Religious and Moral Fears

A number of individuals with OCD have significant fears related to religion.  They may fear, for example, that they somehow are praying to the devil or will go to hell if they look at a religious statue the wrong way. Worries about imagined sins and other religious matters, which has sometimes been referred to as religious Scrupulosity, include:

  • Thoughts or fears of being unworthy of salvation
  • Fears that prayers have been said incorrectly or parts have been left out
  • Thoughts that sins have been committed or that God is displeased about certain actions, and atonement should be made
  • Belief that one isn’t religious enough and must practice his or her religion more, or more perfectly, or it “doesn’t count”

In some cases, individuals with religious scrupulosity experience intrusive, blasphemous thoughts:

  • Repeated sacrilegious thoughts or thoughts/fears of making blasphemous comments during religious services
  • Intrusive thoughts (including sexual thoughts) about religious figures or God
  • Fears of being or becoming possessed by evil spirits or the devil

Rituals associated with religious Scrupulosity may involve exaggerated actions such as:

  • Praying or performing religious rituals for an extended period of time, for example, many hours a day (in some cases, rituals are lengthy because they have to be done “perfectly” or “enough”)
  • Continually asking for God’s forgiveness and repeatedly confessing perceived sins, either to God through prayers or to a member of the clergy
  • Constantly mulling over one’s actions, wondering if the behavior was sinful or if words had double meanings of a sacrilegious nature
  • Trying to cancel out “bad” thoughts with “good” thoughts or more religious thoughts; trying to “make up for” bad thoughts by thinking the same number of good thoughts
  • Saying prayers a certain multiple number of times, or (in some religions) making the sign of the cross a specific number of times before, during or after praying

Other people with OCD have fears of breaking moral rules, sometimes known as moral Scrupulosity.  These may include fears such as:

  • Lying to others
  • Cheating
  • Allowing someone to provide help with a project or an answer on homework
  • Failing to say “please” and “thank you” all the time

Examples of rituals related to moral Scrupulosity include:

  • Apologizing or confessing that something was (or is thought to have been) wrong, such as breaking rules, including classroom rules, office policy
  • Constantly seeking reassurance that a task has been completed right or perfectly; seeking affirmation that a mistake was not made
  • Asking others for reassurance that he or she has not done something socially offensive
  • Avoiding answering questions for fear of telling a lie

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