Sunday, February 19, 2012

Showing my scrupulosity

I’ve been reading a record of my scrupulosity OCD.
I recently dug out journals that I kept when I was in high school. One covers the period from June 28, 1978 to Dec. 31, 1979. I used the other one more for poetry and stories. That one runs from Dec. 22, 1978 to July 4, 1981.
I was hoping to find some insight into how I was coping with OCD at the time, and what my ideas about life were.
Do you know the writing advice, “show, don’t tell”? It means it’s better to paint a picture of something, or give an illustration of something, rather than telling it.
Well, I didn’t write directly about any of my obsessions or compulsions, but I sure showed them.
On his Psychology Blog, Dr. Steven J. Seay recently wrote about scrupulosity. One of the compulsions that people with this manifestation of OCD may display is “Compulsive writing (e.g., Jesus loves me).”
I exhibited that on many of the pages of my journals. For example, different versions of “I love God” and “Praise God” intersperse entries describing my activities, sometimes for no obvious reason.
But what was most telling was evidence of my cycle of doubt and reassurance.
Part of my scrupulosity when I was young involved the idea of being “saved” in the fundamentalist Christian way. Sometimes I felt saved; sometimes I felt I wasn’t.
And, yes, my doubt and reassurance were based on feelings. I prayed until I felt right. I prayed until I felt saved. I felt fear, sadness and doom when I didn’t feel saved.
In my journals, on Jan. 4, 1979, I wrote, “From this day forth, my life belongs to God. Thanks, Lord!”
On March 4, 1979: “I just surrendered my life to God. Praise the Lord!”
On April 24, 1980: “Tonight God told me that I am saved, was saved May 2, 1975. No more doubts.”
Ah, but on April 27, 1980: “I committed myself to Christ tonight, and I KNOW I’m saved.”
I didn’t ever name my doubt in writing. I suspect it was because I thought I was the problem. I was a sinful person who just couldn’t give myself over to Jesus like I was supposed to. I had no knowledge or understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I no longer have that kind of scrupulosity. I’ll write more about that part of my journey in future posts.
I learned about myself by reading my journals. It just wasn’t what I expected to learn.
Have you experienced this manifestation of OCD? Do you have old journals that offer a look at your past self?


  1. Yes yes yes. Yes to every question you asked.

    My journals and "God Boxes" are full of compulsive writings about all my doubts, fears and prayers.

    I am a compulsive writer for sure and I always have been. My therapist says that is one of the "compulsions" to my scrupulosity obsessions. My therapist encourages me to write but along with the writing, I am now supposed to read it back to myself and look for scrupulosity and talk myself down from my scrupulosity and examine all my thoughts. It is really helping me.


  2. That is a good idea, to read it back and look for scrupulosity. Some of my more recent journals show some signs of scrupulosity, and I hate reading it later. Maybe I could use it as an exposure.

    Thanks, Elizabeth! :-)

  3. Wow, that's really interesting that you were able to see something so clearly about yourself in the past. I've never been much of a journal writer (though I've tried on several occasions) so I don't have anything like that to look back on. Wish I did. My blog is the closest thing I have to it now, so maybe I can eventually use it to learn something about myself too.

    As a Christian I have also wondered many times if I was truly saved too. There were times when my OCD wrecked havoc with the idea that I had sinned, that I was a hypocrite, that I was the worst Christian ever, etc. It sometimes still does bug me, but for the most part this obsession has managed to fade into slight background noise. I am most grateful for that.

  4. Hi, Sunny, so good to hear from you! I've finally been able to reach a place of peace (relative peace, anyway). Some of that has to do with frank talks that I've had with members of the clergy. Some of that has to do with my changing beliefs about God and the realization that we all are in a state of uncertainty when it comes to spiritual matters. Also, I don't buy into the belief system that I was taught in high school anymore. I'm a Christian, but I don't believe in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. I don't mean to insult you or anyone else who believes differently. That's just the way that I believe.

    1. Oh, I'm not insulted at all! I much prefer that people are up front with each other about their beliefs. Leads to more honest dialogue. One of my closer friends is really wary about God all together. We politely agree to disagree and still love and support each other. I've spoken with several members of my church staff too and that has helped me as well.

