Am I Using OCD as an Excuse to Sin?

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on May 11, 2023; Updated on May 11, 2023

Have you ever doubted your OCD diagnosis? Have you wondered if maybe you don’t have scrupulosity and are just using the psychological label of OCD as an excuse to sin?

If so, you’re not alone. It’s basically a rite of passage in the OCD recovery community to doubt our diagnosis at some point. This is, after all, “the doubting disease.”

Let me tell you about Eli (not his real name). He’s just one of many people who fear using OCD as an excuse to sin.

Eli was diagnosed with religious OCD in his early 20’s. With therapy, medication, and intensive ERP, he was able to get most of his intrusive thoughts under control. However, he still struggled with obsessions about giving things up. He worried about idolatry and felt compelled to give up anything that brought him even the slightest pleasure: his new puppy, the nice truck he used for work, and hunting trips with his brother. He even stopped permitting himself to put salad dressing on his salads.

At some level, Eli knew these were signs of OCD’s extremism and imbalanced spirituality. When he found himself operating out of his “sound mind” rather than his “OCD mind,” he could easily step back and see these concerns as invalid. But at other times, when sucked into the OCD spiral again, it was harder to discern reality. When Eli felt those awful, condemning feelings creep up on him, he couldn’t help but wonder if this really was the Holy Spirit trying to convict him. Maybe he did need to give up these innocent things, perhaps to prove his love and loyalty to God.

It was in those times of doubt and darkness that Eli wondered if he was using OCD as an excuse to sin. He knew the right thing to do with OCD’s compulsive behavior was to resist the compulsion, ignore it, and try to move on. But a nagging worry in the back of his mind said, “if this is the Holy Spirit convicting you, aren’t you resisting the Spirit by ignoring these impressions?”

And so, Eli found himself chained to OCD’s demands, unable to escape his compulsions.

Doubting the OCD Diagnosis

As I mentioned, most people with OCD will doubt their diagnosis at some point.

I have. And probably you have, too.

Isn’t that just the way OCD works? OCD’s key buzzwords are, “how do you know?” “What if…?” “Yes, but….!”

Like the annoying, looping music of an ice cream truck parked too long outside your house, OCD’s obsessions loop in our minds. There is always another “yes, but…” to the discussion.

(This, by the way, is why argument-focused talk therapy backfires on people with OCD. You’ll never win an argument with OCD. Never!)

We shouldn’t be surprised when the chronic “yes, but…” shows up in unexpected places. OCD is a shapeshifter. Just give it time, and it’ll present doubts about the nuttiest things (and the clearest things) you never thought it were possible to doubt.

Doubting your own diagnosis is just par for the course. What’s important is that we learn to identify the pattern of OCD so that we won’t be surprised when the whack-a-mole pops up somewhere else. It’s always some variation of chronic doubt, false guilt, emotional reasoning, and so on.

But what bothers most people at this stage is not that we are doubting the OCD diagnosis, but rather what it could mean for our eternal salvation if we get this point wrong. If we accept the diagnosis as true when in reality we are just wallowing in our own sin, that feels like an end-of-the-world, spiritually catastrophic scenario.

am I sinning and using OCD as an excuse

So let’s talk about that.

What if you ARE using your diagnosis of OCD as an excuse to sin?

Using Your OCD as an Excuse to Sin

Let me first share a very informal statistic. More of an observation, really, since good-quality statistics require very strict research guidelines to produce, and I’m just sharing what I’ve observed in a coaching setting.

I think it’s possible to use your OCD as an excuse to sin, but from what I have observed, this is extremely rare within the scrupulosity recovery community.

Let’s talk numbers for a moment.

Currently, we have around 14,000 subscribers on this blog. I get copious amounts of emails from readers, which gives me a glimpse into so many personal scrupulosity struggles. I also have worked face-to-face with over 400 clients and group coaching members in the last few years. So, I’d say I’ve had a very blessed opportunity to get a birds eye view of what’s going on in the world of scrupulosity–what’s “typical,” so to speak.

I’ll restrict myself to speaking only about the clients or group members I’ve interacted with personally, since this usually gives me much better insight into their case than what I can deduce from emails alone. And I’ll round down to the number 400.

Of those 400 people I’ve worked with who have accepted the diagnosis of religious OCD, there have been just two whom I felt like were using OCD as an excuse to sin or slack off in known obedience to Christ.

