In this article: 5 flaws guaranteed to make your scrupulosity worse:
I never enjoyed math in elementary school. But I especially disliked when I had to “show my work.” It seemed so tedious to write out the steps! But showing my work was crucial, because it allowed my teacher to help me pinpoint the exact moment when I made a mistake.
In your struggle with religious OCD, it’s also important to analyze your steps. Are you making any of these surprising mistakes in your treatment of scrupulosity? It’s never too late for revisions! Check out this list of 5 fatal flaws that are guaranteed to make your religious OCD worse.
1. Having Someone Perform an Exorcism
The blasphemous thoughts of religious OCD can be intense. When intrusive thoughts suggest we curse God or worship the devil, you might think that you’re demonically possessed. I have worked with clients who are literally debilitated by the belief that these thoughts indicate Satanic possession. Others have gone to “deliverance ministries” that attempt to perform an exorcism. However, since religious OCD is a mental health condition and not demonic possession, the experience leaves them exhausted, disillusioned, and just as distressed as before.
As a person of faith, I do believe in the existence of the devil. However, I encourage my clients to understand Satan’s involvement in religious OCD in the same way that we would imagine his involvement in tsunamis, DNA mutations, and plane crashes.
Certainly, scrupulosity is yet another element in our world that expresses an acute brokenness — but an exorcism is not the right response. Ultimately, it will only break your hope and leave you feeling “incurable.”
2. Believing That Your Obsessions Are from God
“It’s not me, it’s my OCD,” says the famous mantra. But for the person with religious OCD, it’s more appropriate to say, “It’s not God, it’s my OCD.” It’s surprisingly common for scrupulosity to couch obsessions and intrusive thoughts in spiritual language, sometimes even using the words of Scripture.
But not everything that glitters is gold, and not everything that sounds like the voice of God is really God. Confusing the perimeters of your disorder with the perimeters of divinity is sure to get you stuck.
3. Getting Addicted to Support Forums
Like any other form of OCD, people with religious OCD crave reassurance. How do I know I’m not going to hell? How do I know I haven’t committed the unpardonable sin?
It’s easy to get strung out on the reassurance offered in online support forums. 24 hours a day, other users will feed into your reassurance-seeking cycle, using verses and prayers and exhortation to help you resolve your doubts. Unfortunately, this cycle is ultimately self-defeating, because it sets you up to depend on external support.
Ultimately, what needs to happen is a reboot of your thinking process. The way you relate to God and to yourself needs to be questioned, not the specific obsessions themselves. Support forums may help you shave the edge off your anxiety, but they will do little to guide you to long-term healing.
4. Not Taking Care of Your Depression
Seeing your OCD go into remission is like hitting the golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent. You made it!! But what will it take to get there? You might not have known that there’s a strong correlation between major depressive disorder (MDD) and OCD remission. If you have MDD, you can expect a 20% chance of kicking OCD to the curb for good. But if you don’t have depression, your chances shoot up to 51%.
Depression is painful, but it’s far simpler to treat than OCD. Dr. Stephen Ilardi calls depression a “disease of civilization,” citing the damaging lifestyle habits of modern man that play detrimental roles in causing the disorder. I can testify to his research — in my own journey to wellness, I attended a 10-day depression recovery program based on powerful lifestyle interventions. In 10 days, my own MDD went from “severe” to “sub-clinical.” I beat depression, and after that, I saw my OCD become much more manageable.
If you have chronic depression and aren’t seeing your scrupulosity go away, you need to recognize that there’s a strong link. Deal with your depression first, and the rest will follow suit.
5. Failing to Use an Approach That Integrates Faith and Psychology
Religious OCD is a unique disorder in the way it straddles the domains of faith and mental health. For this reason, it is difficult to take an approach based purely on religion or purely on psychology. Understanding the science behind OCD is important insofar as it points out our ingrained tendencies. It helps us know that we are not alone, and that an entire community of others are going through the exact same symptoms.
But it is imperative to match our knowledge of OCD with our understanding of faith.
The Bible says “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” There is much to be said for developing a correct concept of our Heavenly Father and the truths of Scripture. Almost every single client that I see has misunderstandings about the character of God or the teachings of the Bible — not through their own fault but simply because of how life circumstances have shaped their thinking. These fuel and exacerbate the tendencies of the OCD brain to get stuck in certain ruts. Integrating faith and psychology is an important step that cannot be overlooked.
If you have struggled with scrupulosity for years or decades, ask yourself how calcified your theological views are — particularly in matters relating to the character, nature, and actions of God. Unbendingly incorrect views are sure to get you stuck, but being open to finding out where the Bible challenges those views can help you move forward.
Troubleshooting can be helpful. Are you making any of these mistakes? Could they be holding you back from making progress?
You can be healed from scrupulosity. There is hope. If you haven’t found healing yet, there’s a reason for it — hopefully you have picked up an idea or two from this brief article.
Take courage and keep going forward in your healing journey. God is with you. He knows and understands what you’re going through, and He loves you. Trust in His love even when you can’t understand it, and He’ll carry you through to the end.
Best wishes on the journey,