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Scrupulosity: The obsessive fear of not being good enough - BBC Reel

1.31.22

Last October, Madeline Johnson, a video producer for BBC Reel, reached out and asked if she could interview me about Scrupulosity OCD. There isn’t enough awareness about this type of OCD, so I was glad to be a small part of this excellent BBC Reel presentation: Scrupulosity: The obsessive fear of not being good enough.

Many individuals throughout the world often ask themselves in confusion, “Why are my faith and moral values causing me so much pain and suffering?”

Eventually, through friends, relatives, or internet searches, they find out that their anxiety related to their faith and moral values actually has a name: scrupulosity obsessive-compulsive disorder. They feel great relief that there is actually a name for their anxiety and that treatment is available.

Thank you Shay for sharing your story. Madeline, Andrew Dittmann and the BBC staff did an amazing job illustrating it!

Below are some of the most common obsessions and compulsions associated with religious and moral scrupulosity. Notice those you currently struggle with. As you read through these obsessions and compulsions, you may find some overlap between moral and religious OCD.

Religious Scrupulosity

Obsessions

  • Fear of offending God (deliberately or inadvertently) with: 
    • Blasphemous or sexual thoughts
    • Uncertainty about inappropriate sexual or perceived harmful behaviors
    • Not keeping your religion’s principles perfectly
    • Not serving God and/or others perfectly
  • Fear of having acted sinfully
  • Fear of a punishing God and receiving His condemnation
  • Fear that your intentions, feelings, and sensations are wrong
    • You doubt your faith and feel sinful for doing so.
    • You believe you are using OCD as an excuse for your perceived sinful thoughts.
    • You believe certain feelings and sensations are sinful (e.g., anger, sexual arousal).
  • High responsibility and self-blame for your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges
  • Fear that you may be a culprit in someone’s death, or feelings of eternal doom
  • Fear of sexual thoughts related to deity or religious authorities
  • Fear of being possessed by Satan and/or other evil spirits

Compulsions

  • Avoiding anything that triggers unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges
  • Seeking reassurance with public or private behaviors (e.g., repeatedly talking to yourself or confessing to someone to get reassurance that you wouldn’t or didn’t commit a certain sin, or to find relief from unwanted thoughts, feelings, and/or sensations)
  • Repeating religious rituals until you feel God has listened to and accepted your prayers and/or offerings
  • Engaging in behaviors that help you remember you did not do anything sinful
  • Continually criticizing or inflicting physical punishment on yourself for immoral thoughts, past or future immoral misdeeds, or as “motivation” to be a better person
  • Washing or bathing to “get rid of” unwanted “sinful” thoughts, feelings, and sensations
  • Bargaining with God to ensure forgiveness and find relief from intense guilt and other unwanted emotions
  • Excessive and repetitive behaviors or thoughts (rumination) about how you can make things better or undo “bad” thoughts, feelings, sensations, and/or urges
  • Continually asking God for forgiveness
  • Constantly reviewing your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges to ensure yourself you haven’t acted in opposition to your religious beliefs
  • Sacrificing joy and earthly privileges to show God your devotion and/or repentance

Moral Scrupulosity

Obsessions

  • Worrying about whether you have behaved inappropriately against your ethical and moral beliefs in the various roles you have in life (e.g., as a family member, friend, neighbor, or citizen)
  • Obsessing about past behaviors and whether you have inadvertently hurt someone either emotionally, physically, or financially
  • Worrying about past behaviors you’ve resolved and questioning whether you’ve done enough to fix things or have missed an important part of the situation either inadvertently or purposely
  • Obsessing about the possible consequences of being found out for your perceived misdeeds
  • Worrying about being unworthy of respect, appreciation, and love because of past behaviors (i.e., impostor syndrome)
  • Mentally replaying the different scenarios where you may have compromised your moral standards
  • Continuously reviewing past experiences to “discover” whether you did more than you actually remember
  • Constantly worrying about an action or lack of action that may cause harm to others in the present or the immediate or distant future
  • Taking blame and emotional responsibility for others’ misfortunes

Compulsions

  • Avoiding anything that triggers the unwanted thoughts, emotions, sensations, and urges that bring up uncertainty regarding your moral behavior
  • Seeking reassurance that you are not as bad as your OCD mind says you are (e.g., asking loved ones, reading information, or mentally going back in time to ensure you actually didn’t do anything wrong)
  • Criticizing self and inflicting physical punishment for immoral thoughts or an immoral past as “motivation” to be better a person
  • Ritualized words and/or behaviors that decrease anxiety, guilt, uncertainty, and other unwanted emotions and sensations related to your moral values
  • Excessive “altruistic” behaviors that reassure you that you are a good person (though, in reality, they’re appeasing the OCD demands)
  • Constantly reviewing possible scenarios and preparing for the worst
  • Ruminating and rationalizing to find relief from unwanted thoughts, feelings, and sensations
  • Constantly reviewing your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges to make sure you haven’t acted against your values
  • Repeatedly sacrificing joy and privileges for the sake of others because you don’t think you deserve happiness

Please go to the IOCDF website for more information.

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

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