If my estimates are correct (and do keep in mind, I’m not the Holy Spirit, so these two individuals might fare better in God’s eyes than I surmised, and as I stated in my disclaimer, this isn’t a formal statistic), then that’s a rate of only half a percent (0.05%) of misusing the OCD label.

But What If That’s ME?

Someone, as they read this, is thinking frantically, “what if that’s ME? What if I’M the half percent?”

People with OCD tend to be very black-and-white thinkers, and we also tend to be over-personalizers (both count as cognitive distortions that make us miserably anxious). If I was to tell you that 100% of people I’ve worked with are perfectly legit, that might make you feel a bit of reassurance (at least temporarily). But once we introduce a small fraction of potential for error, the OCD brain clings to it and over-personalizes the information.

That must be me!

The reality is that you should feel comforted knowing that most people struggle with doubt and uncertainty as they come to terms with their OCD diagnosis. You should feel some reassurance knowing that the vast majority (99.5%) of those pursuing scrupulosity recovery are doing so on good spiritual grounds.

But if it scares you to think that this isn’t a black-and-white issue that guarantees it’s impossible for you to make a mistake, please use this as an opportunity to analyze the underlying thought patterns you’re bringing to the table.

Can you exist in a universe where things aren’t always black-and-white?

Can you trust God when you’re “doing your best,” even if you aren’t 100% sure you’re doing everything right?

Do you trust His guiding hand in your life, to give you everything you need for eternal security, or are you looking inward for your own salvation?

Why do you feel the need to over-personalize every possible bad outcome to yourself? Can’t we turn the “what if” on its head and say, “what if everything turns out just fine?”

thinking correctly about our OCD thoughts

Is It the End of the Story?

Now, sin is a heinous thing in God’s sight, and I don’t want to speak lightly of it. But I want to talk with you about the worst case scenario, because I believe that even in a worst case scenario–even if you were accidentally sinning–you’d still be okay. God would still pursue and heal you.

Let’s just say, worst case scenario, that what you think is OCD is actually the voice of the Holy Spirit. You’re misusing the OCD label for something that actually needs to be obeyed.

What then?

Is it the end of the story? Does God wash His hands and walk away from you?

No, never!

In the Bible, sins of ignorance are treated very differently from sins of intention. God knows when you’re confused. In fact, in Acts 17:30, the Apostle Paul said that in our times of ignorance, God “winked” or “overlooked” our mistakes, calling us to repentance at the time when new light makes our situation clearer.

Think also of the parable of the 100 sheep. 99 come safely into the fold with the shepherd, but one is missing. What does the shepherd do? Does He click His tongue with disapproval for that naughty little lamb and leave her to the wild beasts? No! He leaves the 99 and goes searching for her.

Don’t miss the point of this parable. The point is that when you are lost in your mistakes, there is nothing you can do to get yourself back to a place of safety. Nothing except trust the Shepherd to come for you and accept His work on your behalf.

(If you tend to be the type that hyperfixates on confessing and getting all the right thoughts and feelings when you repent, you may wish to check out the video I have below.)

My point here is that even IF you were misusing the OCD label, it’s not the end of the story.

Trust in what God is doing FOR you and IN you. He’s not done, He’s never done, He never grows weary with your slow progress and confused, fumbling steps. Rather, He bestows more gentleness on those of us who live in excessive fear and trembling.

If you’re reading this and have struggled with the issue I’ve described, I’m fairly convinced that you’re not using OCD as a false label to continue on in sin. Honestly speaking, if someone really wants to sin, they aren’t going to go through such an elaborate, complex maze of excuses to get there.

If a person wants to sin, they’ll find a way to justify themselves pretty quickly. The intricacies of religious OCD take up far too much time for the soul that is truly bent on rebellion. In those two cases I mentioned earlier, the ones whom I felt might be misusing the scrupulosity label, I didn’t detect hard rebellion. I saw two individuals who were deeply troubled in their relationship with God, hurt, disillusioned, and ready to give up. And even in their cases, I felt sure that with enough care and understanding, their relationship with God could be healed.

We’ve GOT to stop clinging to all our worst-case scenarios and over-personalized imaginations. God is not so careless and cheap that He’ll let us slip out of His grasp!

