Scrupulosity: A Little Bit of Hell

| 10-15-AD2013 | [71]

Leila Miller - Little Bit of Hell

Do you never feel forgiven no matter how many times you confess your sins?

Do you obsess over blasphemous thoughts that invade your mind against your will?

Do you agonize about whether or not something you’ve done is sinful, even when other faithful Catholics and even your priest assure you that it’s not?

Is your conscience so hyper-sensitive that you cannot find peace with God?

If so, you might want to start reading up on a condition called scrupulosity. It is one of the most painful psychological states there is — it can feel like hell to the sufferer.

I was surprised to learn that Fr. Paul Marx, the late, great pro-life hero, suffered from scrupulosity as a young seminarian. He recounted in his autobiography that the agony of that condition was worse than any other pain he had suffered in his life (and he suffered an incredible amount of physical and psychological pain in his worldwide, decades-long mission to end abortion).

I know from personal experience how devastating scrupulosity can be. A family member of mine suffered from it, and when things became torturous for her, intervention was needed. There is an understanding now that scrupulosity is one type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); recognition of that fact is how my relative was able to get her scrupulosity/obsessive thoughts under control. The relief is beyond description.

Scrupulosity is incredibly harmful and can lead souls right out of the Church. Martin Luther suffered terribly with feelings of total depravity — he could not feel “clean” no matter how many times he received absolution. His scrupulosity led to the formation of his doctrine of sola fide (salvation by faith alone) and the idea of “eternal security,” i.e., that sin, even grave sin, cannot jeopardize a Christian’s salvation. It’s not a stretch to say that scrupulosity was a catalyst for the Protestant Reformation, which tore the Body of Christ asunder.

I had a dear friend, now deceased, who grew up Catholic in the 1950s. She suffered from torturous scrupulosity as a girl, causing her ultimately to leave the Catholic Church. I asked her about her experiences, and she told me the following:

I’m not sure how or exactly when it started. I know I was still in grade school. I went to a Catholic school for 9 years. Sometimes we would go to Mass before school and I would take Communion like most of the other kids. In school we learned about sin — venial, mortal, and the worst of all, mortal sin of sacrilege. I remember trying to grasp the concept of eternity in hell. Fire, forever, without end. This is what would happen to a person who died with mortal sin on their soul. I found the idea too frightening.

We went through the Ten Commandments and the sins against them — some of which I was too young and innocent to comprehend. Then one day on my way up to Communion, it occurred to me that maybe I had a mortal sin on my soul, but I continued to receive Communion. That’s when it all started. I felt ill and had my mom pick me up from school. I spent the rest of the day with a knot in my stomach, worried that I had committed the dreaded mortal sin of sacrilege. Eventually I was able to dismiss the fact that I had done such a thing. But I decided that I wasn’t going to repeat that episode. I know now that what I thought was sin at that time wasn’t. But I was ignorant and unsure so just to be on the safe side I avoided Communion.

We were expected to receive Communion every first Friday of the month so during the week we had Confession during school hours. I found myself confessing to numerous sins (just in case) because a bad confession was considered a sin of sacrilege. After Confession my mind would be bombarded with all kinds of things which I tried to fight but eventually I would decide that at some point I had a sinful thought, could not go to Communion, at which point the torture would stop. Then all I would have to do was be sick that Friday. Eventually it got to the point where I was “sick” all that week.

I was embarrassed and ashamed because all my friends were receiving Communion on a regular basis. The struggle within me was pure torture and in that I felt totally alone.

I told no one. I was too ashamed because it all seemed so crazy. I had no hope that anyone could possibly understand. Looking back, I wonder how in the world the priests who heard my confession didn’t have a clue about my scrupulosity.

It wasn’t until high school that I heard anything about a scrupulous conscience. I went to public high school (freedom) but attended religious class once a week. The nun who conducted the class once referred to a boy who had to continue to go to confession because he suffered with a scrupulous conscience. It was then that I realized my problem.

My friend never did come back to the Catholic Church, living out her life as an evangelical Protestant, resigned to live “on My Father’s front porch” as she put it, never quite able to come back inside the home she missed and longed for.

Scrupulosity is not a condition unique to Catholicism by any means, however, as Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and those of other faiths are affected as well.

