What is Scrupulosity OCD?
Scrupulosity OCD is a lesser-known, but common subtype of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) where a person experiences unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges about violating their religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. This OCD subtype is not limited to any particular belief system—scrupulosity OCD can develop in anyone with a high standard of morals, values, ethics, and spirituality.
Why is it called scrupulosity OCD?
The Roman Catholic church was the first to use the word “scrupulosity” to describe people who were obsessed and compelled to atone for their sins.
While scrupulosity was initially used in a religious context, the definition is much broader today. Scrupulosity OCD is broken down into two categories – Moral Scrupulosity and Religious Scrupulosity – that have obsessions and compulsions based on the fear of engaging in immoral behavior.
The 2 Categories of Scrupulosity OCD: Moral vs. Religious
People with moral scrupulosity can be preoccupied with whether or not they’re treating people fairly, lying to themselves or others, or having insidious motives behind their actions.
People with religious scrupulousness can feel anxious over the thought of being blasphemous by offending their god, committing a sin, or praying incorrectly.
Causes of Scrupulosity OCD
The exact cause of scrupulosity OCD is not known, but there is research behind other forms of OCD that show it may be a result of a combination of factors (e.g., genetics, environmental factors, etc.)
OCD is known to center around the important parts of a person’s life. Research indicates that those with strong religious or spiritual connections who develop OCD are more likely to struggle with Scrupulosity than other subtypes of OCD.
While more research is needed, scrupulosity does not discriminate between religious beliefs and practices. Nor does a person have to be religious to struggle with scrupulosity. OCD attaches to things we value the most.
Symptoms of Scrupulosity OCD
The symptoms of scrupulosity OCD vary from person to person. What ties this disorder together is the anxiety and the compulsion to perform behaviors as a means of short-term relief.
- Offending your deity
- Committing sins
- Praying incorrectly
- Unconsciously discriminating against people
- Acting unethically
- Wondering whether you’re truly a “good” person or not
- Excessive praying
- Frequent confessing
- Making deals with deity to avoid sin or going to “hell”
- Seeking reassurance from religious leaders
- Avoiding situations where immoral acts or thoughts might happen
- Proving to yourself that you’re a good person through actions
- Oversharing so you don’t accidentally lie
- Debating ethics with yourself
- Doing “good” things to make up for the “bad” things you’ve done
Treatment for Scrupulosity OCD
Different Types of Treatment
Like all types of OCD, the treatments for scrupulosity are Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP), and inference-based CBT.
During treatment, a person will learn that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts. They’ll learn Intrusive thoughts have no power over them, and engaging in their compulsions only strengthens their intrusive thoughts by giving credibility to their fears and obsessions.
The Goal of Treatment
The goal of treatment for scrupulosity is not for a person to abandon their values or beliefs. The goal is to challenge their intrusive thoughts so that they’re able to engage more fully in their life and what they truly value.
The Bottom Line
No one can be certain they’re doing what is absolutely “right” or if they’re a truly “good” person. There will always be the risk that we unintentionally do something that doesn’t align with our morals, beliefs, or ethics.
The ultimate goal is to strive to be simply good enough rather than wholly good.
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