, curses when i try to read the Bible and when i try to pray…
    God showed mercy when in adream, i was told "don't struggle be thankful"

    So reading your write up is an affirmation. God is empowering us to be strong in faith and rely on Him completely.
    Lets put each other in prayer…i remember my brothers and sisters all over the world suffering this, from time to time in you all, keep trustin God!

  • I have the blasphemic intrusive thoughts and very awful images that keep popping into my head, most of them are in the same theme but some of them, are causing no anxiety while some other thoughts that are still in the same category, blast me off with it. If I ignore the thoughts I'll feel the false guilt and the feeling of commiting a sin, being unforgivable for what I've done but I know none of those are true. After reading your articles, I feel motivated for the day and making some progress and the next day It feels like I've learned nothing and continue my cycle of fearing those. It feels like the false guilt won't go away for certain compulsions

    • Hi Gabriel,
      Don’t forget about neuroplasticity (you can watch some good YouTube videos about this if you haven’t heard about it before). Your brain takes time to change shape. Research has demonstrated that the OCD brain not only functions differently, but is also structured differently. That is, certain brain regions have different size and volume for people with OCD. Imagine being born with small atrophied muscles. It would take time to build a bigger mass, right? It will not happen overnight. And when building bigger muscles, we give ourselves pain when growing. Changing our brain structure and building our muscles is not exactly the same from a biological perspective, but it’s a similar concept. Give your brain time and consistent effort to adapt to new ways of thinking. You aren’t just changing abstract thoughts, you’re changing the physical structure of an organ. Having two steps forward and one step back is no different from what you would experience building muscle mass in a gym. Keep going! God is by your side to give strength and health!

  • Good article. My mother had this and I can see this beginning to emerge in myself now. I don't see a way to download the pages you are talking about?

  • Awesome article Jaimie. So I’ve been diagnosed as textbook pure O…. basically just the intrusive thought side of OCD, with no physical compulsions.

    My question… how do I practice exposure response for a fear of loosing my faith? Do I need to journal about the thought or imagine I loose my faith or what? I’m ready to dig in an actually let the anxiety rise while sitting in the fear, I’m just not sure what that looks like.


    • Hi, Seth,

      There is a direct and an indirect way to do ERP on faith matters. I am not a therapist by any stretch of the imagination, but as a faith leader I prefer to recommend the indirect way. Let me illustrate the difference.
      Direct: I am afraid of losing my faith, therefore I will purposely confront myself with this reality, perhaps by doing “sinful” things that I fear will make me lose my salvation.
      Indirect: I am afraid of losing my faith, but I recognize that this comes through an incorrect sense of hyper-responsibility in matters of faith; therefore I will confront myself with my own inability to save myself. I will roll that responsibility over to Christ and begin saying “this is not my responsibility” when I get the urge to prove I haven’t lost my faith.

      Indirectly, we face our fears not by purposely sinning, but by purposely forcing ourselves to let go of self-salvation and throw our destiny upon the merits of what Christ did, not what my compulsions do.

      Hope this gives a bit of an idea of the differences between direct and indirect exposures…


        • Hi Lindsey,
          I think it depends. And I hate to introduce “gray area” to the discussion, because those of us with OCD absolutely hate gray area. But I do think there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of doing ERP for religious OCD. This is why it can be very helpful to have your pastor or a trusted faith leader (one who understands OCD!) to give input in the therapy process. For example, one of my clients attended a secular in-patient program for OCD recovery. She struggles with sexual intrusive thoughts and is bothered not only by the ego-dystonic nature of these unwanted thoughts, but also there’s a question mark in her mind about whether she is sinning against God for having these ideas pop into her mind. Her therapists asked her to watch video clips of things that the Bible would define as sexual sin. This was meant to desensitize her to these fears. However, I do not think that this kind of ERP is healthy for believers. There are other more useful techniques. However, there are definitely cases where we “think” something is sinful but the Bible does not necessary define it as such. For example, another client of mine has spiritual counting urges, like having to kneel three times or having to touch the doorknob ten times before leaving (because of the ten commandments). Facing these fears with direct ERP is much more acceptable since it is obviously OCD, not God’s moral law.

          Again, I’m failing to give you a black-and-white line of demarcation. But, Lindsey, I would say in most cases, your therapist is not asking you to sin. I say “most” because there are cases where I feel it crosses a line. If you aren’t sure, I would recommend bringing it up with your therapist like this: “I believe that there are some things in life that are morally wrong according to my belief system. However, I recognize that my OCD makes it seem like a whole lot of innocent things are sin, as well. I’m not always sure about the difference between real sin and my OCD, so can we move slowly through the ERP process? Is there a way you can help me feel more confident that the things you’re asking me to do are not actually sinful?” Like I said, in most cases, ERP will not lead you into sin. If you have a good therapist, he/she will be able to guide you through these steps and help you feel more secure in it.

  • Hi! I love these tips and I'm definitely going to try them out! It really helped me so much right now since I'm not in a great spot mentally.

    I have a question: I just learned about what OCD really is and scrupulosity, and I think I fit the description. Should I still bring up my suspicions to a doctor in case I do to get a diagnosis? Dunno if that's just my need for certainty or if I should still do that because it is a mental illness and you go to the doctor for physical illness yknow??

    • It can be helpful to get an official diagnosis, but you’re right on target when you recognize that your need for certainty will not go away by asking your doctor. Most of us with OCD always have this niggling question about “is this REALLY my OCD?” and that may never go away entirely. Rather, we must learn to embrace uncertainty and rest in the fact that God’s got control over the things I can’t figure out. But that is not to negate the helpfulness of having a diagnosis. Take care to express your symptoms very directly and bring up the concept of OCD right away. I have talked with people who tell their GP that they have recurrent thoughts about religious themes and then they get diagnosed as having religious psychosis, simply because OCD there’s a lack of awareness about this disorder. But, that’s for you to work out with your GP — I’m not a medical professional, just a biblical scholar. 🙂 Being able to get a referral to an OCD specialist can be very helpful for you, because OCD does respond well to certain interventions that you won’t be able to get from online articles! I’d advise you to go ahead and talk to your doctor about it.

  • Hi! I’ve really appreciated reading through a number of pages on your site! Super informative and helpful! I wasn’t able to find the link to download the 3 worksheets you mentioned in this article on Help for Scrupulosity. Did I miss something? Could you send me the link?
    Thanks so much!

    • Oops! It looks like you were looking to find the download link at the same time I was tweaking some things on my website. 🙂 Try refreshing the page and you’ll see the download prompt now!

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