How To Overcome Scrupulosity - Religious Anxiety/OCD - Common Scrupulosity Fears
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In this new series, we are going to discuss Scrupulosity OCD. Scrupulosity OCD is a form of OCD focusing around one’s religion or morality. It's common to also hear it referred to as religious OCD or moral OCD and can lead to a hyper-focus on morality and whether or not something is right and wrong.
Scrupulosity is one of the various subsets of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that can be identified in individuals who experience repetitive, intrusive thoughts (otherwise known as obsessions) surrounding a discrepancy in their religious or moral beliefs.
So in this first episode, we are going to talk about faith and fear and how they intersect with our religious beliefs so we can begin recognizing and separating our fear and anxiety from our actual faith.
All right. Hey there. And welcome to another episode where we're going to talk about unwanted thoughts relating to one's religion, or, you know, what some people call scrupulosity. And so, um, for those of you that don't know me, my name's Matt Codde, I'm a licensed clinical social worker and I'm the founder of restored minds. And so on this episode, I want to, I want to dive into this topic of religious fears, right? Or religious anxiety, um, sometimes called scrupulosity, some kind sometimes called religious OCD. And it all usually falls into the category of what people call pure O or OCD or pure, purely obsessional OCD. Right. And so there's obviously many different kind of names that people throw at this, but really what we're talking about is the same thing. Right. When we all break it down, pretty simple. It's the idea of, we have a fear pop in our mind, right?
Usually a what if thought? Right. And by its very nature, right? What if, meaning it's not happening right now? It's like, what if in the future this happens, right? Or what if in the past this happened, right? That's that's where anxiety lives. Right. It lives in the past or the future. It can't live right now. Right. And so like, because if it was happening right now, we'd be dealing with it right now. The very fact that we're worrying about what if it happens or what if it happened means that we're dealing with some form of anxiety. Right?
So the idea pops up of what if, and then something bad that usually happens related to one's religious beliefs. So this could be things like, you know, what if God sends me to hell, right? What if God stops loving me? What if I lose salvation? Uh, or my salvation. And again, this can be cross different religions, right? This doesn't just have to be, um, Christianity, although I will, I will say that, you know, the overwhelming majority of the cases that I've worked with usually are around, um, you know, usually involve Christianity. And so, and when I dealt with OCD, this is what I experienced in, in, in, you know, as part of my, uh, struggle with OCD. So that's what I relate to the best. And it's my personal understanding. But again, I have met people that have dif other religious beliefs where this does apply as well.
And then there's also these past ideas of like, what if I committed the unforgivable sin? Right. What if I did something right. If I send and I don't remember, and I wasn't forgiven. Right. And so, and I, and I can't list like every single thought, but this spectrum of thought right, is really where this idea of what we call scrupulosity exists, right? What we call like, you know, this fear around religious, your religious beliefs. And when we're talking about how to overcome this, it's important that we understand the problem that we're dealing with, right? Because if we assume that this is a problem related to one's religious beliefs, we're always going to do behaviors to try to neutralize it, right? Because that's our person, our perception of the problem. So the biggest challenge I would say is working as someone who went through this as, also with someone who's working with, you know, people that, that deal with this particular fear is, is really understanding what problem we're dealing with.
And when we understand it as an anxiety problem, as a problem of OCD or a problem of scrupulosity, then we begin to solve that particular problem. If we continue to perceive this problem, as anything related to one's religious beliefs, the struggle becomes, we're always going to try to solve that problem. Right? So if we, if we have a fear that we may have offended God, instead of realizing that the fear that we're having is of the problem, not actually offending God, right? But the fear of offending God is the problem, which are two separate things, right? That is dissecting those and separating those problems is critical to one success with this, right. Once recovery. Because if we assume that what we're afraid of is the problem. We're not even addressing the idea. That fear is a problem in the situation, right. We're actually used fear as a validation as to why the problem is real, right.
We, we have a confirmation bias, right? It's the same way as someone who has a fear of contamination, well, they don't tell me that they have a fear of contamination. What they will say is I'm a F you know, I'm afraid of getting AIDS. Let's say I'm afraid of getting this disease. And they think the disease is the problem. And I'll ask them, I'll be like, well, you know, how many times have you gotten the disease will never. And how long have you been worrying about it? Well, years. Right. You know, and, and once we start to realize, it's like, well, maybe your fear of the disease is the problem. Right. And separating that for the person. Once we can begin to understand that, then we understand, okay, well, if we're dealing with a fear problem, and then we can actually address fear. But if we think that what we're afraid of is the actual problem, we're always going to be using our fear as a, as a biased and a confirmation bias as to why that actually is the problem and why this treatment doesn't work and why this is, you know, this is in justifying all the behaviors that we're doing.