If you think you are scrupulous, there is help! First, understand that you likely have a form of OCD and it can be treated. Second, please read the monthly Scrupulous Anonymous newsletters and the “Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous“ (along with the “revised” Commandments). Third, read the book, Understanding Scrupulosity: Questions, Helps, and Encouragements, by Thomas M. Santa. And fourth, find a spiritual director or confessor who has experience dealing with scrupulosity.

It might be hard to believe, but with the help of others and God’s grace, you can and will find peace.

About the Author:

Leila Miller is a wife and mother of eight children who has a penchant for writing and a passion for teaching the Catholic Faith in simple ways. This summa cum laude Boston College graduate also loves to debate atheists, advocate for special needs orphans, and attempt the matchmaking of young Catholic singles (not necessarily in that order). All of the above is accomplished on her three blogs: Little Catholic Bubble, Orphan Report, and the invite-only Catholic Moms Matchmaking.
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  • nannon31

    And the TV show “Monk” will help families see that OCD compels a form of “selfishness” ( Monk often is selfish vis a vis his assistant) just as Borderline disorder…bpd…forces many moms to hold onto their children too tightly ( too “selfishly”) to the detriment of their children. Watch a Monk marathon and you will understand a scrupulous relative a bit more than you did. You will get a feel for the compulsive aspect. I suspect Pope Francis would be a good counselor for those afflicted though they also could need therapy if the experience is more than temporary.

    • Jedarc

      I find the comment by nannon31 to be insensitive. I feel badly for anyone with OCD who reads nannon31′s comments because it will just add to their suffering. You should spend one day in their shoes. I recently read the following:

      “In the media and pop culture, OCD is often made out to be a laughing
      matter. Take for example, the movie “As Good as it Gets” or the main
      character in the television program “Monk.” These shows are comedic in
      nature and the characters’ OCD symptoms/rituals are shown as spectacles
      for the audience’s entertainment. But we are not seeing the horrible,
      debilitating side of OCD in these movies, and these types of shows cause
      people to think of OCD as a trivial disorder.
      The general public does not seem to realize that people with OCD do
      not enjoy the rituals that they feel they must perform. I think this is
      where misconceptions about OCD originate. People think of OCD as a
      personality-defect (such as laziness, selfishness or greediness); people
      do not realize that OCD sufferers often are trying to rebel against
      their OCD, but they cannot.”

    • nannon31

      Jedarc,
      Like Phil, you missed my using quotation marks around the word “selfish” twice and you both missed my word “compels”….because that word tells you also that I’m not talking about real selfishness. We had both diseases in our clan….ocd solved by Freudian analysis. The tv Monk character constantly displays a compelled “selfishness” as when he asked his female assistant to drive two hours to his house to see if he turned the stove top gas off….or when he asked her to skip her daughter’s basketball game for another ocd mtivated reason that revolved around his exagerated worries.

  • james

    What she and others had was a classic Catholic guilt trip brought on by
    disciplines and consequences. Now you have a petit idea of what the
    Jewish nation endured since the Resurrection

    • Leila Miller

      Well, James, that really doesn’t account for the fact that it’s prevalent among non-Catholics Christians as well as non-Christians (read the OP). That, and it’s often OCD-based.

    • james

      exactly, but the trigger for those so afflicted is guilt by dogma

    • nannon31

      James,
      A child of five is disciplined by one parent, feels rejected and runs to the other
      end of the house to find solace in the other parent who first smiles at her but another sibling runs into the new scene and “tells on” the child of five and now the second parent’s face turns from smile to anger. So our five year old has encountered now emotional pain so large that she forces it down miles into her subconscious. Later yes….religious forces will join with the early trauma in repeated rituals and produce scrupulosity. But the real culprit was the moment of far too heavy double sourced pain at five years old and the repression of that pain. I know the case intimately and Freudian therapy plus a good priest solved it for her. I think dogma is simply later used by the subconscious. Christ gave severe dictums about hell. He is not then responsible if in unusual cases like the above, such dogma becomes part of a non typical human affliction that involved the dogma interfacing with a trauma that is unknown to the victim when older…unknown until transference repeats the trauma in its essentials in therapy.
      Dogma is involved…but not as cause of mental illness but as something deceptively similar to the original trauma. The girl went through hell when the hoped for second parent became rejecting also. Her interest in hell later will be derivative of the trauma and not healthy.

