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  • Writer's pictureThe OCD Catholic

You asked, I answered!

OCD and scrupulosity aren’t among some of the more publicized mental disorders, which can prompt a lot of questions. I love getting questions because it gives me a chance to clear up some misconceptions. One of my hopes for this space is to eventually have a thorough “FAQ” page, but until then some Q&A’s will have to do.

1. What can friends/family do to help ease the burden of someone with scrupulosity?

This is such a great question, but so hard to answer. Part of this is because every person is different, and part of it is because scrupulosity is an intensely personal thing to deal with. Often times it can be invisible, and there is an immense sense of shame that comes along with it. This is because it can make the person suffering feel that they are a sinner beyond help. That said, there are things you can do to help someone in your life who you know is suffering from scrupulosity! These will vary from person to person, but these are some things I have found helpful. This is also not an exhaustive list.

  • Pray for them. This is a given, but still important.

  • Pray with them! OCD is an isolating experience, and scrupulosity can be even more so, and one of the things that has helped me is having someone to pray with me so that I’m not as tempted to repeat a prayer in an attempt to “fix” it. For example, saying the Rosary with a scrupulous individual can be helpful, or going to pray together for a fixed amount of time, like a Holy Hour once a week at a nearby Adoration Chapel.

  • Go to Confession with them. One of the biggest supports for me is having a friend or loved one go to Confession with me and sit in the line next to me so that I have a distraction and some solidarity and support. This is also helpful if your friend is, like me, a “flight risk” when they get especially anxious before receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  • Rewards for the really hard things. Confession is one of my biggest stumbling blocks, and unlike most people who are scrupulous, I tend to avoid Confession. To combat that, I often have someone come with me, and then we agree to go for ice cream or the like afterwards. Although it may be a little childish, the thought of a reward afterwards gives me something to focus on other than the task at hand, and is enough of a motivator to get me through the experience.

  • Listen to them. Because sometimes we just need to vent about how hard it is.

  • Encourage them to seek help if they need it. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective and a little push to realize what isn’t healthy.

  • Understand that it won’t always make sense. One of the things that causes a lot of the shame surrounding OCD/scrupulosity is that often times the obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense. Even to the sufferer sometimes. And that’s a normal part of OCD.

Eventually I want to write a full post about how friends and family can help, but I feel this is a good starting place for the meantime.

2. Are there any specific saints you turn to in times of scrupulosity?

YES! I could list SO MANY, but these are just a few. Again, I want to write a more comprehensive post on saints I turn to in scrupulosity, as well as one about saints who were themselves scrupulous or had OCD.

  • St. John Paul II is one of my most powerful intercessors for my mental illness needs, and I credit his intercession with my return to Confession after 11 months of avoiding it out of fear.

  • St. Faustina is also a saint near and dear to my little scrupulous heart, as I picked up a copy of the Diary when I first realized I was scrupulous, but didn’t know it was a symptom of clinical OCD.

  • St. Therese obviously is a big intercessor as well, as she herself was scrupulous.

  • St. Joseph is one saint I also turn to, because he lived with two perfect people and wasn’t perfect himself. And because St. Joseph is also known as “Terror of Demons”, I like to think of him terrifying the demon of OCD, if you will.

  • Mama Mary is another big one, and I particularly like to think about the three days she and St. Joseph looked for Jesus before they found Him in the temple as a comforting image.

3. How are the two [OCD and scrupulosity] related?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness, with several different ways of manifesting in a person’s life. Scrupulosity is one of the ways it manifests.

OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts, such as a common example, “did I lock the door?” To get that thought to go away, there are several things the OCD mind might do to accomplish that. Some common ways include turning returning home to make sure the door is locked, or locking and relocking the door a certain number of times.

Scrupulosity is a type of OCD that is more religiously focused. So instead of “did I lock the door?” the scrupulous person might have an intrusive thought like “did I pray that decade of the Rosary perfectly?” and then repeat that decade until they feel it is “good enough”, or go to Confession and say that they have not been praying the Rosary perfectly. This same “formula”, if you will, can apply to any number of situations.

