Scrupulosity is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder involving religious or moral obsessions with corresponding compulsions like rituals and spells. Those who suffer from this are excessively concerned with the fear of disobeying the standards of faith they belong to.
As a sufferer of scrupulous conscience, it took me months to figure out what was I going through. It was after browsing the internet to read some blogs and participate in forums that I finally found out that I was having religious OCD. For others, they might have it, but not aware of it yet. Recognizing and accepting this chronic disorder are the major steps in controlling it.
Here are the signs of scrupulosity for Catholics.
Extreme Fear of Offending God
The view of God as punitive is the root cause of this Religious Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The sufferers are afraid that God would penalize them for their actions or inaction. They find God vindictive. Thus, they become overly prudent to the point that it takes them too long to decide on what to or not to do on things. They fear that God might not be pleased with how they react to things so they tend to lower the risk of committing a mistake. It is as if they are under surveillance by God, watching them, and checking if they sin.
When I was still living in this darkness, I avoided many things just to make sure I satisfy myself that I am in a state of grace.
After every confession, I shunned talking to my homosexual relatives and friends. I stopped watching movies with sins attached to them such as adultery and pre-marital sex. I even paused working because I was feeling guilty about preparing taxes for my clients and my employer. Eat was a challenge because of the possibility to be a glutton.
It affected my life. I was paralyzed. All because of my irrational fear of God.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that register one’s mind with agonizing and bothersome content without any warning or caution. They just pop out and get stuck causing discomfort to the sufferers.
For more details about Intrusive Thoughts, you might want to check this out.
The most common examples of intrusive thoughts are those that offend God just like blasphemous and salacious thoughts.
In connection with the first sign above, intrusive thoughts started to bother me when I developed an extreme fear of God.
Since I was aiming to receive the Eucharist every week, I needed to confess all my sins before attending Mass. This became customary that I painstakingly follow. This triggered my obsession.
I always made sure that I would not displease God right after confessing. Often, after having been to confession, afraid that I would not sin again, random blasphemous thoughts bombarded me. I was beating my head just to stop them but the more I forcefully try to eliminate them, the more they lingered in my mind.
This put my conscience in doubt. Did I just commit a mortal sin? Should I go for confession again?
And then I realized, if offending God was my fear, why would I want to intentionally ponder on those thoughts. Also, the more I became overly careful about not sinning, the more these intrusive thoughts attacked me.
Believing in Superstition
“If you do this, something bad will happen to you and your loved ones.”
When I was in high school, I was prone to be bullied. My motto back then was “if you can’t beat them, join them”. I became a rebel and enjoyed the company of my classmates. I did not give enough attention and time to study. Since my first year, I was on top of the class and I ended up not on our honor roll at the end of the last high school year.
I was embarrassed. I felt God was punishing me for being too sinful. This started the idea that displeasing God results in bad luck.
I would always relate all the mishaps to my faults.
Years later, I carried this belief in college. I was paranoid. On the upside, I became focused on my studies. I behaved as I knew how God wanted me to behave. To please Him, I tried to completely avoid sins. I depended my whole student life on Him. I thanked Him for all the blessings but I also blamed Him for my failings. With all the flunking scores, I would always attribute it to the sins I might have committed.
This idea extended to my daily life. I was afraid that my family could be affected. It freaked me out thinking about what could happen to them because of my sins.
When I began experiencing scrupulosity, I noticed that intrusive thoughts were not limited to blasphemy and lust. I also had this voice in my head dictating me to do this or to not do that or else something bad could happen. It struck me adversely. The thoughts bothered me most while praying.
The cycle went like this. I would pray, then superstitions (If you do this, usually, a thing I was having difficulty figuring out if a sin, misfortune would occur to you.) followed. If so, I would repeat the prayer until the thoughts were gone.
This even prolonged my time in prayer.
The superstitions will continue to bother you unless you get exposed by doing what the thoughts would not let you do.
It will take quite some time to fully eradicate the thoughts.
One reason for the slow improvement is a false memory- an event from the past that keeps on boggling one’s mind that happened differently or never happened. It entered the consciousness confusing the sufferer resulting in a performance of compulsion and a severe fear.