    • james

      Sounds complicated. But if the dogma is not true as taught due
      to evolving comprehension of the dogma then it becomes a millstone around ones psyche. It’s sort of like medicine in the
      age of ignorance when amputation was required. Because the
      surgeon did not feel it necessary to clean the knife – having no knowledge of bacteria – the patient died from infection.

    • Phil Dzialo

      I am a little taken aback by the amateur psychologists. @nannon31:disqus, OCD has nothing to do with “selfishness”. One can reason and control selfishness, OCD is by definition thoughts and behaviors beyond control; and, borderline personality mothers do not smother or attach their children; they a emotionally deregulated in all relationships, especially with their children who also are at risk.
      Leila is accurate. Scrupulosity if a defined form of OCD which itself is a pervasive, undefined anxiety disorder. It is not bound to any particular religion or moral code and is found through all cultures. It is a defined mental disorder. Its etiology is unknown and is not exacerbated by dogma. Also, not very treatable through meds. It is an anxiety disorder.
      No one uses Freudian psychoanalysis to treat OCD variants. The recommendation should always be a good psychologist using cognitive behavioral therapy, then perhaps a consultation with a minister or priest of their faith. However, attachment to any religion or belief is not a condition of scrupulosity. Self help books are generally ineffective as each case of mental disorder is tremendously different.

    • james

      If you hadn’t made psychologist plural I wouldn’t have taken it
      personally. To say something isn’t exacerbated by dogma is
      blatantly ignorant. When a child is taught from an early age
      to fear God, fear going to hell due to religious infractions, told
      that their baby will never see God, threatened with damnation
      for succombing to motivational drives of the mind and body,
      the collateral damage no matter how slight is not an acceptable
      by product of nature. We are proportionately as close to the
      theology of the middle ages as we will be free of it in 500.years. And since we are not privvy to what our church may revise based on evolving truth, your statement in this age and moment in history is woefully lacking in context.

    • Phil Dzialo

      It was plural intentionally. Genetics, blended with a fragile biochemistry coupled with erroneous brain-hardwiring foes not need dogmatic exposures to believe that they can do nothing right, that they constantly displease Source, that they are doomed to mid-earth for all eternity. No religion, no fantasy beliefs, no culture is needed to be a repository of self-worthlessness and eternal self-doom. Scrupulosity is an unbridled superego running roughshot over a non-existent ego in deathly fear of the id (if I was a Freudian). Could dogma, as you define it be a factor? Sure, but not necessarily, not in most case. It’s a mental disorder expressing itself as OCD.

    • Leila Miller

      “And since we are not privvy to what our church may revise based on evolving truth…”

      Oh, my. “Evolving truth” is not a thing. It’s a non-thing.

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2012/07/in-defense-of-things.html

    • james

      I will only refer once to a once believed truth that rocks did not move and were solid. That truth was revised to reflect the
      opposite while in no way impinging on the observed (with
      senses) truth that the former was true. Bon soir, Leila

    • Leila Miller

      Not applicable. You were not talking about discovering physical laws of nature (laws which do not change, by the way). You were talking about a changing moral law or doctrinal truth, i.e., the Deposit of Faith.

    • james

      I believe Neutonian physics does not apply when talking about quantum mechanics.
      The moral law was breached when the church instilled the process of annulment. It took Jesus command ‘what God has
      joined together … and tinkered with it.for its own political and social reasons. it watered down these words in red – all linked to the 6th command (doctrinal truth) because it needed to.
      Benedict finally called what was solid truth and tradition – the Garden of Eden – by its proper designation – an allegory, leaving the nature and circumstances of original sin to be redefined. The church’s maniacal reaction to Galileo’s assertion resulted in their idea of truth being over turned.
      The absolute need for Baptism was given its own license to change with mearly having the desire. Something any savage with no idea of Christ would have without even knowing it. Even JPII had to step back when asked about the 65-70% of Catholics who miss weekly mass but receive communion. He could only conclude that for them it was not a mortal sin for they knew not what they did – thanks to that good ole catch 22 that you so despise : subjectivity.. The church is a flexible body for good reason – and that reason is everything gets refined through the ages. Please say that Purgatory will always be just that, so I can bask in the belief that long after we’ve left it will meld with the eastern belief in reincarnation. And Limbo, I think even we will see the end of that indecent speculation so widely taught for so long.
      Perhaps you can list some of the dogma or tradition that you believe won’t change. Maybe that will end our jousting.

