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.

20 Comments
  1. Reply
    Afreen Afzal

    Need to be treated for Religious OCD what symptoms are mentioned above I need a solution to this problem.

    • Reply
      Aqeel

      Hi, my name is Aqeel. I’m also a Muslim & suffering from this OCD for more then 15 years now. You can contact me on my WhatsApp +923456134761.

  2. Reply
    Deljo davis

    I have this and i am suffering this by repeating prayers, analysing my behaviours, always feel sin have done, how i can cure from this. Around 8 years ago i have diagonised as ocd patiend and visited a doctor for treatmend and cured.But now its again coming

  3. Reply
    K

    For a long time, I suffered with religious OCD. I was hospitalized for a health problem, and it just made my OCD worse. I won’t lie, I still struggle with it, but the huge thing that makes religious OCD so bad is that fear and the lies it implants in you. I feared that my loving God, who had saved me by His Son’s blood, would punish me if I didn’t do something I said I would do. I worried that I wasnt living as God would have me to live, and I continuously had bad thiughts about God. I worried about blaspheming too. As compulsions, I would read the Bible all the time, pray all the time especially to ask forgiveness for my bad thoughts, and I would not eat the food I liked as an attempt to punish myself in hopes that God would see me punishing myself, so He would not punish me. There have been 2 verses that have really helped me: Psalm, 27:1 and John 8:12. Psalm 27:1 talks about how we should not fear because God is our light. He is the Strength of our lives (durung the good times and bad), and He is our Salvation. Salvation means a means of escape or preservation in times of trouble. This means God will either deliever us from OCD or He will keep us safe during it if we just trust in Him. My OCD started getting really bad again, so I dove into the Bible because Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). In John 8:1-11, a woman, who had been found committing adultery was brought by the Pharisees and scribes to Jesus. They asked Him what the woman’s punishment should be since the law of Moses said to stone people who committed adultery. Jesus told them that whoever was without sin should cast the first stone. Obviously, all of them had sinned, so they all left one by one. When Jesus looked back up from writing in the dirt, only the woman stood before Him. He asked where her accusers were and if she had any, and she said that no man had condemned her, so He told her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” This is the God we serve. He is not this awful, vengeful, condemning God. He is a God who loves His children. If you know Jesus as your Savior, you don’t have to listen to the guilt and lies of feeling condemned OCD brings upon you. You just have yo listen to God, and I know that sometimes that is hard, but what Jesus says in John 8:12 makes everything clear: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Confusion, lies, darkness, fear, and doubt all are darkness. If you are following after Jesus, you will feel His inner peace He promised us, not this turmoil. Follow after Him. He will lead you to the light. When you’re in your room at nighttime and the lights are off, you might get worried someone is in your house. I did as a kid. This fear instilled doubt about being safe, confusion about whether this fear was real or not, scared me, and put these lies in my head. Once I turned on the light, however, the fear, confusion, doubt, and lies had to flee because I saw the Truth. Jesus is the Truth. We have the Spirit of the Lord, and where that Spirit of Liberty. Jesus is our chainbreaker. We are held in His hands, and no man can pluck us out (John 10:27-30). He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). There is no fear in love; but perfect live casts out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18). OCD has torment. Let God’s perfect love cast it away. I’m parying for anybody going through this and parents dealing with children who are suffering from this. It is hard, but Jesus’s grace is sufficient. Trust and rely on Him! He’s always good.

    • Reply
      wes

      You have helped me so much! I have gone through so much pain the last two years to the point where I wanted to take my life. I was an addict till the lord found me and had many freak outs on drugs one of which was super bad. I was high one night on YouTube just searching the web till I clicked on a religious advertisement. I had fallen away from the lord and thought this was him reaching out to me. I clicked on it and the man was talking about prophecies. I was so scared because he said it was gonna happen to someone with ocd. I immediately got up and threw up in the bathroom. After that day I was terrorized by bad thoughts about the lord and his kingdom. I was scared, angry, and confused. I began to hate the lord till he opened my eyes! That man was a liar and only the lords word saved me. It exposed the false prophet. I still struggle with terrible fear and bad thoughts about the lord but I know he loves me one day I’ll be at rest. Thank god I’m not alone I didn’t tell anyone for the longest time because I was scared what they would think.

