Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday and Scrupulosity

Igreja e Antigo Mosteiro de São José ou da Esperança, Évora, Portugal
I confirmed my faith on Palm Sunday some 30 years ago, and then had first communion on Good Friday. OCD can infiltrate every aspect of your life, and the term for religious and moral obsessions is scrupulosity. Ironically, from the outside no one would ever suspect I had such struggles and turmoil about perfectly pleasing God. I was at church constantly. During Lent I went to every Wednesday night service and every night of Holy Week Services. I wrote prayers and devotionals. I took great pains to never hurt someone's feelings. I was quiet, compliant, conscientious, studious. I didn't swear.

This made my confirmation difficult, because as I knelt down to receive the blessing from the minister, obscenity hurtled into my mind. Suddenly, I was thinking words I would never say. I desparately wanted them gone. I agonized over what this meant about me, and how to make them stay away. I had been looking forward to my first communion, and yet, the first thing I thought of was "Will the thoughts come back?" which immediately brought the obscenities to mind in the self-generating way that OCD has. I couldn't be in the room, in the sanctuary of this church, because my OCD was compelling me into the future.

Existential questions heavy laden with intense anxiety and fear that I was doing everything wrong. Did I feel the "right" way during communion? Did I enjoy writing prayers more than loving God? How can people exist without being Christian? How do they get through life? Would God really reject them? I wrote long journal entries trying to figure this all out, until the point of exhaustion. In my heart, I had a passionate longing for God, and a sense of God's presence, but my constant analysis of every thought and action obliterated the possibility of comfort and peace.

Finally, in my 30's I stopped going to church, because the waves of compulsive figuring out of sermons, and fears of being imperfect and therefore damned and being afraid that if I couldn't figure out the meaning of suffering, or whether Christianity was the only way, or whether God was good, that I would disintegrate from the anxiety of these unanswered questions. I want to honor the heart of the girl I was, who loved God, but I'm still afraid.


  1. Oh that is so hard, and you know I get where you are coming from. OCD can destroy so much. In some ways I am glad I am questioning and seeking, but in other ways, I am unhappy that I feel alone and lost. Faith comes so easy to some people - and we don't even have faith we can ride the subway without getting the plague.
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  2. This is something that I understand more personally than I ever thought I would. I obsess about praying "correctly" so that everyone will be safe, among other things. My CBT says stop with the praying because it isn't real. It's only magical thinking. But my faith says that it is real. And necessary. I know that I love Jesus and the rest is just getting figured out. Slowly. It helps to know that there are other people who get it. OCD never gives us a breather. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. I came over here to see your blog, Expwoman, because you just recently started following mine, and I am so intrigued by you. I also have a mild form of OCD, and every one of my siblings has it too. Now that I am retired and no longer going to work every day, I am much more serene and centered. I also feel that scrupulosity was something I did long ago, and it can be destructive. I just read three of your posts and will now go and read some more!

  4. Blue Morpho--I too deal with the paradox of being glad I'm a seeker/questioner, and also feeling lost and alone.

    Angela--I was thinking about something in Jonathan Grayson's book where he says to pray for the strength to do exposures rather than turning prayer into a ritual. OCD is sneaky--I know in my life it has represented itself as faith, when in fact it wants to rule over my life.

    DJan--Nice to meet you! Thanks for the encouraging words and for reading! Hope you find some resonance.

  5. Scrupulosity is truly sneaky... I have a deep, very real faith, but it's been a long bitter journey to discern the magical OCD from the pull of what I believe is real and unseen. It's only been the gentleness of God, and clinging to that even when I'm sure I'm damned, that has carried me through. It's actually lead me to some very tender and peaceful places. I can honestly say that (after being diligent with CBT, meds, and wise godly counsel) I can enjoy my faith walk with Christ with relatively few intrusions of Scrupulosity. (And this after literally praying for death at times in the past...)

    The kicker is that you can "reality test" & be desensitized to other OCD symptoms, but how can you even have reasonable sureness about what's unseen? Trust has made an unbelievable difference. I couldn't find the help I needed in my darkest hour, but since turning a corner I have found a book that spells out verbatim what I found worked for me.

    It's called "Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?" by Ian Osborn. Skip the first few chapters on the stories of the saints (at least if you're acute) -it's a little depressing. But the chapters on trust, faith, and treatment are INCREDIBLE!

    Hope it helps some of you. My heart is with you. Thank God we know we are not alone.

  6. pebbleroad--thank you so much for your encouraging words! That you took the time to share your experience with scrupulosity is much appreciated. I had the great fortune to hear Ian Osborn speak at the IOCDF conference a couple years ago. He hadn't published his book yet, so I will definitely look for it now.

  7. I saw some post in another site regarding Philosophical OCD (Pure O).
    Any experience on your side?