    • Leila Miller

      James, you have yet to name one doctrine or moral law that has changed, but you threw a lot of straw men and distortions and misunderstandings (yours) against the wall to see if they would stick. But they have all been asked and answered a million times. Which one do you want to start with (yes, one at a time). Annulments? Let’s do it. A declaration of nullity is just that: A declaration that a sacrament (or even a civil marriage) never actually took place. Do you have a problem with that concept in general (that conditions for certain sacraments may not, at times, be met?), or can we move to the next part of the discussion?

    • james

      I don’t and never will have a problem with anything the CC does. My point in this case is Jesus did not invent the concept
      of annulment. It was man made with ulterior motives and It removed the ideal from its pedestal. Jesus questioned the practice of divorcing for convience. That the sacrement never took place is about as subjective a judgement as can be made. Tribunals are composed of opinions and to know with certainty what God has not joined together is human presumption.
      I am still waiting for the dogma, doctrine or tradition that you feel
      will never change. This will make it easier to agree with you.

    • Leila Miller

      Quick foundational clarifier, James: Do you equate a declaration of nullity with divorce?

      As to the last question: No part (not one) of the Deposit of Faith (Faith [Creed/doctrine] and morals [universal moral law]) will ever be reversed. Hope that helps.

    • james

      Tomato or tom(a)to, Leila. same catch 22.

      I would greatly aprrecialte if you could put them up in bullet form
      unless of course it would run into hundreds of terms.

    • Leila Miller

      LOL, sorry James! One at a time. How much free time do you have, exactly? ;)

      So, declaration of nullity is the same as divorce. Okay; I think that is what you are implying. If so, why does civil law and civil authority understand the difference, but you do not? Why do dictionaries understand the difference, but you do not? I think if you are mixing up words and definitions (which are part of the common parlance) it might be hard to have a precise conversation with you.

      If you are NOT saying that the two are the same, then we can go ahead. If you ARE saying that the two are the same, then we are done. Your next answer, if it’s directly answering my question (i.e., James says: “yes they are the same” or “no they are not the same”), will be the determiner. Thanks! :)

    • james

      Give unto Ceasar …
      Retired – so plenty of time to wait for a partial list of D & T
      written in stone.

    • Leila Miller

      Not interested, James, since you won’t answer a simple question (doesn’t bode well for the future of this conversation). Unlike you, I don’t have that kind of time. You let me know if you want to answer my simple question.

      Godspeed!

    • james

      I thought the clue about caesar was another way of saying the
      two are the same which means we’re done with that item. You
      know very well that we will not agree on the points I made so lets see if there are things we can agree on.

    • Leila Miller

      ha ha, well, I prefer to talk straight without cute “clues”. Anyway, we are done with it all. If you can’t see a difference between a marriage being dissolved and a marriage never existing in the first place, then I guess we are at an impasse, and we cannot be dialogue partners. Like I said, even secular authorities and dictionaries can see the difference (as the Church does), but you cannot. So, we don’t speak the same language, in a sense, you and me. :)

      Anyway, I do hope you at least agree that sacraments have to have a certain matter and form and intent. So, if a baby were baptized with the wrong formula, or if a transgendered “man” were to be ordained, those “sacraments” would be declared null upon such a discovery, not simply “undone”?

      But if you can’t see it regarding Matrimony (no matter how ill-advised or even abused you think the tribunal process may be), then we can’t talk futher. And, I have to add, you do have a problem with what the Church does (even though you said you don’t), because the Church says nullity and divorce are completely different things, and you say they are the same. You are completely at odds with the Church on that.

      Anyway, God bless!

    • nannon31

      Leila,
      If you find my post from this afternoon, post it…it was up for about 4 minutes then vanished. If disqus devoured it, no biggy.

    • guest

      The vast majority of people who receive this ‘dogma’ never suffer from scrupulosity. It’s a mental illness that isn’t necessarily driven by dogma but from a pervasive need to control an emotion or outcome.

    • james

      I understand but disciplines and consequences have caused many mental anquish in the early years before maturity can
      sort them out.

    • Miss Bee

      Yes, but rarely and this doesn’t diminish the soul saving element, regardless.

    • james

      Agreed, but don’t lament the state of the majority of faithful
      who have abandoned the disciplines and consequences as
      a result.

    • Miss Bee

      Not sure this is true, but lament I shall for those who have.

    • WSquared

      Actually, it was the doctrine, dogma, and discipline of the Church that helped give me the maturity to sort out the mental anguish arising from years of stupidity coming both from the average ill-catechized Catholic, the average Christian Bible-thumping fundamentalist, and the average secularist.

      It was the Sacraments that ultimately gave me the grace to forgive.

    • Philip Sieve

      Any punishment declared for certain infractions, if expressed harshly, can make one feel guilty about anything. The consequences of certain infractions are neutral in the argument. Jesus said certain things done on purpose will damn you, if you die unrepentant of those mortal sins you can remember at the time of death. It’s how they are spoken of and the focus put on them that matter.

    • james

      To quote the late great comedian George Carlin when the CC
      lifted all consequences for eating meat on Friday .. ” I wonder
      how all those Catholics doing eternity in hell on the meat rap
      feel about that ? ” The real harm is putting someone in fear.

    • Philip Sieve

      Some fear is necessary. There is an ancient enemy who wants our mind to be enslaved to the world and the flesh and dying that way will leave us in the hands of the prince of the world short of a heavenly intervention. Most people test the limits with or without the warnings. I believe he also said his school gave him loose boundaries and that’s how he became the way he was. I think teaching about the wondrous things God has done would help clergy engage their flock, especially, in this age, stories that have been scientifically tested and found authentic or not hoaxes or naturally-caused. Still, not warning people about Hell is like not warning kids about busy streets or walking off with strangers who have no authority to walk off with them.

    • WSquared

      There’s a difference between holy fear and servile fear.

      …we have a culture that promotes a lot of the latter.

    • nannon31

      Phil,
      Why do you think I placed quote marks around selfishness twice? Why did you choose to edit that out in your mind? Just as the devil can compel bad acts which are faultless before God in the possessed, mental illness produces choices that seem and are selfish…but in a way that God does not judge.
      The case of ocd in my family was cured with Freudian techniques. We went through this as a family. The case of bpd is extant in our clan. Family members become very intimate with the choices such people make.
      The advantage of Freudian techniques is that if a trauma was the root, then the root itself will be found which I don’t suspect happens in cognitive therapy which is more concerned with treating patterns.

    • BurningCrow

      Exactly James…..as I said the three ism’s are largely to blame, not only in the Catholic Church but in other denominations as well. Clericalism, legalism, and triumphalism.

      The RCC would love to lay it all at the feet of a mental disorder such as OCD….but often the thing that precipitates this disorder is years of legalism, and not being able to measure up to God’s standards or the Church standards. Sometimes the only real cure is agnosticism or atheism.

    • Catechist Kev

      “Sometimes the only real cure is agnosticism or atheism.”
      BC, there are no agnostics or atheists in fox holes. Especially the fox holes of life.
      God bless,
      CKev

    • BurningCrow

      you are wrong…..I have faced death a couple of times…seriously….and the last thing on my mind was gawd.

    • WSquared

      Er, if you’re a serious Catholic, one thing you learn to remember, hard as it may be sometimes, is that all fall short of the glory of God, and even the righteous fall seven times a day. One learns to rely more and more on grace. And it’s not easy.

      Agnosticism or atheism is no cure. All you’d do if you have OCD is simply fixate on something else.

    • BurningCrow

      Well….not being a “serious” Catholic or any other kind of catholic….falling “short” of the glory of god is not in my vocabulary. Even secularists know that there is no such thing as “perfection” in our evolved species…so your quote about “seven times seven falls on deaf ears”….whatever perfection means. I sometimes listen to the CatholicAnswers.com radio show out of curiosity and for research purposes…and according to them….perfection is a definite requirement…..the hoops that they expect everyone to jump through are even worse than I had imagined…..those who even practice birth control are bound for hell unless they “repent”…and confess to a priest! No wonder Catholics are paranoid and suffer from OCD brought on by guilt.

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  • Paul

    Great article. Ms. Miller proves in the article to understand OCD as a neurobiological illness which is exactly what it is. Scrupulosity, in many cases, is a form of OCD. It may help, however, to discuss the specific genetic and neurological causes and current treatments to help safeguard this correct understanding of OCD. This kind of information is readily available.

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  • Great Lakes Nation

    Here’s some advice I once relayed on this issue of unhealthy scruples:

    Dear friend,

    This – scrupulosity – is not unusual when a person is making a serious attempt to grow closer to God.
    Saint Ignatius of Loyola suffered from scruples until he realized the great harm they were doing to him. It is important to be able to discern spiritual warfare and to weed out false
    and oppressive thoughts. God’s communications normally lead to greater clarity and light.
    “The spiritual battle is won in the mind.” We must control our thoughts rather than letting them control us. This is crucial.

    Rest assured, there is a great correlation btw growth in holiness and receiving Holy Communion frequently. The devil certainly tempts us to think we have committed some serious sin in order to keep us away from the great sacrament. Sometimes we have to
    “power-up” our thinking and keep walking towards the altar and receive the Lord and deepen our trust in Him. We need Holy Communion if we are going to progress in the spiritual life. Often we crave certainty in the spiritual life and God is teaching us to walk by faith. Scruples can actually purify the soul if we overcome them by walking in faith and
    distrusting self. We must learn to overcome all panic (caused by the devil) and to be very
    patient with our thoughts, and to avoid catastrophizing. Be gentle, not rigorous, with our
    thoughts.

    A person suffering from scruples is allowed to follow the rule of certitude, commonly known, which states that they should refrain from considering a matter (over which they have a doubt) gravely sinful unless they can swear out an affidavit that they are 100%
    absolutely certain they have committed a mortal sin. Otherwise, they should not refrain from Holy Communion. See Father Casey’s book (below).

    Father Tanquerey states in his monumental work, The Spiritual Life (TAN), p.449:

    “Communion is often a torture to the scrupulous….Now the fear [that]
    they may not be in the state of grace proves that they are not certain
    of that fact;hence, they should after a sincere act of contrition approach
    the Sacrament of the Altar; this Contrition together with Holy Communion
    will put them in the state of grace if they are not in it.”

    The book, Dealing with Scruples, by Father Casey, is very helpful, Also, at the end of the
    Spiritual Exercises Saint Ignatius has an appendix of rules to counter scruples. Still
    further, in the last section of The Imitation of Christ there are very consoling words
    about approaching and receiving Holy Communion. Father Faber talks about scruples as
    “little centers of spiritual death,” and we must see them in that light and power-up our
    resolve to overcome them.

    The great remedy for scruples, especially if the problem is ongoing, is to place oneself under obedience to one confessor – a wise and faithful priest – and to abide by his decisions regarding all matters in question. Going from one confessor to another is very
    counterproductive.

    Father Lovasik’s little book, A Novena of Holy Communions, has sage advice on this issue.

    Section 1456 of the CCC states, in part:

    When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon.

    This realization can set a heart of rest.

    The spiritual life involves a purification of our own way of thinking. We have trusted too much in our own analysis of the matter. “Self-reliance almost killed me,” says Saint Teresa of Avila. Now, God is calling the soul to walk by faith
    and to overcome our tendency to self-perfection.

    Someone said, “our crosses are a door to greater trust in God’s love.” And further that we
    should have “an indestructible hope in God’s mercy” (perhaps it was Neal Lozano).

    Peter denied Jesus three times but accepted God’s mercy and grew in holiness. Judas trusted in himself, forewent God’s mercy, and is lost. We must be like Peter, not Judas.
    God will lead us if we trust in Him.

    “Jesus, I trust in you.”

    I hope this helps. Tell this person: Pray, pray, pray!

    Tom

    P.S. Chesterton’s essay, “The Maniac”, in Orthodoxy, was amazingly helpful to me in powering up
    healthy thinking. Eucharistic adoration is very helpful, and long walks in nature, peering into the beauty of God’s creation, calms oppressive thinking. Finally, “do not dialogue with the devil.” There are two other books I will recommend in a subsequent email.

    • guest

      And the most effective method of all, asking Jesus.

  • Leslie Anne Rabbitt

    Scrupulosity is very painful,and yet I have read it is the direct result of the deadly root-sin of Pride. In experiencing scrupulosity, the scrupulous soul sins seriously and devastatingly by putting one’s own opinion of guilt over the teaching of the Church. Talk about blaming the sufferer!

    We scrupulous want so very much to please our Lord, God & Saviour! However, somewhere in our formation, we came to know Him as a punitive, implacable tyrant of a parent, waiting to condemn us on the technicalities. “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” – this scripture verse drives us on even as we battle despair. And, as the Church teaches, Despair is nearly as deadly a sin as Pride.

    Divine Mercy is our refuge. I am convinced that lifelong sufferers of scrupulosity have the greatest chance of healing by taking the leap of faith that Jesus, in the end, will love and pardon us. Jesus I trust in You!

    • Leila Miller

      Leslie, but also the Church herself does not discount disorders such as OCD when we are talking about compulsive thoughts and scrupulosity. We Catholics believe there are disorders and defects of both matter and spirit, not spirit only. We work both ends, for healing. God bless you!

  • Lori

    it is a suffering….. and i pray for Gods healing and help everyday and i offer it all for the salvation of souls and for my familly

  • Ramanie

    Thank you for this great article. Very inspiring. God bless you.

  • Maria

    Would it be that this condition too is related to the sin of idolatry , if not by the child / pt , by others in the persons’s life – even unto generatiions past and thus , repenting , on behalf of such , along with praising and thanking The Lord, who took the form of a creature , to atone for the ways we invite in enemy claims , by taking away the role of The Father and giving it to created objects /persons !
    May the forgiving love ,in The Spirit , brought into or hearts , through The Mother, protect and defend us , from all enemy assaults !

    • Nell

      While reading this post, my thoughts went to St. Francis deSales, and how he was Tormented with the thoughts of damnation – he spent much time praying to the Blessed Mother, and was healed of his affliction – and went on to become a Doctor of our church — I have also read C.S. Lewis – Screw tape letters (modern world laughs @ people who believe in the devil) — there are ABSOLUTES – and, convenient man made Truths – to justify Sins – are called a LIE (and Satan is the father of Lies) — In our modern world – we have much to COMBAT!

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  • BurningCrow

    The main problem with the RCC that encourages this is the penchant for the rampant clericalism, legalism and triumphalism that the “traditional church” has always used as the main tools for controlling the mainstream mass of adherents of the Catholic Church. People are getting wise to the methods.

    • Leila Miller

      Does this mean something?

    • BurningCrow

      It means you are not listening!

      “clericalism, legalism and triumphalism” are the problem that cause most catholic guilt….hence most religious scrupulosity among catholics.

    • Leila Miller

      That’s an interesting theory that you have, and yes, what you mention can be a problem for sure. However, OCD is a reality.

    • Philip Sieve

      I’ve seen the exact opposite, but that’s what you get with ecumenical extremism. Dump all that can be dumped (more might have had the deposit of faith not been protected from error and undoing by The Holy Spirit) of Catholic tradition to make others feel better and still get trashed. We’re wising up to the fact more and more, including lukewarm Catholics, never will care about the truth about Church teaching and how its doctrines are all true no matter how charitably it’s put and s clergy and apologists are saying harder truths, though still in charity.

  • Karl

    I disagree. I think you are wrong. Seen too many hurtful catholics who do not care at all what they do. You are a scandal! You should repent, if your parents raised you properly!

    • Leila Miller

      Huh?

  • jenny

    “… I wonder how in the world the priests who heard my confession didn’t have a clue about my scrupulosity…”
    I have the same question- how on earth priests do not notice trends in one’s confession? The same person confess the same sins over and over again, for years……

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  • Philip Sieve

    None of these articles ever helped. The issue for me is not my sins being too big for God or God not being loving, but that I screw up the confession by form or matter or maybe lack of preparation to say all I want to say and to sin no more. Something probably is missing that ruins it and leaves me where I was. It’s all a system that God tries to navigate us through, but I feel stuck in the cracks. I do believe in asking for divine mercy as a last resort (well, I ask more often, but as a last moments of death resort, as we might ask too casually when not about to meet our maker), should my confessions have all been invalid, but some can die instantly and didn’t ask in time..

    • jenny

      I find myself in your words above. After many years of confession, I realized that no priest asked me “why”. So, I never got to the root of the problem , therefore I repeated that sin over and over again. I looked for help outside the confessional . I saw psycho therapists for more than 2 years. I finally realized that what the church teaching considers “sin”, is in fact a very human problem that need to be fixed prior to going to confession.
      In my lack of understanding, I thought that that particular problem was a sin…. in fact , it was not a sin, and it made me very sick to accuse myself in the confessional. I needed psycho therapy help, not confession……
      Hope that what I wrote here will help a little bit.