    • Reply
      S

      Thank you K for writing this comment. I have struggled with this for a complete year now… It’s so difficult.

  4. Reply
    Alia

    I suffer some symptoms of religious ocd and it affect my daily life., im a muslim, i constantly obsess and doing my prayer repetitively. My mind cannot stop thinking lot of unwanted thoughts. Is there any ways to help overcome my anxiety?

  5. Reply
    Khan

    I have same this problem so what should I do what is the treatment

  6. Reply
    Dinesh Chhetri

    I am From Nepal. I have been suffering religious O.C.D, How can you help me? I have been taking medicine since last 25 years yet I could not have release from it religious O.C.D.

    Unlucky Man
    Dinesh Chetri
    From
    Nepal

  7. Reply
    Richard Potter

    I prefer to speak to someone in private before making a public comment. I suffer with religious OCD and asking for real truthful help. Thanks

    • Reply
      S

      Have you read the Doubting Disease? It was written by a Catholic Priest who was also a psychologist (weird combination, but hey. It was helpful)

  8. Reply
    Pam

    I believe that my 22 year old daughter is suffering from this and we are struggling to identify solutions to help her realize. It is difficult to live with and see the transformation that has occurred. Please provide suggestions for the family. Thank you

  9. Reply
    S

    Had the problem for years. I found the book “The Doubting Disease” very helpful

  10. Reply
    S

    Try ‘The Doubting Disease.’ It’s a very helpful book focused on scrupulous OCD

    Reply if you need to talk

  11. Reply
    Ann Gela

    Hi, I’m a Christian who.When I started to repent and accept Jesus in my life that I’ve ever made and will never regret.But, the challenges and trials started to surround me but it’s okay since this trials will strengthen my faith to Him.By the way, I’m suffering (religious) OCD right now, it seems like demons always tries to distract me, like whenever I pray, distractions starts when bad thoughts and scary thoughts began to pop up in my mind.And also when I attend church and worship time began, I cannot really focus because those thoughts are always stucked in my mind.Please pray for me guys.I know God is good, I will overcome this.

  12. Reply
    Shanelle

    This is a daily, moment-to-moment fight that I face. A fight within my mind. Every decision is first blocked by a horrible thought about my God. My thoughts torment and beat down on me. I say the same prayer (compulsion) to put a band-aid on it until it happens again. I am in such a rut. My intrusive thoughts have led to full out panic attacks. I’m so ashamed of myself… of my thoughts. I wish the negativity would end so that I could be at peace.

  13. Reply
    Nicholas

    I have religious O.C.D. I am worried about Hebrews 10:26-31-“26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I worry about sinning on purpose, so I am constantly going back, and changing what I say. I have had anxiety about buying gas on a Sunday, because of the Sabbath.

  14. Reply
    Jesse Pascucci

    I’m struggling with religious ocd but its more complicated than that one time I like this then 2 or 3 weeks later I’m obsessed with something else mainly a particular religion I love Christianity but I’m always watching my every move and scared if I made a wrong one sometimes I think of switching religions I also struggle with witchcraft and Wicca I know its bad but I’m still trying to get out of the “witchcraft Wicca pit” my parents have a problem with me and religion they tell me all I need is belief and faith and that it is inside me like I put so much energy to be baptized and confirmed since I want to be Catholic but I get nervous and think does God want me to be Catholic or does he want me to be protestant gotten signs from him that I still can’t explain and don’t know what he’s telling me since I know the devil sends false signs which makes me nervous I pray in my head or I combine prayer thoughts and silent talking like talking without making a sound I had a rosary but my parents took it because they said I didn’t have permission to get it but I was honest and they let me choose what they took they only took my necklace and my rosary I read the bible whenever I can I have the bible tv show collection from history channel and other bible shows I watch I’m always scared if I did something wrong or if I will be in heaven I feel nervous to pray to Mary and the saints or honor them since the ten commandments say that the only god you can worship is God and I am always wondering if I’m walking in the spirit or if I’m in a state of grace or if I’m filled with the holy spirit or if I’m saved though I learned that Catholics believe that salvation is an ongoing process so trying to realize that and understand that I want to get this ocd under control because I want to get rid of it completely but I know some part of it will still be there but it won’t effect me that much almost like son to please help I wonder what I can do about this

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