Managing scrupulosity OCD: Know how to live a healthy religious life

Your friends call you “more devout than God himself”. Yet, when you consider your religious values, you seem more directed out of fear of angering God or receiving His punishment than anything that seems holy. In fact, at times your religious requirements make you so afraid that you will “mess up” that you get so anxiety ridden, you panic and perhaps even try to avoid the religious observance. You may be suffering not from religion, but from scrupulosity OCD. Scrupulosity literally means 'fearing sin where there is none'. Believe it or not, the condition is quite manageable and treatable.


Do

Do learn more about your scrupulosity

Scrupulosity is a specific form of OCD. It tends to be specific toward creating anxiety surrounding the rules and orderliness of religious or law based systems of living. Learn to understand the unique characteristics of your scrupulosity and how it negatively impacts your life. Understanding your scrupulosity will also help you learn how to manage the anxiety in a healthy, proactive manner.

Do get the right treatment

The recommended treatment for scrupulosity is Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy (CBT). It consists of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) techniques as well as cognitive therapy. The therapy is extremely “hands on” with regular ongoing homeworks designed not only for you to talk but to take tested techniques and utilize them in combatting the scrupulosity.

Do encourage the collaboration between your therapy team and your chosen clergyperson

Often people assume that OCD in general, and scrupulosity in particular, is the dangerous intersection between science and religion. The fear sets in that perhaps one will need to choose between clergy counsel and psychotherapy. The truth is, that sensitive therapists and clergy can work together with you to facilitate a successful therapy outcome. In fact, studies show that where the collaboration exists, the therapy outcome is greatly improved.

Do accept more responsibility to guide your own treatment

Good CBT treatment aims to give you the tools necessary to understand and manage your symptoms well. As the therapy progresses seek out the opportunities to direct your own treatment away from your therapist. While your therapist may begin with giving you your assignments, you can learn to spot difficulties on your own and give yourself appropriate homework for managing the challenge. This will help with challenges that may occur after your therapy is completed.

Do give yourself the time to work through your scrupulosity

“How long is this going to take?” is probably the most frequent question therapists get asked about OCD and scrupulosity. Treatment time is dependent on the specific individual. But however long it takes, it does not pay to do a “half” or “partial” therapy. For when you only deal with half a religious dilemma, the anxiety has a way of coming back to challenge you again in the future.


Don't

Do not give up on your real religious beliefs

Healthy religious beliefs are not part of OCD. Scrupulosity does not interfere with regular religious practice. If anything, scrupulosity interferes with a person’s ability to focus on the healthy aspects of a particular religious life. When a person with scrupulosity becomes so focused on the terror surrounding the performance of a particular religious ritual – sometimes s/he can come to believe that s/he must avoid that ritual. That avoidance is not treatment, it compounds the problem. Successful treatment of one’s scrupulosity will help the person lead a complete, fulfilling spiritual life correctly – without the anxiety of scrupulosity.

Do not refuse or deny obsessive thoughts

Obsessive thoughts are biochemically engineered. Trying to stop them will merely make them appear more often. The trick to dealing with obsessive thoughts – especially those of a religious or scrupulous nature – is to have the thought and let it be, without doing anything to neutralize it.

Do not depend on others to relieve the scrupulosity anxiety

Because scrupulosity obsessions generate fear and guilt, people suffering with them will often turn to loved ones or clergy for reassurance that the fears are irrational. However, reassurance provides only temporary relief and in the not so distant long run can be extremely harmful. Providing reassurance blocks exposure to the fear which is necessary for elimination of the fear.

Do not hold back just to be sure

Often people suffering from scrupulosity will hold back from taking self-perceived risks in life out of fear that they may anger God. They may be 99 percent sure that they may partake of a particular activity or keep a particular gain but will deny it from themselves “just to be sure.” Avoidance out of fear is not a tenet in any religion that I am aware of – except in the cult of scrupulosity.


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Dr. Jonathan Schwartz PsyDLicensed Clinical Psychologist and Anxiety Specialist

Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, Clinical Director at the Center for Anxiety Relief in Union, NJ has been a mental health provider since 1995. He specializes in working with a wide spectrum of anxiety and mood disorders including: Obsessive Compulsive Dis...

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