How Common Is Scrupulosity?
It is estimated that more than 2% of people will experience some form of OCD in their lifetime, and of those, a full third will experience it in the form of scrupulosity. That means that of every 150 people someone encounters, one person is experiencing moral or religious OCD or has experienced it at some point.
People do not need to practice a religion to experience religious scrupulosity.
Studies have found that of those who experienced scrupulosity, nearly a quarter had no religious affiliation.
Many individuals who identify as spiritual, faith-based, agnostic, or even atheists can experience scrupulosity. Because scrupulosity is not about religion or faith—it is OCD guised in the theme of religion and God.
The cause of scrupulosity is not known. Hard empirical evidence is lacking. However, anecdotal research shows that the condition stems from the same factors as broader OCD and other mental health conditions: genetic and environmental influences, and nature versus nurture.
Risk factors vary by person. Given the different brain development and socialization of children and adults, scrupulosity also presents differently depending on age.
OCD, Religion, and Scrupulosity in Kids and Teens
One of the defining characteristics of children and teens is that they are not yet old enough to make many of their own decisions. Because of this, scrupulosity in this age group frequently takes on the overtones of the religion practiced in the home.
Whether or not parents or guardians attend a religious gathering regularly, a child or teen may believe they are not meeting the requirements of the family’s religion.
As with anyone who experiences scrupulosity, children and teens worry that their thoughts are impure. They may feel anxious that they are not good enough and that their thoughts will have negative consequences.
Children already face a lot of correction in life as they learn to function in society. Additional internal pressures of trying to be perfectly good can have devastating consequences for young people.
Children’s fears often center on their parents. Some kids fear their parents will not love them. They may worry that God will strike their parents down in retaliation for unworthy thoughts. Consequently, children with scrupulosity try to make up for their failings but never feel they succeed.
Another factor that affects scrupulosity in children is their lack of autonomy. For example, they are unlikely to attend religious services on their own or connect with spiritual leaders of their choice. On the other hand, they may be forced to interact with leaders or attend services that do not resonate with them. These factors can increase feelings of inadequacy and doubt in young people.
In the case of children and teens, it is important to remember that concerns about pleasing authority figures and parents need to be addressed along with scrupulosity.
OCD, Religion, and Scrupulosity in Adults
Compared to children with scrupulosity, adults have more access to resources as well as more self-governed time.
Adults with religion-oriented OCD are more likely to go repeatedly to their place of worship to pray or confess. They may seek out spiritual leaders and make desperate bids to receive assurances they cannot find within themselves. They may repeatedly perform cleansing rituals, acts of repentance, or sacrifice for others.
Because adults have more autonomy, they are also better able to avoid situations they might find triggering. People with scrupulosity may actually avoid their place of worship, religious texts, or gathering with members of their congregation. Such settings may spark obsessive thoughts of moral failings and doubt.
Scrupulosity may also lead people to focus excessively on one aspect of religion while ignoring others. This shift has real-world repercussions. Avoiding services, for instance, could lead to disapproval from one’s religious community. This would likely lead to more feelings of inadequacy and fear.