Fairly often, I’m asked, “is overcoming scrupulosity even possible?” The journey is difficult and we aren’t sure there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, hearing the story of someone who has had a measure of success in overcoming scrupulosity can soothe our fears and encourage us to keep going.
Sometimes, overcoming scrupulosity may look like complete healing, and other times it may look like the integration of solid strategies that help us manage our symptoms. Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Ele Ameh from the beautiful country of Nigeria. Keep reading to see how Ele is having success in overcoming scrupulosity.
Ele, thank you for joining me today. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me here Jaimie, I’m truly honored. My name is Ele Ameh and I’m Nigerian. I’m currently a final year law student but I volunteer on the side as a Public Relations Representative for a ministry over here in Nigeria. I love God and I’m passionate about revealing his undying love to the world.
I’m actually passionate about quite a number of things and one of them is Social Psychology. Right from when I was a child, I would find myself observing and trying to understand people, why they act the way they do, and what motivates their actions.
Where does scrupulosity fit into the picture?
Most people around me don’t know this, but for a major part of my life I’ve dealt with Pure O OCD and Scrupulosity. I cannot pinpoint exactly when it started, but I can trace it back to approximately 10 years ago. In a moment of self-awareness, I realized that I was having horrible intrusive thoughts that I couldn’t seem to control; and the more I tried to fight them off, the more they latched on to my mind.
I was in so much confusion and distress because these thoughts were in total conflict with who I was; my moral values and standards. I couldn’t say a word to anyone because I felt guilty, ashamed and embarrassed. I assumed these thoughts indicated something awfully negative about me and I was scared of being judged for it, so I suffered in smothering silence for years.
A few years later, I gave my life to Jesus and this time I was ready to go all the way for Him. I began to passionately seek God, but there was OCD again reinforcing its hold on my mind. My symptoms began to heighten, and in addition to the intrusive thoughts I was dealing with, I started to have blasphemous and sacrilegious thoughts about God too horrible to utter. I didn’t understand what those thoughts were, how they came about, and why they wouldn’t stop. The experience was so unfamiliar. I thought I was all alone.
One day, in my desperation for answers, I decided to pick up my phone and search the internet to find some answers. I typed in my symptoms on google and that was when I realized that what I was experiencing was OCD and that there were others out there like me.
However, it took me some time to realize that the recurring doubts, feeling of uncertainty, reassurance seeking, questioning of my faith, and overly sensitive conscience were all tied to scrupulosity.
What is the general perception of obsessive-compulsive disorder in Nigeria — both in society and in the church?
The truth is there is very little awareness about OCD in Nigeria—and psychological disorders in general.
The few people who know about OCD think it’s just about handwashing, an obsession for cleanliness, and checking your locks 20 times a day. I honestly used to have that misconception, too, until I got enlightened.
A lot of well-meaning people in church often have the tendency to sincerely but wrongly use spirituality and faith to invalidate the struggles of OCD sufferers.
Did you have any experiences where you felt misunderstood or judged for your struggle of overcoming scrupulosity?
Yes sure, even though I didn’t tell anyone about my experience at first. I was pretty good at concealing and bottling up my symptoms, but some of the symptoms were still apparent. I would get stuck in my head a lot of times, even when I was with people. I would overanalyze even the littlest and most insignificant things, which would lead to sudden, unexplained changes in my mood.
I didn’t have people outrightly judge me, but I felt misunderstood a lot. People around me complained that I was too “in my head,” and on two different occasions, some friends called me depressed and weird. In those moments, I just wished they understood the battle I was fighting within. But could I blame them? Even I didn’t understand.
There were also times when I tried opening up to certain people about my struggles and they sincerely didn’t understand. Some of them were inclined to think that it was probably due to unhealthy information I was feeding my mind with. These reactions made me slowly withdraw into a shell of isolation.
What was your lowest point?
Scrupulosity had hijacked my relationship with God in ways I didn’t even realize, and I had been pushing myself extra hard under the false belief that it was God making these high demands on me. I couldn’t rest. I always felt that God was prompting me to do something or revisit something I had already done. I would have this constant, unexplained feeling of restlessness which would rob me of sleep sometimes. I felt it was the Holy Spirit’s way of calling my attention to something I needed to do or something I had done wrong. Even when to the best of my knowledge I hadn’t done anything wrong, I would catch myself trying to convict myself of any sin I may have committed.
I would constantly question my motives towards God and overanalyze everything.
