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Faith and Religious Scrupulosity


From a young age, Sally cultivated her faith and valued her connection with the Divine. Nonetheless, in her early twenties, after reading an article that sparked doubts about her faith, she felt troubled. Unaware of OCD or scrupulosity, she blamed herself for the doubts. As she attempted to brush off the doubts and push down her distress, they only seemed to intensify.


“The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning. You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.”1

How would you take this advice? Are you willing to step into the darkness, unsure if the light will eventually appear?

If you are like Sally, you may have been raised by loved ones who deeply valued their faith. For many religious individuals, faith encompasses trust, loyalty, and belief in a Supreme Being, even in the absence of proof or evidence. The Bible describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”2

As faith was crucial to Sally, she learned that faith is like a small seed: if nurtured, it would grow. 3 It was up to her to engage in activities that would strengthen her faith and deepen her connection with God, despite the doubts she faced.

Questions to ponder:

  • How am I nourishing my faith?
  • Are my daily activities providing vitality, energy, and passion?
  • Can I feel God’s love when engaging in these activities?

Religious Scrupulosity OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often referred to as the “doubting disease,” and this is particularly evident in religious scrupulosity OCD, where individuals perceive sin where there is none.4 The underlying force driving these unhelpful behaviors, which include both avoidant and compulsive actions, is a profound sense of doubt and uncertainty. Despite engaging in compulsive behaviors in an attempt to achieve certainty and alleviate their doubts, individuals often find that these doubts persist, trapping them in a relentless cycle of OCD.

When struggling with scrupulosity OCD, your mind might insist that you must practice your religion perfectly to gain grace from God. These thoughts and feelings are incessant. Any actions you take to either avoid or fix this internal discomfort can entrench you further in the scrupulosity trap.

Scrupulosity OCD is ego-dystonic. The thoughts, doubts, and emotions you experience are at odds with the person you are and aspire to be. Thus, the desire to find answers to your doubts is relentless.

Sally didn’t realize her struggles were related to OCD. Her logical, problem-solving mind suggested, “If I abandon my spiritual activities, these overwhelming emotions should subside.” She chose to follow this unhelpful advice from her OCD mind. However, she soon discovered that OCD morphs, continually targeting other significant areas of one’s life.

Eventually, Sally found a clinician skilled in treating OCD and educated herself from reliable sources about the disorder. You might also find the following resources helpful.


OCD treatment provider directory: IOCDF)

Scrupulosity Book:“Imperfectly Good” 

Mindset Family Therapy Blog

Scrupulosity OCD Podcast: “What’s the Scoop on Scrup?”

OCD app: Stick with the Ick

Please remember:

  • Approximately one in one hundred adults, and one in two hundred children and adolescents in the United States struggle with OCD.5
  • OCD is a genetic predisposition,6 a neurological condition,7 and a behavioral challenge.8
  • When individuals struggle with OCD, and if faith and spiritual activities matter greatly to them, OCD will target those values.9
  • The overwhelming thoughts, doubts and other emotions are NOT caused by someone’s faith and spirituality. 9
  • Engaging in faith and spiritual activities does NOT cause OCD. 9
  • Doubts are a natural part of life, and questioning one’s faith is a common experience. It is what one does (i.e., avoidant and compulsive behaviors) with those doubts that matter.
  • Scrupulosity OCD is NOT a personal flaw or a faith problem. 9 It is a mental health condition.10

You too can disrupt the OCD cycle!


  1. Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Edge of the Light,” BYU Magazine, Mar. 1991.
  2. Hebrews 11:1
  3. Alma 32:28, 42-43
  4. Joseph W. Ciarrocchi, The Doubting Disease Help for Scrupulosity and Religious Compulsions. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1995).
  5. The International OCD Foundation. “Who Gets OCD?.” https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/who-gets-ocd/
  6. David L. Pauls, “The Genetics of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Review,” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 12, no. 2 (2010): 149–63, https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2010.12.2/ dpauls]
  7. Jonathan Grayson, Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty (New York: Berkley Books, 2004).
  8. Annabella Hagen, Imperfectly Good: “Navigating Religious and Moral Anxiety to Release Fear and Find Peace.” (Provo, Utah: Mindset Family Therapy, 2023).
  9. The International OCD Foundation. “Living with OCD & Religious Traditions.” Differentiating Faith from OCD. Rev. Katie O’Dunne and Ted Witzig  https://iocdf.org/faith-ocd/living-with-ocd-religious-traditions/
  10. The International OCD Foundation. “What is Scrupulosity?” C. Alec Pollard, PhD; revised in 2022 by Jedidiah Siev, PhD.) https://iocdf.org/faith-ocd/what-is-ocd-scrupulosity/#:~:text=Obsessive%20compulsive%20disorder%20(OCD)%20is,cycle%20of%20obsessions%20and%20compulsions

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

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A guide to help you find relief and happiness in spite of religious or moral OCD (scrupulosity OCD). Learn more about Annabella Hagen's book.
Imperfectly Good - Book by Annabella Hagen

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