No, You’re Probably Not Using OCD as an Excuse to Sin

Remember these three points:

  1. It’s extremely common for people with scrupulosity to doubt their diagnosis at some point. If you had not yet doubted whether you really have OCD, I would guess you to be at a very elementary stage in your recovery process. Doubting your diagnosis is so common that overcoming this stage is almost a “rite of passage” in OCD recovery.
  2. Using OCD as an excuse to sin seems to be a rare phenomenon. According to my very loose and casual statistic, there’s a 99.5% chance that you’re absolutely on the right track with accepting your diagnosis. Keep going forward with ignoring your compulsions.
  3. Even if you happen to be in that small minority of people who use the OCD label carelessly as a cover for sin, it’s not the end of the story. God will pursue you, and He’ll probably use clearer methods to speak to you that won’t be confused with OCD’s spooky “impressions” or “signs.” Continue trusting in God’s unfailing love for you, and don’t worry about this!

Conclusion

I hope this brief article has helped address a question I get very commonly. Have I offered you an absolute, black-and-white guarantee that you’re not making any mistakes?

No. That’s not possible or realistic.

But I think there’s a really good chance that if you’re reading this, you’re absolutely doing exactly what you need to be doing right now. You’re working on beating religious OCD so that you can enjoy a vibrant relationship with God again. You’re ignoring those compulsions that make God look like a nit-picky taskmaster and make you look like a burdened, unhappy Christian. You’re learning to see God through new eyes, as He presents Himself in the Word, and this is helping you separate between His voice and the voice of OCD.

separating between the voice of God and the voice of religious OCD

Does this process feel uncomfortable sometimes?

Definitely.

I regularly hear from clients who tell me that ignoring their religious compulsions feels disobedient and rebellious. But yet, deep down they know that it’s not God requiring them to sit in a bathtub of water all day long so they can be ritually pure. They know it’s not God telling them they have to go apologize to a colleague because of a slightly negative thought they had against him. They know it’s not God telling them they have to buy vegetables they didn’t need just because they accidentally took an extra produce bag in the grocery store.

But yes, it can feel disobedient and rebellious to resist these compulsions.

Maybe it’s because we’ve developed a long-standing habit of obeying the OCD “god voice.” Doesn’t it seem so much simpler to just keep obeying those impressions, “just in case?”

Simpler, perhaps. But it’s a bad habit to live from a place of “just in case.” It means we are too lazy to go through the hard work of parsing out the difference between God’s voice and OCD’s voice, and our default is to obey the compulsions. Done long enough, we begin to conflate God (who is good) with OCD (which is most assuredly not good). God appears like a rigorous taskmaster and we grow resentful.

Obeying everything that crosses your mental radar might seem like the best option: “better safe than sorry,” as they say. But it’s not safe at all. It’s spiritually dangerous to engage in compulsive behavior–extremism, really–that leads us to see God in a false light.

Let’s not do that!

Let’s walk by faith and ask God to walk with us in this journey of overcoming OCD. He will help us do this. Don’t be afraid of using your diagnosis of OCD as an excuse to sin. I believe God will guide you, even in ways that you don’t realize.

Keep looking up. Keep trusting. And don’t let yourself worry about those pesky seasons when you doubt your diagnosis.

Best wishes on the journey,

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  • What about when you are working through ERP and an exposure is sin. For example, my therapist has asked me to start cursing here and there, however, I believe it is a sin to curse. Is intentionally sinning or introducing exposures that could lead to sin ok in the process of ERP?

    • Hi Andy,
      ERP is a bit of a complicated sphere. In principle I think that many exposures can be helpful if the theory of acclimatization and fear reduction is correct. If you have a fear of spiders, holding a spider over and over again should theoretically help reduce your fears through habituation. But how to apply this to scrupulous fears is a sticky thing and I don’t have a one-size-fits-all suggestion here. I’ve heard some people share exposures that I think are reasonable and spiritually okay, and I’ve heard other exposures that really make me uncomfortable. I hope to share a more thorough set of thoughts on this at some point, but that’s where I currently am in my reasoning. Each is a case by case basis. In your situation I would agree, cursing is not okay. But if you have obsessions about whether or not you may have accidentally cursed against the Holy Spirit, for example, it may be appropriate to tell yourself, “I don’t know if I just cursed against God, but I’m going to refrain from the compulsive behaviors that I always do to fix that fear, like using neutralizing language or praying to reverse it. I’ll have to just trust God that He knows my true intentions and I’m going to have to lean into the uncertainty of not knowing–or ruminating on–what my brain is doing.”