I ignorantly thought that all these was a proof of my passion and love for God and my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, even though a part of me felt overwhelmed.
I studied to find answers, I sought counsel from some mentors and Christian friends but I couldn’t get an adequate explanation for what I was experiencing. I kept pushing through and trying to keep up with the supposed demands God was laying on me. “God is testing my faithfulness and commitment. He’s teaching me to be more sensitive to Him,” I thought.
I kept telling myself I was fine and that I only needed to persevere. But I didn’t realize how all this had taken a huge toll on me. Slowly I began to get overwhelmed, and before I knew it, I was burned out. I suddenly plunged into deep depression and a state of hopelessness. I couldn’t keep up with the “demands” anymore. In those moments, I became very apprehensive of the word “surrender” because I felt I couldn’t keep up and would ultimately disappoint God.
In this season also, I would read my Bible but instead of getting revelations about God, I would have all these questions that tried to taint the character and goodness of God and invalidate the Christian faith. I was in despair and total confusion. I knew I loved and believed in God, but these questions just wouldn’t go away. I had come to the end of myself.
At some point, things started to turn around. When did you see a glimmer of hope in overcoming scrupulosity?
Through my dark periods with OCD, I have seen streaks of light at different points, like when I first found out that what I was experiencing was OCD. Having insight into what I was going through and learning that I wasn’t a crazy or a bad person (and that there were people out there like me!) gave me some form of hope. I also found some useful information that helped me manage my symptoms over the years, but there was still a series of challenges that followed.
A huge game changer for me was stumbling on your blog and meeting you. Like I mentioned earlier, scrupulosity had hijacked my relationship with God in ways I didn’t even realize. I had gotten a reasonable amount of knowledge on the “intrusive thoughts” aspect of OCD and was learning to manage it. Nevertheless, there were ways OCD had crept into my relationship with God which I misconstrued as being the way God operates.
I didn’t connect the constant restless feeling I was having, the recurring doubts, feeling of uncertainty, and questioning of my faith to OCD, but reading your personal story on your blog was a major breakthrough for me. I started to have clarity and a better understanding of what I was facing.
Ever since then, it has been a fresh start for me and God. I thought I had understood the love of God, but now I see Him in a whole new light. I now know that He wasn’t the one driving me so hard or causing the restlessness and anxiety.
What were the top 3 concepts that helped you start making positive steps towards overcoming religious OCD?
The very first thing that kickstarted my journey towards overcoming religious OCD was recognizing OCD for what it was. OCD wasn’t me and I wasn’t the thoughts that came as result of it. The greatest distress for OCD sufferers comes from the wrong assumption that the thoughts they get as a result of OCD indicates something negative about them. Realizing that I wasn’t intentionally thinking those thoughts and that the distress and anxiety I was experiencing as a result testified to the fact that those thoughts were in actual conflict with who I was. This became the beginning of my liberation.
Secondly, I came to the understanding that the attention I gave unwanted thoughts—my attempts to suppress, analyze or refute them — was what sponsored the frustrating cycle. This started me on the process of learning not to give meaning and attention to the thoughts and feelings I got as a result of religious OCD. Anytime I got an unwanted thought or image, feeling of restlessness, a question, or doubt that will only take me on an endless journey, I simply let them come and pass away without engaging them.
Thirdly, I’ve learned and am still learning to rest in the love and goodness of God. I remind myself that He understands everything I’m going through. He’s not oblivious.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.Hebrews 4:15
God is not a short-tempered perfectionist waiting for you to get something wrong so He can punish you. Even at our worst and lowest point, He is there to redeem us.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;Psalm 73:21-23
you hold my right hand.
I’m sure it hasn’t been easy to implement these concepts. What challenges did you experience along the way?
Yes, it definitely hasn’t been easy. It’s pretty easy to know what you ought to do, but successfully implementing what you know is a different ball game. One of the major challenges I had was in learning not to engage the intrusive thoughts I was having.
Even though I knew that the attention I gave them was the source of the power they had over me, I was still very scared of coming face to face with those thoughts. Even, when I eventually got a hang of it, I would still relapse in moments of stress and those thoughts and feelings will overwhelm me once more.
How were you able to push through those challenges?
Through a better understanding of how OCD operates and the courage to walk through those thoughts without trying to analyze, justify, refute or suppress them–knowing that nothing disastrous was waiting for me at the other side like I thought.
