Lately the topic of scrupulosity has been coming up “around” me. Of course, it has come up in regards to my book (so, yes, there will be a bit about it in the book), but it has also come up with my doctor in passing and in personal correspondence.
So. I thought I would address some potential aspects of scrupulosity rather than a more general pass over like I have done in the past.
When I first started being open about and getting help for my contamination OCD, a family member and I had a discussion about whether or not some of her actions would be considered to be related to obsessive compulsive disorder. Specifically, I recall her asking about prayer and her feeling the “need” to pray in perhaps certain ways or over and over again.
Can prayer be a compulsion? Absolutely. Almost anything can be made into a compulsion by OCD.
The “nice” thing about OCD is that it follows a really predictable pattern:
- You have an obsession or nagging thought or idea that causes you anxiety or grief.
- Your mind determines that you need to do a specific thing in order to relieve that anxiety.
- You do that thing (which can now be called a compulsion) in order to ease your obsession.
This is basic stuff. This is the type of conversation you likely will or have had with your psychologist on your first appointment. He or she probably then explained that doing the compulsion actually doesn’t ease the anxiety and the anxiety remains. You keep doing the compulsions. And this, of course, is the problem. This is why you have “obsessive compulsive disorder.”
But back to the idea that OCD follows this pattern. This pattern is basically the same. It could be an obsession about cleanliness. An idea that the stove didn’t get turned off or that the door is unlocked. Or the thought that you need to pray or didn’t pray enough or as sincerely as you ought.
Prayer or Scripture Reading Compulsions
See where we’re going with this? Scrupulosity takes the OCD pattern and applies it to religious beliefs. So sure, you might develop an obsession regarding prayer and feel the need (compulsion) to pray, or to say certain things in your prayer, or to pray in a specific way.
In a similar vein, maybe the scrupulosity makes you feel like you need to read your scriptures all the time. It might make you feel guilty if you do anything that is not religiously based or increasing your spirituality. I felt a portion of that when OCD first hit me hard. Maybe scrupulosity makes you feel like you can’t read secular books or watch TV because it’s “evil.”
Much of the time, obsessions lead you to compulsions that are actions—things you do. And sometimes the obsessions lead you to a different sort of “compulsion” that is more accurately termed “avoidance.” For the above example, avoidance would be if your obsession regarding guilt over not being spiritual all the time lead you—not to read your scriptures 24-7—but instead to strictly avoid watching TV or reading secular books. Avoidance might not seem as nefarious as a compulsion, but it is still the OCD taking control of your life and actions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
So how do you fight back? Obviously, if you are religious, you have been taught that it is good to pray or read your scriptures or be spiritual. You probably don’t want to stop doing those things cold turkey. But you can’t do them compulsively either. That is not healthy. I promise you the Lord doesn’t want you to compulsively pray, read your scriptures, and avoid anything that isn’t strictly “religious” to the point that you are not in control of your own actions.
Based on my treatment for other types of OCD, I recommend that you set limits. Just like I have had to limit and record my hand washes, maybe you can limit your time spent reading scriptures and record how long you spend in a journal or on a piece of paper. Or tally up how many times a day you pray and give yourself a limit or goal to cut back. You have to take active action. That sounds almost silly. Can action be passive? I suppose what I mean is that you have to be aware.
Sometimes compulsions become habits. Maybe if you have a prayer compulsion, you almost subconsciously move your lips or say prayers in your mind. Be aware of this and when you notice yourself slipping on, don’t beat yourself up but try to stop. Break habits.
You are Good
God loves you. He wants you to be in control of yourself, using your own agency, and not a slave to a mental illness, even if that mental illness is trying to convince you that you need to be more spiritual or do more religious things. Scrupulosity is still a mental illness. It’s difficult to overcome. It is so hard. So make goals. Take a risk. Start working to take back your life from it.