    2. Thanks, Sunny! We probably agree on more than we disagree.

  5. Sounds enlightening. I have a lot of old journals, but reading them can be bittersweet.

    1. Bittersweet is right. I actually feel depressed after reading mine. It wasn't a great time in my life.

  6. I think I was around 9 years old when I started a pattern of behavior that I'm certain wasn't exactly easy for my parents and was probably very frustrating when I look back as an adult. I'd go to bed, but I never fell right to sleep. First, I would make up a story. Then, it would take longer than the "acceptable" 10 or 15 minutes, or it would keep me up or whatever, somehow leaving me as having sinned by making up a story instead of going to sleep. So then, maybe an hour or two after going to bed, I'd try to pray, and somehow, maybe I'd hear the vacuum at the grocery store down the street and be afraid it was the final trumpet sound... (it's okay to laugh at that; I just did.) Anyway, I think there was a while when I was up lots of nights asking my parents about salvation and if I was saved and going to heaven and the unpardonable sin... I'm not sure how I could have come up with enough questions to fill all that time (spent earnestly, sometimes with tears) if it wasn't OCD. Probably the good old reassurance and checking. And yes, there was that other "ritual;" if uncertain about one's past salvation, just re-accept. It didn't quite go with my parents' doctrine, but that didn't stop it. My parents were in the "once saved, always saved" group, which doesn't stop OCD, because, "were you really saved in the first place?"

    And now I don't wonder if I'm saved; it's one of the basic facts I've accepted that keeps me alive. I've replaced that fear with other ones, like, am I living in rebellion right now? I'm I drifting away from God? Etc. It seems to me that you and I aren't the only ones with OCD to change our understanding of who God is/how He works and of what "being a Christian" means. I'm sure we all change in slightly different ways, but I know for myself that I had to change my focus when I learned about scrupulosity; I can't focus so much on sin and on whether or not I'm doing right. Even this change of focus feels like sin, but I feel that it is necessary in my quest of keeping my religion separate from my scrupulosity - or as separate as possible.

    As for my journal, I like to read it and am usually entertained when I do. One night recently when I was feeling particularly depressed, I read about a night when I was even more depressed. I had written something about how life wasn't worth living or wanting to die - one of those really depressed thoughts - but I wrote that I didn't think it was a depressed thought, it was just a fact. That cracked me up when I read it later, because it was so obviously not true. I even sort of recognized it when I wrote it, but looking back, I was clearly under the influence of depression. And once I'm amused, that goes a long way towards countering depression, so it worked out well.

    1. Abigail, Your experiences sound so familiar. That wondering if you were ever saved, the piling on of things to feel guilty about . . . so familiar.

      I think you're right. Most people's ideas about God change and shift as we get older. And, like you, I have had to change my focus, and sometimes that does feel like a sin.

      I applaud your sense of humor in helping you get through the OCD!

      Melanie, Thank you so much for commenting. I hope you are doing well.

  7. Tina -- thank you for "showing" this. You capture the essence of scrupulosity's doubt/reassurance cycle perfectly. I look forward to reading the next chapter.

    1. Thank you, Steven, for writing your post about scrupulosity. It has given me a lot of food for thought, and has helped me understand how it works.

  8. That is an interesting did bit, compulsive writing. Makes me want to pull my old journals out as well.

    1. Pulling out the old journals can be a good thing, but I was unprepared for the emotions it brought up. Thanks for commenting, Heather!

  9. Now you've got me curious. I wonder if i showed any ocd tendencies in my journals too.

    1. Now we're all going to be combing through our journals! :-)

  10. Hello, and thanks very much for your helpful article on scrupulosity and OCD. I've recently come across a helpful podcast to help those trying to deal with this condition and thought it could be a helpful addition to your site: May our good Lord lead all souls to His light and peace.

  11. Hello!

    I just wanted to say thank you for being so brave and sharing your story.
    I somehow came across your story on CNN tonight. I've known that I've had religious scrupulosity, but you are the first person to completely sum up and hit the nail on the head with EVERYTHING I experience.

    I have been struggling for years with religious OCD thoughts. I feel like EVERY time I do something slightly wrong or sin, I must immediately stop. I then have to think/pray saying, "I'm sorry for doing such-and-such. I know I was wrong. I ask for Your forgiveness."
    I have to do this and other similar rituals and repeat it over and over until I feel the relief from having done it and have really "meant it."

    I KNOW this is an OCD issue, but I still feel like I SHOULD be asking for forgiveness, when I do wrong things. However, it's turned into an insincere thing and just a ritual. Although, I fear that if I do NOT do this ritual/thought process, God won't listen to my prayers, or He'll punish me, or I'll be living with unforgiven sin and guilt (ie. I'm anxious.).

    I also relate to not being able to move on or do anything else until you have confessed and feel you've been forgiven. I've had this OCD issue on and off, sometimes bearable and sometimes really bad, but definitely consistently since I was little.
    It's so hard too, because it's a religious thing, and I know that I'm supposed to confess my sin, but I feel like others don't have this same issue.

    I know that was a lot, but thank you for listening and letting me know I'm not the only one.


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