I also learned to identify and manage my stress triggers and be more mindful. This process required a lot of patience and persistence, though. There were times I honestly thought I couldn’t go on. I just wanted to wake up one day with OCD nowhere to be found, but I’ve learned and I’m still learning not to force my recovery process and just take it one day at a time.
A lot of people with scrupulosity are afraid that the “cure” to this disorder means they have to abandon God, stop praying, or forsake their religion. You’re on a solid path to wellness and haven’t done that. What would you say to people who have this fear?
I know abandoning your faith seems like the logical thing to do since scrupulosity operates in a way that takes advantage of your love for God and your faith. But you definitely do not have to give up your faith in your journey of overcoming scrupulosity. Your faith forms the core of who you are, and giving it up because of scrupulosity will only leave you feeling lost and empty.
Avoidance is actually an OCD compulsion which perpetuates your struggle. Even if you give up your faith, OCD will find something else that’s important to you to latch onto. You have to deal with the problem from the root. Overcoming OCD involves understanding, facing your fears, practice, and time — not avoidance.
Be reminded that God is with you through the process. You don’t have to do it on your own. God is not waiting for you to go sort yourself out on your own and only come to Him when you’re perfect. He has given us the confidence to come before the throne of grace to receive help in our time of need.
Involve Him in the process.
Lay your struggles bare before him.
Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.
Fellowship with Him even in the midst of the “craziness” going on in your mind.
He wants all of you, not just the pleasant parts. Being very vulnerable with God is one of the major things that has helped me–I know that He is not in any way surprised or unsettled by my fears, doubts, uncertainty and imperfections. I tell Him everything without fear of judgement. He is with me to help me through this process.
How has your view of God changed during this process of overcoming scrupulosity?
Before I got a better understanding of scrupulosity and what it was doing to me, I actually thought I had understood the love and nature of God. But I came to realize that my perception of God had in certain ways been tainted with the lies and illusions of scrupulosity.
Now I see God in an even more beautiful light. I’m beginning to recognize where He ends and where scrupulosity starts. God is good, kind, patient, and merciful. He brings peace and rest. He isn’t a slave driver and He’s not the author of fear or confusion, He is love.
He sticks with me through all seasons, He doesn’t just stay when things are going good but He is with me to bring good out of every situation.
Based on your own journey, what would you say to others with scrupulosity who fear they will never get better?
Based on my personal experience, I can say that if you get the right understanding about scrupulosity and about God, and you put in the necessary effort into overcoming, you will definitely get better. It may not happen in one day and I can’t guarantee that your symptoms will disappear completely (although there are people who testify that they were totally cured) but I can say you’ll be fine and you can learn to manage it to the point where it no longer dominates your life.
Stay hopeful and take it one day at a time.
In as much as you look forward to a day without scrupulosity, don’t forget to live in the now–victory over scrupulosity is progressive, learn to take note of and celebrate your little victories.
When you realize that you’ve gone one week without giving meaning and attention to intrusive thoughts and they no longer make you anxious, celebrate that–it’s definitely worth celebrating.
When you successfully resist the urge to seek reassurance or do compulsions, celebrate that.
Keep at it and one day you’ll wake up and realize that scrupulosity doesn’t hold you captive anymore.
Is there anything else you would like to share that would be an encouragement to others who are overcoming scrupulosity?
To everyone out there who has had to deal with scrupulosity, my heart genuinely reaches out to you. I know what it’s like to feel like your mind is out of control. I know what it’s like to suffer in silent guilt, shame and embarrassment. I know what it’s like to live in fear and anxiety. I know what it’s like to feel misunderstood.
You are not alone. The process might seem too difficult and unending and you might not even understand everything that’s happening now, but keep holding on. I’m still in the process of healing myself but I know that with God, the necessary effort, and time, you can overcome. God loves you and He is with you through the process.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;Isaiah 43:2
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
If you need to talk, please feel free to send me a message on Facebook!
Ele Ameh is a final year Law student, a Public Relations Representative, and a Social Psychology enthusiast. She is a passionate lover of Jesus and people and desires to reveal the beauty of the person of God and His love to the world. She’s also a curious and avid reader; her curious and contemplative nature puts her on a constant search for information and deeper knowledge. She is passionate about personal development and helping people come to the understanding and appreciation of their unique self and how to harness that knowledge into creating a successful life and fulfilled life. As an INFJ personality, she uses her high-level empathy to connect with those around her and help them through their emotional struggles. You can connect and follow her on Facebook.