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scrupulosity; the devil on my shoulder

“scrupulosity is when obsessive-compulsive disorder hijacks your spirituality.”

Jaimie Eckert


 

Trigger Warning: This post will include subjects such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and intrusive thoughts. It will also cover subjects related to religion. If these are a trigger for you, please read with care.



Hi friends. As you can see from the quote above, we are going to talk a little more about OCD and how it can affect one’s life. In my last post, I discussed the basic understanding (or the best I could explain) of how OCD works. It was discussed what the definition of ‘obsessions’ and ‘compulsions’ are and how they play a role together with this disorder. How when we attach an emotion (fear/worry) to a thought, we can begin to obsess over it and create a compulsion (act) to try and diminish the feeling associated with that thought. I’ve been working with my OCD for about 10 years now, so I could go on and on about different aspects of it, but I wanted to touch on a topic that probably isn’t as well known and may be difficult to understand, as well. Most people know about OCD related to counting, cleaning, or order, but when OCD starts to tango with our spirituality (referencing the quote above by Jaimie Eckert) it can cause discomfort on an entire new level, so bear with me as I discuss this.


We’ve talked about how OCD feeds off of our fear and uncertainty. As discussed in my last post, OCD usually only happens when we attach fear or worry to the thought we are having. If we had a thought that was uncomfortable like, “I should run that person over on the side of the road” and you were able to just say, “wow, that was a weird thought. Oh well”, and then let the thought go, you are not attaching fear to it. You are just saying, “I’m not like that, so that was an odd thought to have, but I know it’s not me” and then you can let it go. If someone has that same thought, “I should run that person over on the side of the road” and we attach fear to it by thinking, “what’s wrong with me? Am I a murderer? Am I psychotic? Do I really mean that?” then the cycle of OCD starts. Again, it seems easy to just tell ourselves, “I don’t mean that. That’s not my character.”, but it’s not always that easy unfortunately. These types of thoughts can be anywhere from sexual to violent to just uncomfortable in general, but they can also cause us to question our moral character and our faith. That is where Scrupulosity comes into play, or as I like to call it, the devil on my shoulder.


Scrupulosity is a form of OCD that involves our spirituality or our morals. Jaimie Eckert stated it perfectly in the quote above by stating that scrupulosity hijacks our spirituality. Honestly, that sums it up in a nutshell. Our spirituality and morals are a core value to us as humans. It’s something that builds our character and makes us who we are. When that gets hijacked, it can cause so much uncertainty and fear in our lives and can really rattle us. Everyone has different morals or beliefs regarding spirituality, so I can only speak to what mine are in this post and others’ experiences will vary greatly.


I grew up as a Christian. God was the biggest part in my family’s life. Majority of us all went to the same church and a lot of my family all went to the same parochial school throughout elementary and middle school. God was a part of my daily life and still is a core belief to me and a part of who I am. The faith and love I have for Him, I can’t even begin to explain, but there were times in my life I questioned my faith as most Christians do at some point. During a very stressful time in my life, one of the most vulnerable times in my relationship with God, OCD set in and started to cause chaos. Now, six years later, I am still trying to figure it out.


About six years ago, our family went through a trying time. It was about a year and a half after my dad passed away from cancer and we found out that my mom might have it, as well. She was sick for a few months and almost died a couple times during that, and because of it I started questioning my faith. You see, my dad passing away was one thing. That was extremely difficult with all of the unsettled feelings I had towards him, but my mom passing away would have been another level of grief. She is very important to me and my sister and one of our best friends. She’s caring, selfless, and a great woman. She’s our rock and the thought of her gone from our lives was just too much for me at that time. I blamed God and I’m not going to lie, I’m sure I was mad at God. I held it together pretty well for those few months, but once my mom had her surgery and we knew she was fine, I fell apart. I started having panic attacks more often again and my OCD took on a different form. Up to this point, I had OCD thoughts about random things and it was tolerable, but during this time my OCD decided to take over my faith. Because I was probably mad at God for a time, my OCD decided to change my intrusive thoughts to be directed towards Him. Random insults towards Him started popping in my head, causing me to be extremely uncomfortable, because these thoughts started making me question my character and my relationship with Him. How could I be insulting the One who created me and I worshipped throughout my entire life. The One who gave me endless blessings and graced with me with His forgiveness. It was like the most intense sin I could think of that I was committing by having these thoughts in my mind and it was happening daily.



Since I have to make sense of things for me to be able to move on and let go, I started to try and figure out why I was having these thoughts. Even though I had OCD already that was related to other things, I couldn’t comprehend a situation where my mind was thinking blasphemous things towards God. Because these were thoughts that went against my core beliefs, I started wondering if that’s actually how I felt towards Him and if it was something deep down I never wanted to admit. It was a thought that I didn’t even want to imagine – a world where I didn’t have faith in God anymore.


