I don’t know exactly when my struggle with scrupulosity began. The timeframe is foggy, and it’s hard to keep track of events and timing. The struggle has lasted for at least eight years and has been full of ups and downs, yet there are some noticeable consistent threads and themes. I hope a brief overview of my journey will provide a framework for the rest of the content you’ll find here.
There were sporadic times throughout my childhood where I doubted my salvation, but these periods of doubt only lasted days to weeks and were soon resolved for a time. However, when I was thirteen, the doubts came again and seemed to stay for good.
I failed to understand what I was going through. I viewed my doubt as the antithesis of faith, my struggle primarily as sin, and myself as far from the Lord. This produced discouragement, lack of peace, and even more doubt, and so the cycle continued. A swirl of “what ifs,” one after the other, in a sea of uncertainty with no definitive landing. Was I a Christian, or wasn’t I? It seemed the jury was still out, and every little thought, deed, or motive seemed to scream I was doomed, a constant nagging that perhaps I’m not saved.
Every obsession came as a new twist on the same central theme: am I saved? When one fear began to weaken in my mind, another took its place. I had general doubts about God’s existence; doubts about Jesus’ person and divinity; sudden urges to blaspheme; fear of committing the unpardonable sin; worries over the warning verses in Hebrews; and a vague sense of doom, with the threat of hell and judgment always in my mind. I would compulsively confess or pray for salvation, even dozens of times in a day; seek reassurance from others, even when I knew what their answer would be; frantically research certain questions, even though I already knew enough to give an unprepared speech on the topic; and avoid Scripture and prayer, which only ramped up the thoughts.
These obsessions would produce differing reactions in me, from a vague sense of dread underlying everything I did to intense anxiety that often resulted in panic attacks or extreme fatigue. In all of these doubts, there was neither the desire to reject Christ (or even displease him) nor an indifferent stance toward belief or unbelief, and yet I assumed my heart intent through it all was evil, twisted, and devoid of good.
I was able to go about my days with little outward signs but near-constant inner turmoil. Other people usually didn’t notice, and I am not naturally bent toward unsolicited sharing. At my worst, I’d wake up in the mornings and immediately feel a weight on my chest. I’d go through my day with a two-track mind, outwardly focused on the task at hand while inwardly consumed in anxiety and rumination. I struggled with fatigue and felt that no matter how long I slept, it never seemed to curb the tiredness I felt throughout the day. At my best, I was able to focus more freely on the task at hand, but there was often a nagging in the back of my mind to pay attention to the thoughts that convinced me I was doomed.
About five years into this more difficult season, I discovered my experience has a name and is shared by many others. This realization came when I stumbled upon a talk given by CCEF faculty member and counselor Mike Emlet, in which he talked about religious OCD/scrupulosity (you can find it here). It had caught my attention because in the description were the exact questions I’d struggled with for so long: “Am I saved? Have I committed the unpardonable sin?” I bought the talk for a few bucks and listened. I felt completely understood. It was as though someone had seen right through me and provided a cup of cold water for my thirst. There was no resolution to my uncertainties, but at least here was an answer to the why behind them.
I wasn’t just crazy. I wasn’t just weak in faith. My brain was a part of the struggle, too. Suddenly I was offered an alternate perspective, one that didn’t revolve around what I saw as my sinfulness and hard-heartedness, but one that took into account my whole being as body, mind, and soul.
Though the talk helped, I realized in the following months that I needed professional help. I was able to get an appointment with a specialist, who agreed that my symptoms were consistent with the experience of scrupulosity. I’ll be honest—I expected three or four sessions with this counselor to do the trick and straighten me out! It took one session to convince me otherwise: I was so entrenched in these patterns of compulsions and so ensnared by these obsessions that it would take a lot longer to learn how to manage them. Though it has in many ways been life-changing, counseling is more than a few pieces of advice to straighten me out, more than logical arguments with which I can counter the intrusive thoughts and doubts.
Daily life with scrupulosity doesn’t always look like panic attacks, sudden urges to blaspheme Christ, or persistent images of hell, as it has in the past. Instead, it often looks like guilt at not reading the Bible, confessing too many times “just in case,” and thoughts of hypocrisy every time I sing in church or even listen to Christian music. Though I’ve seen much improvement in my OCD symptoms in the last three years, I have not gained any greater assurance. The only constant has been the nagging fear that I’m not saved. Daily I have condemnatory thoughts about my standing with God; no matter the form they take, even if they aren’t so explicit, this is always the fear at the bottom of them. I can’t read Scripture without anxiety. I can’t pray without obsessing. I can’t go to church without doubts.
Obsessions and compulsions still comprise much of my daily life and walk with the Lord. I’m constantly looking for any shred of evidence against myself, proving I’m not saved. I know God is good, but I struggle to believe it, and it’s as though I’m looking for loopholes in God’s promises that I might slip through. I compare myself with other Christians, expecting my journey to look different and also feeling that I’m behind or not “doing it right,” whatever that even means. Well-meaning encouragements from loved ones never seem to stick, which means further guilt: “Am I just unteachable and proud?”
