Common Obsessional Themes In Christians With Scrupulosity OCD
Does the faith meant to free you seem more like a prison lately because of scrupulosity? Instead of feeling the joy of being a ‘prisoner of the Lord’ because of God’s love (Ephesians 4:1), does it feel like a spiritually-focused servitude devoid of hope? For scrupulosity OCD strugglers, such experiences are ever-present and difficult to handle.
Much of the grief those with scrupulosity (OCD with religious and moral themes) feel is going through life feeling like they’re alone in their struggle. It can quickly feel like you’re the only one on the planet with those specific obsessive thoughts and resulting actions. But the reality is many individuals struggle with religious scrupulosity.
While all of us are unique in how God created us, similarities in how we process life and react to it are common. Concerning OCD in Christians, that also holds true. There are some reoccurring themes in religious obsessive-compulsive disorder I’ve found through my work. Let’s take a look.
This type of scrupulosity symptom focuses on the worry that a repentance experience once believed to be authentic might have been fake, not fully sincere or done incorrectly. The scrupulous fear God will disqualify their faith due to them “repenting wrong.”
Thankfully, salvation is about putting faith in Christ and His perfection and not in trying to prove our own goodness. God is far more concerned about a broken and contrite heart (i.e., humility) than He is about the exact style, feelings, or wording of repentance attempts. But for those struggling with this scrupulosity theme, that can be difficult to see.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Psalm 51:17 (KJV)
Speaking Curse Words
This religious OCD symptom deals with the fear of cursing in front of others. It’s concerned with the fear of judgment by fellow believers or of being a bad example to unbelievers. The persistent, intense fear of blurting out curse words during a church service can lead to debilitating avoidance measures.
Those who struggle in this way may stay away from church services or avoid mingling with others. They also may worry they unknowingly said a curse word and obsess over past interactions as a result.
Especially for Jesus followers, speaking the truth should be a serious concern. After all, Jesus spoke of Satan as “the father of lies.” Jesus, on the other hand, is perfect truth.
The fear of lying is taken to the extreme in this obsessional theme, however. Innocent dialogues are often overanalyzed by strugglers, making them worry they intentionally lied when they did not. As a result, they may apologize for ‘lies’ when they didn’t lie at all.
Sometimes these individuals worry about things they said. Other times, they worry about what they didn’t say (an omission). Often, individuals who obsess about lying will speak in generalities or add phrases such as “I think” or “possibly” in order to prevent having to speak with certainty.
The Unforgivable Sin
Some scrupulous individuals obsess over Jesus’ words discussing how all sins can be forgiven except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirt. Their chief worry is that they committed the unforgivable sin.
They overanalyze interpretations of this scripture passage, agonizing over differing thoughts provided online and in Bible commentaries. They may also seek reassurance from others that they haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.
Usually, the person can’t easily identify or communicate how they might have committed the unpardonable sin. Even so, feelings that this has happened can be overwhelming and the resulting despair crippling.
Blasphemous Images and Thoughts
These religious OCD symptoms involve ‘blasphemous pictures’ that flash into the mind and the subject matter is alarming to those who experience it. For example, visuals can involve sexual experiences with spiritual figures from the Bible.
These images often enter the mind at the worst times imaginable to the sufferer such as during church worship services, prayer times or while reading the Bible. Such experiences are highly troubling to those who encounter them, leading to significant worries that one’s faith might be in jeopardy.
Confessing the Same Thing
With this obsession, the morally scrupulous can’t find relief after confessing sin. That is, even if they felt temporary relief after confessing, the feelings of shame and fear of judgement return. Repeatedly confessing the same thing leaves them no closer to forgiveness in their minds. So, they confess the same occurrences again…and again. They oftentimes live with a confused perspective on the difference between guilt and shame.
Despite reassurance to the contrary from their friends of the faith, family, spiritual leaders and God’s word, they continue to confess the same thing repeatedly, feeling like they must in order to prevent condemnation.
Although we should take our motives seriously as a believer, those with this Christian OCD theme take this one to the extreme. All thoughts and actions are overanalyzed to the point that strugglers often feel they have lived or spoken in an impure way.
For example, a brother or sister may worry they told God they love Him when they can’t be 100% sure their intentions were genuine and pure. This can cause individuals with this obsession to doubt their purity of commitment to others and God and worry that their salvation could be at stake.
Unworthy of Communion
Individuals who struggle with this obsessional theme do all they can to ensure they haven’t offended God or someone else leading up to communion. Sometimes they think of things that happened years or decades prior and wonder if they truly repented or made full restitution.
Pressured and last-minute confessions before communion commonly occur as they read into their motives. So much that those they ask forgiveness of may not have thought twice about what the scrupulosity sufferer confessed.
Regardless of how much heart preparation is made, the individual does not feel ‘worthy’ to take communion when the time finally comes to do so. Often, instead of thinking about the meaning of communion as being a time of remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us, the scrupulous person is consumed with trying to make sure that they are “perfect enough to be worthy.”
Can’t Feel Peace
Although feelings are important, they are elevated too high with this obsessional theme. Unconfessed sin can’t be found and yet a lack of peace hangs over all. Despite reassurance from their church family and leadership, those struggling in this way still can’t find what feels like peace to them.
As human beings, our emotions can be fickle. Scrupulosity OCD makes the feeling of peacefulness very elusive. These individuals are often seeking an emotional confirmation and the corresponding physical sensations of peacefulness. While we all love to have a peaceful feeling, it is important to remember that our peace with God is about being in relationship with Christ. He is our peace.
Other Obsessional Themes
Numerous other scrupulosity symptoms and themes exist besides the ones highlighted in this article. Some of them include the following.
Altruistic Obsessions: Individuals with this type of obsession fear that they have or might miss doing something that God wants them to do. Certainly, it is good to be obedient to Christ and, unfortunately, we all sometimes miss opportunities that we have. However, God’s desire is for us to serve Him and others out of love and not out of an unhealthy fearfulness.
An example of an altruistic obsession might be if a scrupulous person was on a bus and thought, “If I don’t share Christ with all of these people, it will be my fault if they go to hell.” The scrupulous person then feels the shame of being a terrible Christian for not witnessing to all the passengers and feels the burden of being responsible for their souls.
Thoughts of Harming Others: That could be thoughts of harming a baby, hitting a pedestrian with a car or urges to hurt a defenseless or weak individual.
Unwanted Sexual Thoughts: The fear of being gay or of molesting a child are examples.
In Conclusion: God Understands and Loves You
One of the greatest needs scrupulous individuals have is to feel understood. As you read through these common obsessional themes in scrupulosity OCD, I hope you have a greater understanding that you aren’t alone in your challenges and that God hasn’t abandoned you (even if it may feel like it at the moment).
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (ESV)
If you find that your specific scrupulosity struggle wasn’t mentioned in this article, please keep in mind that there are many obsessional themes besides those discussed here. Even if you’ve never met another person who has intrusive thoughts like you, others around the country and world are struggling in a surprisingly similar way to you. You are not alone!
Is Scrupulosity OCD Interfering with Your Faith and Life?
Apostolic Christian Counseling and Family Services (ACCFS) is here to assist you in your scrupulosity OCD recovery process. Combining clinical excellence and Biblical obedience, we strive for a compassionate treatment approach. We’re convinced that God’s love for scrupulosity strugglers is strong and we want to share that same kindness with you.
One of the first best steps you can take in your OCD treatment journey is to learn more about scrupulosity and how to overcome it. Please feel free to check out our video, audio and article resources for additional scrupulosity help.