And of course, a person can have OCD and have it manifest in scrupulosity as well as other ways, like checking or cleaning or the like. That is how OCD looks for me, which is why I often talk about the two together and write about them using “OCD/scrupulosity”.

To give another example, a lot of us are familiar with anxiety disorders. Some of the people who have anxiety disorders just have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or more specific types, like testing or social anxiety, or a combination. But they all fall under the same “umbrella” of anxiety disorders. OCD/scrupulosity have a similar relationship.

4. What does living with OCD/scrupulosity look like for you on a daily basis?

I feel like a broken record, but I want to do another more comprehensive post with a “Day in the Life” kind of a theme, but I’ll give y’all a sneak preview. You all have the best questions!

There are good days and bad days with OCD/scrupulosity, but right now, I’m in a pretty good place. The day starts with taking my medication ASAP. My medication takes the edge off of the OCD symptoms, but does not eradicate them completely. Washing my hands is an important thing that I have to remember to try and keep in check, as for most people with OCD. I also try and avoid situations that might trigger obsessions and/or compulsions, such as handling trash and the like. When I do have to do those kinds of chores, I try and do them before a shower. That’s actually an example of one of the ways OCD affects me that I don’t quite have under control yet.

As for scrupulosity, it can look different at different times. One of the primary ways it manifests daily is in wondering if one of my actions, or lack of actions, is a sin. For example, if I don’t pray the Rosary daily, I feel like I may be sinning, and sinning gravely. Or if I snap at someone in the heat of the moment, I might feel like that is a mortal sin, i.e., a sin that will send me to Hell if they are not forgiven in Confession.

Another way I can tend to feel scrupulous is in living the liturgical life of the Church. For example, if I am not feasting on a feast day, is that a sin? If I do not pile on seemingly endless penances during Lent, am I in a state of mortal sin? These are thoughts that still go through my mind and can cause me to feel very scrupulous.

5. How can friends/family best support/care for someone with OCD?

This is a similar question to the first one, but I am treating them separately because care of OCD without scrupulosity is not necessarily the same as caring for an individual suffering from OCD with scrupulosity. Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but one that I hope to flesh out in the future.

  • Understand that it won’t always make sense. Obsessions and compulsions do not always make sense, and trying to make sense of them is not always helpful.

  • Be available to listen. Again, everyone needs to vent sometimes.

  • If your loved one is not seeking help, perhaps encourage them to. Not every case requires therapy, but it is often helpful.

  • Offer a kind word. Things like “that must be hard” or “I’m here if you need anything” are so nice to hear from time to time.

  • Offer help. There can be some dark days in suffering with OCD, and sometimes your loved one(s) just need a helping hand.

6. Advice for letting go and giving control over to God?

I am a control freak. Very much so. I don’t like giving control away, especially to God, Whom I cannot see with my eyes. That said, small prayers throughout the day like “Jesus, I trust in You”, even if and when I don’t really feel it, can be very helpful. In discussing this sort of thing with my spiritual director, he has told me to “fake it till you make it”. Contrary to what you may think, this can be very helpful advice.

7. Do you have fear of not being forgiven in confession/crippling fear of Hell?

In the worst days of my OCD, I absolutely struggled with this to a degree that was nearly debilitating, and still do sometimes to a lesser degree. Fear of not being forgiven in Confession is part of the reason I have a friend come with me to Confession, so that I have a distraction from that fear. Fear of Hell is something that is still a huge struggle for me, so much so that I avoid discussing it for fear of being condemned at the mere mention of it. But fear should not control our lives, and so it is important to seek help for these things, and discuss them with others.

I so enjoyed answering your questions! Again, I hope to flesh a lot of my answers out further in future posts, and hope to have a thorough FAQ page on this site at some point. But until then, I hope to do some of these Q&A posts maybe once a month or so to answer your questions. Be sure to share this post with friends who may be suffering from OCD/scrupulosity, or who may be curious about it, and leave me a comment with any questions you would like me to answer in the future!

I am praying for you all.

St. Therese, pray for us.

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