Please take a minute and read the following article from the OCD Center of Los Angeles. Many people probably have the notion that Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) is a somewhat harmless psychological problem that involves nothing worse than washing your hands a lot. A somewhat more debilitating version of OCD was featured on the show “Monk” that starred Tony Shalhoub as the eponymous title character. In the show, Adrian Monk is a brilliant San Francisco detective, whose obsessive compulsive disorder just happens to get in the way of his solving crime and living his life. It was broadly played for comedic effect, although, to be fair, there were some poignant moments as well.
However, the real OCD variation known as “Scrupulosity” is not funny—at all. Typical symptoms, according to the article, include:
- · Repetitive thoughts about having committed a sin
- · Exaggerated concern with the possibility of having committed blasphemy
- · Excessive fear of having offended God
- · Inordinate focus on religious, moral, and/or ethical perfection
- · Excessive fear of failing to show proper devotion to God
- · Repeated fears of going to hell / eternal damnation
- · Concern that one’s behaviors will doom a loved one to hell
- · Unwanted sexual thoughts about God, Jesus, or a religious figure such as a priest
- · Unwanted mental images such as Satan, 666, hell, sex with Christ, etc.
- · Excessive fear of having acted counter to one’s personal morals, values, or ethics
These thoughts torment the person suffering from the disorder to the point that they can’t hardly live their life at all. They literally can think of nothing else. It is not uncommon for the loved one in our family suffering this disorder to remain in bed all day and all night for days at time. Other compulsions include:
- · Repeated and ritualized confessing (to religious figures such as pastors, church elders, and/or to friends and family)
- · Excessive, ritualized praying and/or reading of the bible or other religious texts
- · Repeating specific verses from the bible or other religious texts (either out loud or silently)
- · Mentally reviewing past acts and/or thoughts in an effort to prove to one’s self that one has not committed a sin or acted in a manner thy construe to be immoral or unethical or counter to one’s faith
- · Ritualized “undoing” behaviors to counteract perceived sins and transgressions
- · Excessive acts of self-sacrifice (i.e., giving away relatively large amounts of money or earthly possessions)
We have got our loved one into one treatment program, but they weren’t satisfied with it and quit. We are trying to get them into another one. I have commented before that the mental health system in this country is in bad shape. There are not a lot of places that offer treatment and insurance coverage varies widely. Unfortunately, the quality of therapist also varies widely. In these situations it is very important that patient and therapist are compatible.
I’ve been meaning to post on this topic for a while, especially after Klasie Kraalogies shared his experience with mental illness in a loved one. The intersection of faith/religion and mental illness is difficult terrain to traverse and is made much more difficult by many misconceptions that exist in church circles, especially charismatic and evangelical churches. Far too many people still think that depression is a moral failing. I’ve also lost count on the number of “deliverance” sessions my loved one has been to where demons are cast out. I used to be somewhat tolerant of well-meaning fellow Christians, but no longer—because such “ministry” exacerbates the problem instead of relieving it. Especially when so called well-meaning fellow Christians discourage the loved one from taking medicine prescribed for the condition.
One bright spot is the local conservative evangelical mega-church that we often attend. They have some very sensitive ministry staff that don’t hesitate to recommend qualified medical professional help for mental health issues in their congregants, and encourage them to remain on prescribed meds.
The last issue I wanted to raise on this subject might be a little more controversial. Some of you reading the article probably thought that the symptoms described as OCD Scrupulosity were mighty close to how you might describe some people you’re acquainted with at church. Maybe not to the extreme in the article, but, still… uncomfortably familiar. The bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:16 (NIV): Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? Then there is this quote from the article:
Also, allow us to note that, before beginning the process of therapy, both the client and therapist should be aware that the result of engaging in CBT for religious Scrupulosity may not be limited to a reduction in distorted thoughts. An additional result may be that the individual begins to challenge their global interpretation, experience, and practice of their faith. While this does not necessarily mean a loss of faith, it may mean that the individual transitions away from an excessively dogmatic view and practice of faith, and towards a less rigid interpretation. It may also mean that the individual will develop a lifestyle without some of the specific practices that they previously found so vital to their faith, or even an entirely new perspective towards their faith.
I’m just going to come out and say it. Maybe, just maybe, getting shed of your fundamentalist mindset is part of getting mentally healthy. Excessively scrupulous, dogmatic, rigid interpretations of scripture, over reliance on proof-texting, inability to reason outside of black-white thinking, inability to understand nuance, maybe these are not just a temperament, but they are indicative of a dysfunctional mind. Wait… so Mike… are you saying if I’m a fundamentalist I’m mentally ill? Well… not exactly (*). What I am saying is there is a continuum or a spectrum from the dysfunctional severe mental illness of Scrupulosity OCD to a healthy and fulfilling religious life. Where do you place yourself on that spectrum? Maybe more importantly, where do those around you place you on that spectrum?
Rather than get mad at me, if you need help, get help. Of course, the first step is recognizing you need help.
*Just to be clear, and for the record; the article makes it plain that the OCD behavior occurs not just in Christianity: “It is worth noting that Scrupulosity is not partial to any one religion, but rather custom fits its message of doubt to the specific beliefs and practices of the sufferer.” Also Scrupulosity OCD gets its own category of diagnosis expressly because the compulsion fixates on the religious components of the sufferer’s life. But other aspects of one’s life can be subject to the dysfunctional compulsion that seems to afflict humans. Ever run into a monomaniacal meat-is-murder vegan? How about a constantly-virtue-signaling SJW? Trekkies? Ask HUG to give you a discourse on Fanatical Furries sometime. My point is it’s a human condition.