Scrupulousity QUESTION from Vince

Scrupulousity QUESTION from Vince on August 11, 2003

Brother Ignatius,
My wife suffers from scrupulousity to the point that depression and anxiety overwhelm her daily life. Even daily Mass has caused her much suffering because she assumes each homily is directed primarilly at her. Her feelings of guilt are the result of those homilies and of reading material that constantly, in her mind, points directly to her.
My wife is the probably the most concerned, loving, caring, and charitable person I know. She wants to please God so much and thinks that somehow, because of the homilies and her reading, that she is not doing God's will.
She is presently under the care of a psychiatrist and also a psychologist but after more than one year of treatment the problem appears to be getting worse.
Can you explain scrupulousity in a way that she might come to terms with it and understand the danger that can be attached to this problem.
Whatever help you can give both of us will be greatly appreciated.
Sincerely,
Vince.

ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on August 17, 2003

Dear Vince:
Scrupulosity is a very difficult problem and one that can be seriously debilitating. Beyond any psychiatric causes to this behavior, which is religious form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the central spiritual cause is lack of faith.
Scrupulous people suffer from two basic problems:
1) a lack faith in believing the God keeps His promises and;
2) a form of Pride. This can manifest both in the idea that somehow the promises of God that apply to all of us do not apply to them, and/or in a self-loathing sourced in the idea that they are someone of special unworthiness that even God cannot penetrate.
Thus scrupulous people tend to (among other things)...

think that God cannot forgive them;

have difficulties forgiving themselves for sins they commit;

exaggerate venial sins into mortal sins;

exaggerate mortal sins into unforgivable sins;

interpret non-sinful behavior as sins;

feel guilty about almost anything

be like hypochondriacs in that if a sin is talked about in a conversation or such, they will begin to obsess on the fear that they have committed that very same sin.

sometimes exhibit paranoid behavior

The basic result of this at best is the loss of joy and the loss of the victorious Christ-life; and at worse can lead to the loss of faith like what happened to Martin Luther leading to abandonment of the faith, or to mortal sin of despair that rejects God's love and forgiveness -- which if maintained until death may result in an eternity in hell.
To live in scrupulosity is to reject the love and mercy of God.
To overcome this condition one needs to:
1) see a doctor about obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are medications that help this condition and perhaps bring it under control;
2) Seek to properly inform one's conscience. To quote one priest's explanation:

Scrupulosity may be overcome through Catholic teaching on the proper formation of conscience. In extreme cases, absolute obedience to a confessor or spiritual director may be necessary for a limited time.
Scrupulosity is not a safety margin. It is disordered moral doubt. It is disordered because it does not take into account Christ's love and mercy.
Note that absolute obedience in this context is very different from the obedience in matters of faith and morals that all Catholics owe to a holy priest. If a person becomes scrupulous to the point where he regards everything he does as sinful, even mortally sinful, it may be necessary to ask a holy priest to literally instruct him on what he should be doing every hour of the day. Absolute obedience to such detailed instruction might relieve his anxiety while the priest helps him properly form his conscience.

3) recognize the possibility of demonic bondage and harassment. In this area the Self-help section of our St. Padre Pio Center for Deliverance Counseling may help. If those self-help methods do not work, then personal consultation with a deliverance counselor may be indicated IF the person is not so impaired that they cannot productively participate in the counseling process. (There is a Help Request link at the bottom of the HELP page).
Most often one needs all three of these remedies since scrupulosity almost always is sourced in the psychiatric issues, a malformed conscience, and at least a demonic level hitchhiking on the problem.
Here are a couple of articles about scrupulosity:
Scrupulosity: Religious Obsessions and Compulsions by Carol E. Watkins, MD
Thoughts That Will Not Go Away: Scrupulosity And How To Overcome It by Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSSR
Father Santa is also the director of Scrupulous Anonymous
I hope this, with much prayer for your wife, will help some.
God Bless,Bro. Ignatius Mary

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