Helping People Cope With OCD
Information for Clergy

Recognizing and Counseling People Who Have Scrupulosity

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between people of strong religious faith and those whose intense religious observance is actually a form of OCD called Scrupulosity.

Scrupulosity can be of particular concern to clergy because it is sometimes difficult to separate what is “normal” religious devotion from the form of OCD that centers on irrational moral and religious fears and worries.

People who are hard on themselves about their conduct in life or worry about sin don’t necessarily have OCD.  But if they worry unceasingly about having done wrong in the past, or worry that they may do something bad in the future because they are evil or have contracted with the devil, that is clearly not “normal”.  Below are some symptoms of Scrupulosity.  While many may not apply within your particular religious practices, they should be recognizable enough for you to draw the appropriate parallels.

Symptoms of Scrupulosity can range from obsessive religious rituals to obsessive fears by a person that s/he is in league with the devil.

Obsessions about religious matters that include any of these forms:

  • Thoughts or fears of being unworthy of salvation, of going to hell, or being particularly evil, sometimes including fear that the affected person has sold their soul to the devil at some time in the past
  • Fears that prayers have been said incorrectly or parts have been left out
  • Thoughts that sins have been committed or that God is displeased about certain actions, and atonement should be made
  • Belief that one isn’t religious enough and must practice his or her religion more, or more perfectly, or it “doesn’t count”

Other obsessions that seem to be the opposite of religious ones, but are also part of Scrupulosity include:

  • Repeated blasphemous thoughts or thoughts and fears of saying blasphemous expressions during religious services
  • Intrusive thoughts (including sexual thoughts) about religious figures or God
  • Fears of being or becoming possessed by evil spirits or the devil

Compulsions of Scrupulosity include exaggerated actions such as:

  • Praying or performing religious rituals for an extended period of time, such as many hours a day (sometimes this is to make sure they are performed “perfectly” or enough)
  • Continually asking for God’s forgiveness and repeatedly confessing perceived sins, either to God through prayers or to a member of the clergy
  • Constantly mulling over one’s actions, wondering if the behavior was sinful or if words had double meanings of a sacrilegious or blasphemous nature
  • Trying to cancel out “bad” thoughts with “good” thoughts or more religious thoughts; trying to “make up for” bad thoughts by thinking the same amount of good thoughts
  • Saying certain prayers a certain multiple number of times, or (in some religions) making the sign of the cross a specific number of times before, during or after praying

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