Right. So just to really, you know, kind of go back to the same things that we talk about again and again, right. Um, with these loops, the loops have the same four components, right? You have the obsession or the fear that what if thought the anxiety, right? Which is that emotional experience, the stress response in our body that fight or flight. Right. And the reason that it's, that we feel it so much is because with anxiety, because nothing's happening right now, this surge of energy that's comes up, that's designed to put us in motion to fight or flight. It just surfaces in our body, which is one of the reasons why anxiety is so uncomfortable when we feel it so much is because there's nothing actually to do with that energy. If I have the fear, you know, what, if I get possessed, right. That was a fear that I had.
Right. Um, what if I get possessed? Well, I'm not getting possessed right now. Right. You know, like, it's, it's this fear of what if it happens and that stress response surfaces, right. It it's very uncomfortable. Right. There's a huge surge of energy. And then when I do a safety behavior to feel that relief or neutralize that stress well, that's what causes that loop to build, which then fuels the thought, which then makes the anxiety worse, which then means I have to do the behavior more. And that's the loop that we get caught him. And when it comes to screen for the last day, I mean, this is a, um, you know, very old, you know, very old cycle, right. That we have a lot of documented cases of this actually in, in fact, I, you know, it's, it's very, it's very likely in many ways that this is some of the, the older oldest cases of the OST and anxiety realm.
Right. Because, um, by its very nature, that concept of thinking of the higher being of God, right. I mean, this is something that's been in, in human culture for, um, for as long as humans have existed. Right. And so the fear of God is, is been, been around for a very long time. Right. Where germs during the fear of germs didn't exist till germ theory existed. Right. So, um, these, these cases of OCD have been obviously, um, have manifested in and been part of documented history for, um, you know, a long time. Right. And a famous case is Martin Luther. Right. Um, who, who had a famous case of scrupulosity, right. Um, Martin Luther, the, um, with the Protestant church, I believe is the Protestant church, but um, not, not Martin Luther King just wanted to separate that. Right. He was a, um, a religious scholar.
So, but I digress the point, the point I'm making here is, is that the first key and really overcoming right. Script velocity. And on this series, I want to talk about, you know, religious thoughts is separate, right? That's like the first thing that we need to do. That's all I, in fact, I'm going to cover in this episode because I'm, you know, I'll go into some stuff in a future episode. But, um, but with this, I mean the very, very first thing that we need to do is separate. What problem are we actually dealing with? And if there, if this is something that you've been locked onto for a period of time, we to understand the difference between the problem that you think is going on in your head and the fear of that problem. And once we can start to separate that, and we understand this as a fear problem, especially if you've gone to your pastor or, you know, people in your congregation and you're new, you're getting the same reassurance from them again and again and again, because a lot of the behaviors that you're going to engage in, in fact, that's what I'll cover in the next episode, is there kind of like a list of different safety behaviors that go along with scrupulosity that you're really going to want to look for, but a lot of those safety behaviors include things like checking and reassurance, right.
And, you know, doing the same prayer rituals and all that. Right. So, and when you're doing that out of fear, that's not doing it out of faith right. In, in separating fear. And faith is very, very important. Um, when it comes to, you know, this particular, these particular anxieties and this particular subset of OCT. So, um, in this episode, the, the main thing that I want to cover is this idea of learning to separate what you're dealing with. Right. And, and really understanding the difference between being afraid, uh, being, have, having a situation like, you know, what if God sends me to hell or what if I get possessed versus the fear of that happening, right. And, and learning to separate what it is that you're actually reacting to. Um, and, and that is very, very crucial in, in overcoming this particular struggle. So hopefully that makes sense.
And, um, and hopefully that's helpful. And then in the next episode, I'm going to go ahead and talk about different safety behaviors that people with scrupulosity and religious obesity often engage in. So maybe you can, um, start to identify, you know, certain things, if this is something that you struggle with in your life or someone, you know, and, um, yeah. And, and so we'll go ahead and dive into that in the next episode. Um, if you found this helpful, again, we have additional resources. In fact, we have a whole workshop on screen velocity that we did over at restored minds, um, that you can get access to. Um, and we, we really go in depth on that and, and we have a whole, you know, trainings, coaching calls, as well as a additional resources for you on your journey. If this is something you struggle with. So again, thank you so much for taking the time to hang out today. And then in the next episode, I'm going to go ahead and continue on this series. Um, and we're going to go and dive into different safety behaviors that are really common with, uh, scrupulosity and religious OCD. So thank you so much. And I hope you guys have a wonderful day and I will see you soon. Take care.
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