      In any case, knowing how to apply ERP in religious OCD is tough. Don’t give up, you’ll figure out something that works.

      Jaimie

  • I am struggling with a situation. My husband had a stroke. One of the helps he got was food stamps in his name. I feel guilty using them because he's in a skilled nursing facility where his food is included. But with the loss of his income, I'm struggling financially and it helps not having to worry about food or go to food pantries. But I am unsure. I want it to be ok but I'm scared it's not and God will allow more sadness into my life.

    • Hi Kim, thanks for sharing this difficult situation! I honestly am not very informed about food stamps and how the system works, but maybe another reader can comment on this?

      Whatever the case, I believe God is very gentle towards those of us who make unintentional mistakes.

  • Hello! I also tend to have quite a few obsessions about giving up things. I feel identified with the situations of "Eli".
    I would like more information on how to deal with these types of compulsions. If you could share resources with me on the subject or cover it in future blogs, I would appreciate it.

    P.S. Thank you for all the work you are doing.

  • Hi once i live free fron the bad thoughts and i feel i am pride Full of Rebellion its so Hard it feel Like i just can not change its over and over can you please pray for me that i can break throug

  • Jamie, I just want to let you know that your articles have helped me so very much. I didn't even know what scrupulosity was until last year. I was googling religious ocd and found that it is real. I've suffered with this since middle school and I'm now 55. I am definitely not cured, but just knowing what it is has made a world of difference! Thank you! Becky

  • Thank you for posting this! Your posts have helped me so much. I am so grateful to be reminded that God loves me and nothing can tear me from his hand. I am saved because Jesus died for my sins and I accept him as my savior. Doubt really tries to make me feel like I could lose this salvation for the thoughts I have from ocd and if I try resisting compulsions, but I can’t lose salvation because it’s not on me to earn it, he gives it as a free gift and he never leaves, because nothing can tear me from his hand! I get reminded of this often and it is so helpful and gives me peace and hope. Thanks again!

  • Thank you for the emails you send me. I have RELIGIOUS OCD plus different areas of OCD. I read your emails and recently started ERP. I live in fear of going to hell and if I have committed a sin. I hope someday to believe that GOD LOVES ME and that I'LL love Him enough to put my trust in Him and stop OCD. Sometimes I fear that I sinned and other times I know I sinned but try not to let it bother me. Is their any advice you can give me?

  • Love this quote: "But it’s a bad habit to live from a place of 'just in case.' It means we are too lazy to go through the hard work of parsing out the difference between God’s voice and OCD’s voice, and our default is to obey the compulsions. "
    You mentioned this concept at the last group session on Sunday and it struck a chord with me. I have also doubted my condition, and also considered the OCD as "dangerous". Thanks for this!

  • This article is spot on, except for one tiny thing. I don’t think it’s fair to label OCD as “evil.” For one, that phrase itself will feed the scrupulous brain. Ie. “If OCD is evil, that must mean I’M evil if I have OCD.” OCD is a physical ailment, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. It is neutral, but Satan CAN use it to hinder, for certain. Thank you for this article.

    Signed, a mom of a scrupulous child.

      • Thank YOU, for changing it, and being so open! I really appreciate your content. Religious OCD is insidious, and by far the worst theme I’ve dealt with in my family. (3 of my 5 kids have OCD) My oldest son was diagnosed at 18 and is now 22. He is MUCH better now, but still struggles with avoiding (his worst compulsion) and it robs him from time with us. It usually involves things we are watching or video games being played. (Accidental blasphemy, disappointing God, etc.) My biggest fault is trying to reason with OCD, when I know better. But as a parent who brought their kids up to love Jesus, it’s hard not to fight the obsessions with the Word, because in the moment, he doesn’t hear the truth, and I wind up getting frustrated with him, even though I know it’s not his fault. Sorry for the long response, but again, thank you,

        • Oh so hard! I can’t imagine the burden you carry and your desire to see your children well. May God give you extraordinary strength and compassion as you support your precious flock.

  • This was very thought-provoking! God has healed me of bipolar tendencies, and I’m wondering if these blasphemous thoughts are simply demonic oppression. My psychiatrist feels like it’s situational because my mom lives with me. My mom kicked my real father out right after I was born and then she married an alcoholic who put a gun in my head when I was 10. She was not a present parent and I’m wondering if these thoughts stem from her living here now, and I feel triggered.

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