Back during my Seattle OCD days, one of my friends introduced me to the idea of scrupulosity. Basically, it is religious OCD, though I didn’t really connect it with obsessive compulsive disorder at the time. It hearkens back to the idea of OCD taking over what matters to you and making your obsessions relate to that subject; for religious people, obsessions and compulsions might start stemming from different religious habits or ideas. 

For example…

When I was in Seattle, I obsessed about tithing. For those who aren’t LDS, we pay 10% of our increase back to the Church. This money is used for various projects, building and temple building or upkeep, etc. I began to worry that I hadn’t paid my tithing in full in the past, especially when I worked at a vintage clothing store and often earned “trade” rather than cash (ie, working for store credit). I also obsessed about being totally honest and righteous. I felt that if I wasn’t “perfect,” then I was sinning and not worthy.

The tug of war

Scrupulosity is a tricky beast because it brings God into the OCD equation. With other obsessions and compulsions, it’s usually more related to generalities or fear of harm, legal action, harming others, etc. But when suddenly you begin to think that the results of not engaging a compulsion could have eternal consequences for your soul? Well, that’s a bit bigger deal in a lot of ways. As my psychologist and I have discussed, it also makes treatment that much more difficult, because, as Dr. Bob implied, who will you side with—your psychologist or God?

But of course, stepping back and disengaging from the OCD, we know that it isn’t really a choice because your psychologist or God. It’s really the OCD making you believe that you are sinning, unworthy, and damned if you don’t engaged in the compulsion. But it seems so very real that it’s hard to do that disengaging.

Faith and the Atonement

It really comes down to having to take a leap of faith. Religion is all about faith, after all. In this case, you have to decide not to go “beyond the mark,” as it were, and instead error on the side of maybe not doing enough. Maybe you didn’t pay a full tithing, even if you tried and thought you did. Maybe you weren’t 100% honest all the time. Maybe one of your prayers wasn’t totally sincere. Whatever your obsessions are, accept that maybe you failed a little bit. But you tried. And then have faith that trying your best is going to be enough.

For me, overcoming scrupulosity requires a testimony of Christ’s Atonement. We have to accept that we can’t be perfect or gain exaltation on our own merits—and that is okay. That is the plan. We aren’t expected to be perfect in everything we do. For some of us, that can be hard thing to have faith in; we don’t necessarily want to have faith in the fact that we aren’t quite good enough to be perfect on our own. But how will we learn humility and to trust in the Atonement otherwise?

What are your thoughts or experiences with scrupulosity?

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Scrupulosity”

  1. I just like saying scrupulosity! It’s a scrumptious word! We just need to be obdurate in opposing the voice that says we’re not good enough. It’s a good thing you don’t suffer from logophobia.

  2. Thank you for writing about this. My teenage daughter suffers from scrupulosity, and I think especially being LDS, it’s difficult to deal with when her therapist tells her something different than she thinks she is learning at church. It’s very hard for her to recognize it as her OCD. I would love to hear more about how you deal with it.

  3. I suffer from Scrupulosity among other OCD issues and wish there was an LDS therapist where I live. It’s difficult to talk about your faith and your OCD to someone who tells you missing church is ok, or that if you don’t pray sometimes it’s fine too. Or if he says something totally contrary to what we are taught in church.

    1. Exactly, Carla! That was our problem, and we had to quit therapy because my daughter came out more anxious than when she went in.

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