Too Much Confession
In 2015, after 10 years, I was able to confess all my transgressions. I was only in my 3rd grade when I last received the absolution from a priest. We did it because we were preparing for the Holy Communion. Having been out of the Church for so many years, I never realized the value Sacrament of Penance until I started working. Apologetics woke me up from being irreligious. It made me want to explore my faith more. I remember how I randomly asked my colleagues who studied in Catholic Schools about the practices and traditions of the Church just to confirm what I read.
I, then, consistently went to Church for confession. Whenever I could not, I would not receive communion. Everything changed when in 2019, I took my faith to the next level. I vowed to receive Communion every single week. I made sure that I was clean. And that I confessed all my sins completely. If ever I thought I did not, I went again for another.
In connection with superstition, I was so convinced that my prayers could not be granted when I am in a state of sins, whether mortal or venial. And as much as I want my Novenas and other prayers to be effective and heard, I needed my sins to be absolved first before praying. I am greatly devoted to different prayers which made it more difficult. Imagine, confessing your sins from Wednesday to Saturday because you are about to say prayers made for those days. I was hopping in various Churches for confession so that priests would not wonder and know my condition. I knew there was something wrong with me, but regardless, I would do anything I could just to feel good and free because of the absolution given by the priests.
For others, this might not be the case. The reasons vary. Some do not want to die with the stain of sins, some do not want to end up in hell and some are just like me, they want to receive the Eucharist reverently and they want to convince themselves that their prayers are efficacious. But one thing is for sure, fear drives scrupulous individuals to confess inordinately.
If you are experiencing extreme fear in confession, here is a Confession Guide for Scrupulous.
Not Receiving Communion
People who have scrupulous conscience tend to feel that they are unworthy of God’s love and mercy, thus, they end up not receiving Communion. Some factors contribute to this feeling. One example roots in the teaching of the Church which is to fast one (1 hour) before taking Communion.
Canon 919 “1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before Holy Communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.”
For others, this might seem easy but for those who are scrupulous, it is a nightmare! Not because they cannot do it but because they can be too suspicious to the point that they doubt if they break it.
I remember how I was not able to receive the Eucharist because I felt something stuck between my teeth. While the Communion Song was playing and the parishioners were in line, I was in a corner, thinking and rationalizing why would I deserve to receive the Lord.
My mind was cluttered with bumping thoughts about whether I should take it or not. Aside from the fact that I did not get to accept Him, it also was painful to handle confusion related to indecisiveness, it was indeed draining.
Another one that kept a scrupulous person hesitant in receiving the Eucharist was the abrupt intrusive thoughts.
After confessing, I did everything just to avoid any occasion of sin. But as mentioned above, the more I was cautious the more active they were disturbing me. The next thing was, I doubted my intention.
At our Parish, the moment I was about to accept Him, the more the blasphemous thoughts distracted me. These appalling ideas would always convince me not to partake. I, then, thought twice, thrice, or multiple times before I finally came up with a decision. A decision that usually lacked conviction as a result of incertitude.
For Eucharistic Fasting Guide for Scrupulous, you might want to check this out.
Those who have scrupulosity are highly sensitive to sin. They relate almost everything to it. They are fearful that God would punish them for their faults regardless of gravity. The above list is some of the signs that you can use as a Scrupulosity test. If you have all of these, seek a Spiritual Director who will guide you throughout the process. It can be your Parish Priest or any other Religious trained on this specific issue. Also, if possible, consult a health professional, a Psychologist, or a Psychiatrist to better help you manage your OCD.
In my case, I had to jump to a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist because of the unavailability of Priests at that time (around the 4th Quarter of the Year). It took me less than a year before I fully resolved my catholic guilt. It took tons of courage and trust to correct my view about who God is. Until now, I still have obsessions and compulsions from time to time, but my Spiritual Director helps me immensely to recover from the doubting disease.
The cross of scrupulosity is surely difficult to bear, but please know, that you are not alone. We have each other and many people who understand us. Together, we will find peace through prayer and community.
If your obsession happens most of the time in confession, you might want to check this. If you are like me, who aside from scrupulosity, also has obsessions with patterns and orders, now is the best time to break all the possible obsessions that trigger compulsions, or else you will have a much more difficult time rejecting these later. Or, if you are having trouble praying the Rosary or any other forms of prayers due to compulsions, you might want to check this out.
For more resources on scrupulosity, here’s a list.
“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
– St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta