All Posts Tagged: scrupulosity

What is Religious OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted, intrusive thoughts and anxiety (obsessions) about something and the behaviors (compulsions) that people who suffer from the condition use to relieve the anxiety. This particular anxiety disorder represents a very serious condition that often grips the victim’s mind with fear and, in a very real way, controls their lives.

OCD is a broad disorder that encompasses many subgroups: in the case of religious OCD (also known as scrupulosity), the person is fixated on obsessions that are based in religion and/or religious beliefs, or around beliefs concerning morality. People who experience this form of OCD suffer from obsessive religious doubts and fears, unwanted blasphemous thoughts and images, as well as compulsive religious rituals, reassurance seeking, and avoidance.

People with religious OCD strongly believe in and fear punishment from a divine being or deity. Experts estimate that anywhere between 5% and 33% of people with OCD may experience scrupulosity and the number likely rises to between 50% and 60% in OCD sufferers who come from within very strict religious cultures. Even people who are not particularly religious can suffer from scrupulosity because they worry about being morally compromised or unintentionally offending others. A common thread throughout the spectrum is the linking of thoughts and actions: people with scrupulosity believe their thoughts are the same as actions, so they worry not just about what they have done, but also about what they have thought.

Examples of Religious OCD

Religious OCD can take many forms. A CNN news article tells the story of a Jewish woman who was so consumed with obsessions surrounding exposure to pork that she spent a large amount of time each day washing her hands and cleaning items that could even have remotely had the potential to come into contact with pork. An ABC News report discusses the problems of one Catholic woman who was faced with saying hundreds of prayers a day to obtain forgiveness for her self-perceived wrongdoings. The same article recounts a story about a man who eventually stopped eating and speaking in an attempt to please God by making sacrifices similar to those made by certain biblical figures. Even pillars of religious faiths may have been victims of scrupulosity: it has been suggested that both Martin Luther and St. Ignatius of Loyola may have exhibited religious obsessions.

Symptoms of Religious OCD

Scrupulosity rituals can include such behaviors as:

  • Compulsively praying, which can involve restarting the prayer if you get distracted while saying it and/or repeating it if you didn’t feel you were concentrating properly on the prayer or on the meaning of the prayer
  • Asking others if you are behaving correctly or if you “did the right thing”or analyzing your behavior throughout the day to be sure you are acting “appropriately”
  • Reading or studying religious writings, books, and texts excessively
  • Questioning your motives in numerous situations
  • Excessively apologizing to a deity (God, Allah, etc) and seeking forgiveness for your behavior

Treatment for Religious OCD

As with other forms of obsessive compulsive disorder, treatment for religious OCD involves cognitive behavior therapy. In some cases, medicines are combined with this type of exposure and response therapy. A patient will not be asked to give up his religion when undergoing therapy, instead he are given ways to face his triggers and live within his faith and religious traditions. Additionally, those patients who may not be able to travel to a therapists’office may be able to receive treatment over the phone or on a computer-based application such as Skype or FaceTime.

Have Questions? Need Help?

To get more information and help for scrupulosity and religious OCD, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

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Superstitious Behavior Psychology

Let’s face it, everyone has exhibited superstitious behavior at some point: we probably can all think of someone we know who always plays a certain set of lucky lottery numbers and most of us have crossed our fingers at one time or another for luck. Believing a little superstitiously can make us feel like we have some control over various circumstances and can help us make sense of a situation. But when rituals need to be repeated over and over to avoid perceived negative outcomes and this type of behavior begins to rule someone’s life, it has spiraled out of control, causing more anxiety than it relieves. At this point, the superstitious behavior psychology can be, and often is, a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

The Difference between Superstitious Behavior Psychology and OCD

You might worry that your superstitious behavior is actually a sign that you have OCD, so here is how you can tell the difference:

  • Before running a race, do you wear a certain pair of “lucky” shorts because you won your last few races while wearing them? That is a facet of superstitious behavior. Why? Because, while wearing the shorts can help give you confidence and provide positive thoughts, you aren’t performing a ritual wherein your success in the race depends on the repetition of a certain behavior.
  • Do you attribute the outcome of a situation to the “magic” of the ritual you perform? That is a sign of superstitious OCD. As an example, if you feel that you must take a certain number of practice swings at a golf ball in order to do well on each hole, that is more in the realm of OCD. Why? Because, if you get so anxious that you can’t complete the hole if the number of swings is interrupted or if something hinders your ritual, you are obsessing about it.
  • In superstitious OCD, a “normal” superstition becomes disabling. Superstitious behavior psychology might make someone avoid booking a hotel room on the 13th floor, but a person with superstitious OCD would find they couldn’t step on a crack in the sidewalk without having to complete a certain ritual to avoid the evil that would be sure to befall them or someone they love for their perceived transgression.

What Does Religion Have To Do With It?

For people with OCD, religion can enter into their obsessions in the form of trying to pray correctly or feeling that if certain rituals aren’t followed correctly, the things that go wrong in the world around them are their fault. This type of religious OCD is called “scrupulosity”. For example, a Jewish person with this condition may feel that if they have been exposed to pork in any form and can’t get “clean enough,” and then subsequently something bad happens to a family member, it is a punishment because the OCD patient has offended God. In another example, a Catholic person may worry that if they haven’t kneeled correctly at the altar or haven’t said the rosary properly or a certain number of times, disaster will come to themselves or their loved ones.

How to Get Help

As with any type of OCD, help comes in the form of both therapy and medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure Therapy help the person in treatment learn to face the situations that trigger their obsessions. In these types of therapy, the patient is gradually encouraged to put themselves in situations that would normally trigger their rituals and then discouraged from performing them. By taking these guided risks, the OCD patient learns that their fears are unfounded. Additionally, certain medications such as antidepressants are helpful in reducing the symptoms of OCD and religious OCD.

To get more information and help for OCD and/or superstitious behavior or religious OCD, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

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