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Scrupulosity OCD and the Sin of Certainty

When religious and faithful individuals are told that the unremitting thoughts that they are trying to get rid of are due to their OCD, they have difficulty accepting it. They may remember how and where their symptoms began, and may attribute their sinful thoughts to Satan or being cursed somehow somewhere. They may eventually acknowledge the symptoms as OCD but continue to doubt their worthiness.

As they question their thoughts and actions, uncertainty persists. They believe they may find surety if they make a more exerted effort. For example, they may say, If I pray longer, the intrusive thoughts will stop. Perhaps I didn’t confess all my sins. I must go back and do better. My service to others is not enough. I need to be more humble.” Their mind may come up with countless reasons and stories behind their inability to stop their thoughts and incessant guilt. They may feel evil and don’t realize that OCD is zeroing in on their religion and moral values.

When individuals are devout to their spiritual beliefs and struggle with OCD, treatment can become complex, stressful, and painful. Below are some clarifications regarding scrupulosity OCD.

The “Fix-it Machine”: Our mind allows us to solve external problems by coming up with ways to repair or discard malfunctioning items. When we experience feelings and thoughts that aren’t working for us, our fix-it machine provides ideas to help us feel better. Just like we can stop the water from a leaking faucet by repairing it, our wonderful mind may propose that we can stop shameful thoughts. Have you noticed what happens when you try to do this? The mind’s other strategies also include: distraction, avoidance, figuring things out, time traveling (ruminating about the past and future), and repetition. Scrupulous individuals agonize, as their guilt and anxiety appear to be non-stop. They compulsively try those unhealthy coping skills. The results seem inconclusive and short lived.  

Impure Thoughts: Many religious and OCD sufferers feel conflicted and tormented when they experience wicked thoughts. They believe that they are not abiding to their religion’s precepts because those thoughts should not exist, yet they persist. They may say, “I’m wicked. I must remove these thoughts permanently.” Their observances such as prayers, singing, and reciting spiritual verses usually provide some comfort.

As the thoughts return, they persevere in their belief that they may not be trying hard enough. They then increase the intensity and duration of their observances so they can have longer effect. Soon enough, they find themselves trapped in the obsessive-compulsive web. Their affliction heightens as the unclean thoughts resurface again and again.

The Sin of Certainty: Individuals who struggle with OCD yearn for the certainty that will set them free of guilt and anxiety. Ensuring that they are forgiven may become their primary focus each day, but certainty continues to elude them. They forget that their everyday routines include uncertainty.

When it comes to the feared consequences related to their doctrine and beliefs, uncertainty is unacceptable in their view. They continue to do whatever they can to decrease the disturbing dissonance between their souls and their thoughts. The sin of certainty occurs because they become distracted from what matters most — their faith and love of God.

Eventually, exhaustion takes over and they may feel dejected and depressed. They may become disenchanted with their religion. They may say, “If I stay away from the triggers that create this agony, I will be better off.” Sometimes, their anguish may turn into animosity towards their church.

The OCD Web: The quest for certainty becomes a stumbling block to their faith and their desired spirituality. Individuals become entangled with their thoughts and feelings and are unable to separate themselves from those internal experiences. As they feel trapped, the entanglement ensues with obsessions and compulsions that become their demise.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can unravel yourself from unhelpful thoughts and become more flexible with them. When you notice you are getting caught up in the OCD web, remember that:

  • The mind is continually producing thoughts. Therefore, controlling and stopping thoughts is not possible. It is only wishful thinking.
  • Every mortal being will have impure thoughts at one time or another. This is not to reassure you, but to remind you that it is best to come to terms with the fact that you are an earthly creature and imperfect. Trying to achieve purity in thought is not possible in this life.
  • Because you have scrupulosity OCD, the thoughts that show up may be opposite to what you hold dear in your heart, such as your faith and moral values. Remember that this is what happens. Don’t be surprised when OCD morphs or entangles your thoughts and feelings related to other important areas of your life.

Notice what happens when you hold your thoughts lightly. Observe them as they move at their own pace. You can learn to do this instead of trying to figure out why you had them.

Remember, you have thoughts — pleasant and unpleasant ones — for various reasons including: you have a human mind, and religion and moral values are important to you. You don’t have to get trapped with the sin of certainty in the OCD web.

You have a choice!

Scrupulosity OCD and the Sin of Certainty


Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S

Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S is the owner and clinical director at Mindset Family Therapy. Her practice specializes in treating children, adolescents, and adults coping with anxiety and family challenges. Her expertise is working with obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders. Annabella is the author of “Emma’s Worry Clouds” and enjoys writing for various online magazines and her business blog. You can reach her at http://mindsetfamilytherapy.com/.


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APA Reference
Hagen, A. (2018). Scrupulosity OCD and the Sin of Certainty. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/scrupulosity-ocd-and-the-sin-of-certainty/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.