    • Leila Miller

      Philip, I am sorry for your pain. The fact that it’s “form or matter” that hangs you up, rather than despairing of God’s mercy, points to OCD in my mind. Have you looked into that? My relative went to a very Catholic doctor (primary care physician) who prayed with her and used Padre Pio oils, etc., and put her on a very low dose of meds. The meds were like a godsend. She lost those obsessive worries and compulsive thoughts that kept her up at night. Medicine is a godsend when it is used to treat a disorder or pathology. The Church is good with it.

  • toplink_pin

    This is a wonderfully written article, however it smacks of Catholic condescension. As stated truthfully, religious guilt is not exclusive to Catholics. However the term “Catholic guilt” is a centuries old phrase that is well earned. But guilt is not necessarily a bad thing, our present world could use a bit more of it truth be told. Guilt is tied to remorse, of saying “I’m sorry”. It is truly the only path to forgiveness, and renewal. Marginalizing those who feel they cannot “meaure up” with a modern-speak phrase to describe a psychological oddity (OCD) only pushes Catholics out the door, down the steps, and out into the streets.
    Those who leave the Catholic Church feel they are not “measuring up”; they leave for Protestant denominations, or they leave Christianity altogether and become bitter enemies of all things Christian (most certainly the Catholic Church because it is the immovable target, but they have no love for Protestants either). It is the former that I believe we are speaking to, those who very much wish to remain under God’s love.

    Every child wants the love and approval of a parent, a teacher, or anyone who they look up to. When a child cries because they did something wrong, it is the fear that the love and approval will be lost. This is why as parents, we need to discipline but also follow up with love. But the child will never “measure up”, they will misbehave and be rebellious. They will never be perfect, because we as earthly parents are not perfect. But we try to maintain a righteous household, maintain high standards and expect our children to reach in that direction. But they will always be our kids, we want them to feel welcome in our house. To make them feel not welcome in our house because they cannot measure up makes for very bad society.

    BTW – Martin Luther’s father was a very brutal man, never giving young Martin the love and approval he yearned for. He could never measure up to his father’s expectations. Boys especially look up to a father, if he is not there for nurturing and love, there will be a painful hole in their heart forever. Martin loved God the Father very much, perhaps filling that void in his heart. When he witnesssed the scandals within his own Catholic Church he took it upon himself to rid the church of those scandalous leaders, not to form a competing church! Perhaps it was his own OCD “Scrupulosity” that drove him; he very much wanted to remain close to God the Father. It wasn’t God throwing Luther out of the Catholic Church, it was the Catholic Church’s human establishment trying to disconnect him from God.

    So it is even today with those who have such Catholic Guilt that they feel they cannot measure up. No regimine of Confession, prayers, intercessions, works of charity, donations of money, adoration, etc will calm their hearts. They become discontented not from God, but from those humans within the church. The Protestant message of “we accept you anyway” is a welcome relief to those who have been pushed out of the Catholic Church. Not by God mind you, but Catholic Elitist Academics who find refuge within the Catholic Church. Too often well meaning Catholic Academics get caught up in the Church’s legalistic structure, despite truthful logical arguments for the Church’s positions. People are still the little children who screw up in life, they truly do look for a way into the arms of God’s forgiveness. But too often the Catholic gate-keepers dissuade those who sincerely seek God’s love.

    I too was taken back by Pope Francis’ recent remarks (“who am I to judge?”) on topics such as abortion, gays, etc. But I read his words, and I understand him better. I think he was speaking to the Catholic Gatekeepers, we need to become a more open, inviting church. None of us will ever measure up, no matter how many works we do. The world is full of screwed up sinners, that are sorry and do not want to be abandoned, regardless of any OCD condition. Jesus constantly rebuked the law-enforcing Pharisees, for they were hypocrits. Ultimately it was them who handed him over for crucifixion.

    • Leila Miller

      I agree, so I am not sure what you mean by “smacking of condescension”? Was there something different in what I said from what you said?

    • BurningCrow

      You should just listen to people and stop trying to be “right” all the time, stop being a “gate keeper”

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  • Mitch
  • hssuzanne

    Interesting and very helpful. I can’t help but wonder, in very severe cases, have you considered perhaps a demonic element to a select number of them. In reading some interviews of exorcists, they have told of oppression of people by demons who use extreme scrupulosity to torture certain souls. Just something to keep in mind for those poor people who have tried everything and have gotten no relief. They may need deliverance prayers.