Allie seemed to enjoy her friends and extracurricular activities. She was a busy teenager but preferred to spend more time engaging in religious behaviors (e.g., praying, singing religious songs, and reading scriptures) than her friends. Allie’s parents had noticed her altruist behavior and dedication and often praised her for it.
Allie’s behaviors were driven by her guilt, shame, and uncertainty. The urge to serve others did not seem to satisfy her doubts. Allie and her parents had not realized that her excessive devotion to follow her moral and religious beliefs were actually an indication she was struggling with scrupulosity OCD.
“Do I deserve God’s blessings? Am I good enough? Didn’t Jesus say to be as perfect as he is? These blasphemous thoughts have to stop! I’m not doing enough for my neighbors. I don’t deserve happiness. There are so many people suffering in the world. I don’t even stand a chance!” Her doubts and unpleasant thoughts and feelings were incessant. She began to withdraw emotionally and physically from family and friends. Her parents began to worry but weren’t sure what to do.
Many parents, relatives, faith leaders, and even some professionals are not able to recognize that when teens’ exhibit extreme anxiety and perseverant behaviors related to their religious and moral beliefs, they may have scrupulosity OCD.
No one needs to suffer in silence especially young people who are already preoccupied with their natural transitions and uncertainties (e.g., social relationships, self-acceptance and self-identity issues) at their age. The good news is that there is help for this condition and the sooner they get appropriate treatment, the sooner they can go back to living a vital life. Below are some of the signs a young person may be exhibiting moral and/or religious scrupulosity OCD.
Signs your adolescent may be struggling with scrupulosity OCD:
- Excessive performance of religious and altruistic behaviors.
- High and unrealistic self-expectations regarding religious and moral beliefs.
- Expressing worries regarding worthiness and fears of not being good enough.
- Reassurance seeking behaviors. Constantly asking parents, peers, clergy and other adults questions they cannot possibly know the answers to such as “Do you think I will make it to heaven? Am I worthy of God’s blessings? Will I be forgiven for my thoughts?”
- Inability to notice and accept their strengths and positive behaviors.
- Excessive words of apology such as “Did I offend you? I am so sorry. Sorry, sorry!”
- Disengaging from friends and activities they used to enjoy.
- Behaviors that indicate lack of confidence and self-doubt.
- Inflicting self-physical punishment because they believe they are undeserving of anything positive that comes into their lives.
- Behaviors that indicate they are feeling shame for no apparent negative behavior.
- Emotional meltdowns for no apparent reason.
- Constant put downs and comparison with others.
- Academic challenges that weren’t present before.
- Unable to agree with logic given by others who are trying to console and reassure them.
- Constant washing or bathing to “get rid” of unwanted thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
- Sacrificing joy and earthly privileges to show devotion and/or repentance.
How you can help your adolescent?
- Be patient.
- Love them unconditionally.
- Still expect them to do their chores and tasks assigned at home and at school.
- Meet them half-way if necessary.
- Listen and validate their struggles.
- Invite them to tell you about their hardships. Don’t try to fix anything. Listen and validate.
- Set the example of balance and moderation in all areas of your life.
- Seek professional help and be an active participant in your teen’s treatment.
- If you also struggle with scrupulosity OCD or other emotional and mental health challenge, find a clinician that can help you.
- Remember that loving your child doesn’t mean enabling them. Follow your teen’s clinician’s recommendation regarding this issue.
Above all, remember to find ways to connect with your teen every day. Enjoy the moments you have together. Remember to look for the sunshine after every storm. Yes, the sun always shines afterwards!
“Adolescence is not about letting go. It’s about hanging on during a very bumpy ride.” –Ron Taffel