I often wonder what a Christian life without scrupulosity would look like, without all this spiritual anxiety. I wonder what it’s like to have full assurance. As much as I want this to be the case, I realize it may never happen. Today, each and every day, I need the continual reminder that the goal is not to live without fear, but rather to live with God in the midst of it. The goal is not more assurance—though I certainly pray for that!—but more Jesus. That is a truth I’ll turn back to again and again throughout this blog, because it’s a truth I need to hear every day.
A quick note: If you read this, you may think that scrupulosity is mainly doubting your salvation, but I want to be clear: not everyone with scrupulosity doubts this. It has been the prominent fear and central question in my struggle, but others may struggle with spiritual anxiety, obsessions, and compulsions and yet know they’re saved.
This is me exactly. And I’ve been struggling for over 20 years. I am on medication for the anxiety and the thoughts are not crippling me, but I always wonder if it’s just me and I don’t believe or trust. Thank you for your blog.
I understand that, Donna—I often think, “What if it’s not scrupulosity, but just a lack of faith?” I’m also on medication and I’m thankful for it as a common grace from God.
Thank you for reading it. 🙂
Hey Aubrynn! Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, suffer from Scrupulosity and can relate to a lot of what you wrote about. I want to encourage you to keep writing. God has given you a gift. He has also allowed OCD in your life. I think you are using both to glorify Him, and for that – it is a wonderful thing.
Thank you so much, Rebecca. I’m grateful this has been an encouragement to you.
Aubrynn, I found your blog because Tim Challies linked it on his site recently. I look forward to reading through each of your posts! I, too, have struggled with scrupulosity, as part of a greater struggle with all “forms” of OCD from childhood through adulthood. I, too, have considered writing a blog (it’s just private right now) to chronicle the struggle and worship God through the struggle. By God’s grace, I have been freed from the tyranny of my ~5 painfully scrupulous years, though my battle with OCD is by no means over (it seems the scrupulosity was just one “phase” of my lifelong struggle with OCD). I, too, have been helped by Dr. Mike Emlet and am appreciative for CCEF.
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Mari, I’m so thankful to hear your battle with scrupulosity has been easier, but I’m so very sorry you’ve had to walk through it and continue to walk through OCD. I too am very thankful for Mike’s work and the broader work of CCEF!
Can you tell me how you got past things?
Texts or calls welcome
I am SOOO thankful to have come across this blog!! I cried when I found it and literally read my story through your words 😳 I have struggled on and off through my life with assurance of salvation but it stuck for good 13 or so years ago. It wasn’t until a few years ago i realized there’s a name for it. While it helps to note that, it doesn’t make the thoughts and fears and doubts and anxiety go away. But it’s nice to know I’m not alone… ❤️❤️❤️
Thank you for sharing that, Sarah! You’re so right—understanding scrupulosity doesn’t make it go away. You are absolutely not alone! ❤
Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I have struggled with spiritual OCD throughout my life for different seasons. In the beginning my OCD fear was what if I’m not saved. Now my OCD is what if God’s not real or What if the gospel is not true? There’s a huge part of me that realizes this is irrational, I have seen God work in my life I have experienced his love and working in my life and I know my life is meaningless without him. But I can’t stop ruminating on this fear and I can’t stop continually telling my self I do believe God is real and as a result I’m constantly throughout the day telling Jesus that I believe in him and that I believe that he died for me and that he’s with me and loves me, I’ll say that until I feel peaceful and don’t have doubt but that only lasts for a few moments then the cycle starts again. As a result it’s often all I think about, I’ve been dealing with crippling depression and anxiety throughout the day . I’ve been reading scripture every day and still attending church and Bible study and worship nights but often with anxiety and worrying that I’ll doubt.
Do you think that this is religious OCD and if so any advice you have for me would be great. I have an appointment with a new counselor that specializes in OCD, but I am on a waitlist.
Thank you again for sharing your journey .
Hi Cristina, thank you for sharing your story. This sounds exactly like religious OCD (though the tendency will be to ask, “But is it really OCD?”). You may recognize the thoughts as irrational, but that doesn’t make them any less anxiety-producing. I’m so sorry you’re walking through this.
The thing about scrupulosity is that it will continually present new thoughts to you and urge you to pay attention. Once one thought starts to die down, another pops up. Mike Emlet (I link to his work on scrupulosity on the Resources page) says that it’s like whack-a-mole. It’s a fitting description! I think even recognizing this as a natural pattern of OCD is a helpful first step.
I’m thankful to hear you have an appointment with a specialist. Counseling has been so helpful and reorienting for me. I’m praying now that this counselor will be a great fit for you!
Aubrynn, you are a brave brave girl. I’m the daughter of Simply Shelli who left a comment on one of your most recent blogs. She sent this to me and it has been encouraging. I’m right there with ya. It’s often times discouraging wondering if I’ll ever be worthy to disciple someone else, evangelize, whatever, because I too wrestle with these same thoughts. However, I am trusting that God is good even in my doubts and that He is faithful. I’m glad you’re speaking out even though you still struggle with it.
Thank you, Lindsay. I understand that—I often feel like I need to overcome this struggle in order to be an encouragement to others, yet this blog is proof of the opposite. It’s often in the midst of our struggles that we can be a blessing to others. I’m sure others in your life would be able to testify to your care for them! 🙂