These thoughts and the fear associated with them continued for a bit until I was met a therapist who told me about scrupulosity. I learned that it was a form of OCD that was more common than people thought, but it didn’t seem to be talked about a lot. The technical definition for scrupulosity is, “A form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral obsessions. Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine” (iocdf.org). My form of this OCD involves intrusive blasphemous thoughts towards God. Although this is mine, there are so many other aspects of it that can affect each person differently. And actually, among the population of those who experience OCD, 33% of them experience scrupulosity (goodrx.com). That may not seem like a high statistic but for a form of OCD that can be so disturbing to the person experiencing it, it is helpful to know that 33% of people have that same obsession.


Along with these obsessions, many people have compulsions that go along with them, as most OCD. When I have a thought like this that makes me uncomfortable, I pray. The way I grew up is that we pray to God for anything we feel we may need because He is always listening. A compulsion is created to try and “get rid of” the thought that is bothering us so much, so my compulsion is to pray. I pray to God to forgive me and to ask him to understand that I don’t mean whatever thought I am having. It’s such a catch 22 because prayers are supposed to be meaningful and be a heart to heart moment between you and God, but my prayers have taken on the form of a compulsion, so I don’t feel they have meaning many times. They are just something I do to manage my OCD.


Now we get into the treatment for it. Like I’ve talked about, everyone has different forms of OCD which means everyone will have different treatments and ways to cope with it. I am not saying this will work for everyone, but this is just my way of coping. With my other OCD, I have to just let the thought go and not attach meaning to it, which is what I also have to do with this form of OCD. The trick with scrupulosity, however, is that the treatment for it goes against my religion. I’ll explain this. In my religion, although Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for all of our sins, if we do in fact sin, we should pray and ask for forgiveness from God. Because my OCD feels like a sin (having blasphemous thoughts about God), I feel like I need to pray in order to repent. But, this praying has become a compulsion. The only way to fully treat my OCD and break the cycle is to let go of the thought and not pray after. If I have a blasphemous thought about God, I have to just ignore it in order to detach fear and worry from it. However, in my mind, ignoring the thought or letting it go is like saying, “it’s okay that I thought that”, even though, according to my religion and belief, it’s not okay. Basically, my worry with this type of treatment is that if I truly let the thought go and ignore it by not praying, that God will punish me for sinning and not repenting. It’s been a vicious cycle for 6 years and I need to just completely break the cycle. Now when I am in the moment of the OCD and anxiety, it is very hard to see anything else besides “I sinned, I must pray”. To counter this, what I have learned to do over time is to pray in the morning. Have a prayer that basically says, “Lord, please forgive me in advance for any thought I may have today towards you. I need to let go of the thought in order to heal, so please allow me to do this without worry.” In my mind it’s better to have one prayer that covers the day versus praying constantly.


The main thing I have tried doing is just going back to the basics of my faith. Remembering that God is all knowing, which means he understands what’s going on better than I do. He knows that I don’t mean the thoughts in my mind and that His love for me and all of us is more than we can even imagine. The way for me to get past this form of OCD is to believe in my faith, remember God’s love, and let the thought go without fear of Him. I always used to have this image in my mind that helped me where I pictured God coming up to me and saying, “ignore what’s in your head, because I know what’s in your heart”.


it wants to break me

telling me lies and stories

it wants to ruin me

this devil on my shoulder


it tears at my character

puts doubt in my heart

but the shield around me

is unyielding


God’s love surrounds me

my faith grows stronger

the devil starts to waver

with one push, he falls off my shoulder


God’s love is the shield we all need


The “devil on my shoulder” has definitely wreaked havoc on my mind for a while now. I think in my mind why this form of OCD was so awful to me is because if I had an intrusive thought about some random person on the street, that was one thing because I didn’t know that person. I had no feelings towards them whatsoever. But having these types of thoughts towards the One who meant everything to me was unfathomable and extremely uncomfortable. The reason I hate this OCD is because it tries to attack my relationship with God, but in order to beat it, I need to use that relationship as a weapon. What OCD wants is for me to lose my faith and believe the intrusive thoughts about God, but I don’t want to. I want to go back to my faith and remember who is fighting alongside of me. He is. Thank you all for continuing on this journey with me. Stay tuned, friends.



References

https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/IOCDF-Scrupulosity-Fact-Sheet.pdf

https://www.goodrx.com/conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/what-is-scrupulosity


Picture: crosswalk.com

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