Scrupulosity; Religious OCD

Scrupulosity or Religious OCD is a subset of OCD. It occurs when a person experiences unwanted religious or immoral thoughts against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

10 Key Points About Scrupulosity OCD:

1. Morality on overdrive: Unlike regular religious or moral anxieties, scrupulosity OCD involves excessive and intrusive thoughts about sin, guilt, and religious purity. These thoughts can be relentless and distressing.

2. Not just religion: While it often affects religious individuals, scrupulosity OCD can focus on any moral code or set of rules, leading to obsessive worry about right and wrong in everyday life.

3. Compulsions for “cleansing”: To manage anxiety, individuals with scrupulosity OCD may engage in compulsive behaviours like excessive prayer, confession, seeking reassurance, or avoiding situations that trigger moral doubts.

4. Beyond “bad thoughts”: The core of scrupulosity OCD is not the content of the thoughts, but the intrusive nature and the intense distress they cause. Remember, everyone has intrusive thoughts sometimes, but OCD makes them feel uncontrollable and unbearable.

5. It’s a treatable condition: Scrupulosity OCD is a recognized subtype of OCD and is highly treatable with cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) techniques.

6. Professional help is key: If you suspect you or someone you know might have scrupulosity OCD, seeking professional help from a therapist specializing in OCD treatment is crucial. They can diagnose properly, develop a personalized treatment plan, and offer ongoing support.

7. Self-care matters: Prioritizing healthy habits like sleep, exercise, and relaxation techniques can help manage anxiety and build resilience against OCD symptoms.

8. You’re not alone: Scrupulosity OCD is more common than you might think. Connecting with others who understand the condition can offer valuable support and validation. Support groups and online communities can be helpful resources.

9. Challenge the cycle: Breaking the cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsions is key to recovery. With the help of a therapist, you can learn to challenge your obsessive thoughts, resist compulsions, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

10. Hope for the future: Remember, scrupulosity OCD is manageable. With dedication, support, and the right tools, you can live a fulfilling life free from its grip. Focus on building your emotional resilience and remember, your intrusive thoughts do not define your worth.

Bonus Tip: It’s important to note that religion and morality can provide comfort and guidance in life. While managing scrupulosity OCD, try to find healthy ways to connect with your faith or values without getting caught up in intrusive thoughts and anxieties.

What is Scrupulosity?

The Catholic Church first used Scrupulosity in a religious context to represent a preoccupation with sin and an accompanying act of contrition. The term now is more broadly associated with OCD, which has a religious theme.

Does it mean that I have lost my faith?

No. It might feel this way, but your faith is still intact. The thoughts you are experiencing are out of your control and result from the obsessions that occur within OCD. They do not reflect on you as a person.

Doubt and uncertainty are typical of OCD. Throughout this article, I intend to explain what is happening if you think you suffer from this type of OCD.

It can be challenging to recognise that your religious thoughts and practices are religious OCD. Often people do not talk about what is happening to them as they feel shame, guilt and worry they are losing their faith.

To others, you may appear devout, praying more than others or attending your place of worship more often than before. However, you may also become absent, as you fear the places and practices you believe may result in, for example, sinful thoughts. This is a symptom of OCD, where people avoid people, places and things out of fear.

You might speak with Church leaders to discuss your fears, seeking reassurance. Still, unless your confidant is also a trained therapist, they may miss what is happening to you and lack the skill to help you. It is not your faith that needs restoring; instead, your symptoms need treatment.

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Are there signs and symptoms of religious OCD?

Like all forms of OCD, scrupulosity will have both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts, and compulsions are the things you do. When you see your thoughts and behaviours regarding obsessions and compulsions, you see these as symptoms of something other than losing your faith.

Obsessions include

  • Having blasphemous thoughts
  • Fear of losing control and shouting things out in your place of worship

Compulsions can include

  • Excessive prayer
  • Excessive confession
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Avoiding areas of worship.

How is Religious OCD treated?

Can my minister help me?
Often at the start, people seek help from the minister. Still, you need an OCD therapist, as your faith is as strong as ever, but you need a therapist trained in OCD to help you with your symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Response Prevention will help you recover.


Cefalu, P. The Doubting Disease: Religious Scrupulosity and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Historical Context. J Med Humanit 31, 111–125 (2010).

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