What is Scrupulosity?
Scrupulosity is a disorder in which someone is pathologically obsessed with moral or religious issues, and it makes them act in a compulsive and often distressing way. Someone suffering from scrupulosity has obsessions, feels compulsions, has anxiety, feels distress, and it often affects most other aspects of normal life. There are varying stages and degrees of this illness, but it bears a striking resemblance to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that comes in a variety of forms and subtypes. Often, OCD leads to other symptoms as a result, such as anxiety, depression, and the like. First, something in someone’s mind or in the environment triggers an intrusive thought. These thoughts are usually inappropriate in nature and drive the person to the compulsion of engaging in the action or a replacement action.
Scrupulosity as a Religious Problem
In the realm of spirituality, the intrusive thought is an obsessive concern with sin and the compulsive act is done for the purpose of atonement. This can lead to seeking assurance, repeatedly, that an action done was not immoral. The person might pray excessively. They might revisit memories and events and think of the different ways that they were sinful or unethical. In a serious form, this may even lead to an avoidance of people, places, objects, and events that trigger the obsessive thinking. In the most severe form, this disorder can lead to suicidal ideation or action.
5 Signs That You Struggle With Scrupulosity
So, do you struggle with scrupulosity? If you struggle with even a few of these signs, it is important to speak to a priest, spiritual director, or counselor. Get help before things get worse! Scrupulosity is debilitating and it is not what God wants for you. He wants you to have abundant life. He does not want you to suffer indefinitely from this illness.
1. Everything in Your Life Has to Be Perfect
Are you a perfectionist? Do you struggle to accept any standard in your life or the lives of others if it is not perfection? Perfectionism is not a mental illness, in and of itself, but it is a common component in OCD, scrupulosity, and other maladies. What is more, perfectionism can lead to an over-devotion to work and productivity which will rob you of your joy and good time spent in leisure with friends and family.
Do not fall into the trap that you think you can attain perfection on your own. In the realm of religion, and in all other things truly, we are completely dependent on the grace, mercy, and goodness of God. If you fall short of the arbitrary perfection that you set, do not despair, and do not put yourself down. Trust in the Lord.
2. You Can’t Stop Thinking About Past Mistakes
Everyone looks back on their past mistakes and thinks: “what could I have done differently?” This is a good thing. We should learn from our mistakes. What we should not do is allow the past to so control our present as to immobilize our future. The scrupulous person will obsess about past mistakes, they will be unable to let things go.
They will perhaps even confess the same sin in the confessional multiple times. By same sin, I mean the exact same event. Often, we struggle with the same sin repeatedly, but the scrupulous person will obsess about one time a sin is committed. The Church teaches clearly that once we confess a sin that we have committed, then we are not to confess that instance again. Of course, if you commit the sin again, then that is another story. Letting the past go is allowing the Lord to have the leading step in the future. Trust in the Lord.
3. You Think That You’re Rotten
Everyone has bad days. Everyone feels down about themselves from time to time. If they do not, then they might be suffering from other problems entirely. However, God did not make anyone rotten. God made every single human person good. Through sin, we tarnish ourselves, but God gives us the ability to be restored to grace through Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession.
You are not rotten. You are a beloved son or daughter of God the Father. You are co-heir with Christ. You are a Temple of the Holy Spirit. If you are convicted of wrongdoing and moved to repentance, this is a grace. If you feel condemned, then this is from Satan and the forces of evil. Do not give in to this despair and negative self-view. Trust in the Lord.
4. You’re Not Sure If God Will Forgive You
If you have perfectionist tendencies, have given in to despair, obsess about past mistakes, and think that you are rotten… then certainly the thought has crossed your mind: “How could God forgive a wretched sinner like me?” This is the pride which caused Adam to sin and then hide from God in the garden. Where can we hide from the eyes of God? He knows everything we have done and why we have done it. Yet, He chooses to love us anyway! He never tires of forgiving us because He loves us.
God made us and He knows that we make mistakes. We are not all-knowing like Him, but He goes to terrific lengths for us to know His love. We are not all-present like Him, but He is always available to us to show us mercy. Let God’s forgiveness clean you, change you, and raise you up. Trust in the Lord.
5. You’re Not Sure if You Can Change
Life is change. As human beings, we are constantly moving, in some regard. We get better and worse all the time, in a variety of ways. We grow in one virtue and fall into vice in other ways. It is a constant struggle, but that does not mean that you are in capable of forward progress. With God, all things are possible. Please know, God is not out to get you. He loves you and wants you to grow. Sometimes this growth is painful, but we embrace it.
The scrupulous person will often become immobilized by their fear of not making any progress. They will impose upon themselves terrible burdens which are not well ordered. When burdensome penances are imposed upon someone in a healthy way, it is always under the watchful care of spiritual director. We cannot advise ourselves on spiritual matters no more than a doctor can do surgery on himself or herself.
In all things: trust in the Lord.