Scrupulosity: Doubt Disease

Hello dear reader, it is a pleasure to see you again. First, I wanted to thank you for taking a moment to read this post.

Today I want to talk about a severe spiritual illness that cripples a great many people in the spiritual life. This disease is not pride or arrogance. No, this disease is much more sinister.

Those who have contracted it are all too aware of it. It’s like cancer of the soul that slowly eats away at the person’s mind, body, and heart. Those who have this disease often fall into a vicious cycle of no escape as the weight of their nothingness.  

Scrupulosity

I have seen and experienced what this disease and cross and do to an unfortunate soul. Unfortunately, those unprepared for this ordeal so often fall into hopeless despair of God’s infinite love and mercy for them that they, themselves, become the cruelest and unmerciful judge rather than their loving and forgiving Father.  

I bring this up after attending the first Saturday Marian devotion Mass. I was sitting in Church, reading St. Therese’s A Story of a Soul. This book, I cannot recommend enough, it is a spiritual classic and contemplative masterpiece. 

Even if you’re not Catholic, one can see how God’s light touch influenced St. Therese. It also shows how she suffered an intense spiritual martyrdom in her soul just as her hero, St. Joan, suffered a physical martyrdom.  

Scrupulosity- What is it?

I looked into it when I went through the same storm that St. Therese ordeal. I think this trial for me lasted about six months to a year and a half.  

Some people would say it’s almost like a “spiritual” OCD, Which gives name to a spiritual sickness’s physical and mental symptoms. I don’t discredit the physical symptoms and thought patterns of those who have OCD.

OCD can have biological/mental factors such as chemical imbalances that create these needs to go through repetitive cycles. Is there a “spiritual” OCD? If there is a chemical imbalance, yes then, you might have OCD that manifests itself in the spiritual life.  

Yet, Scrupulosity is not that. Not even remotely close.

Scrupulosity is genuinely a terrible and painful cross an individual is forced to carry. So what is it?

  1. Your perception of God is heavily distorted that God is ready to condemn you at any point for the slightest infraction you commit, leading you to doubt in God’s mercy for you.
  2. You believe minor sins are mortal sins. Any thought that enters your mind must be from you. Thus you commit truly unspeakable sins of the heart and thought.
  3. Any thought you think must come from you, so you must believe you mean it. You become fearful of God’s judgment.
  4. Thus you seek God’s forgiveness through an act of penance or in the sacrament of the Confession.

Essentially it can be boiled down to elements—doubt and the idea that temptation is a sin. The soul does not willingly enter into this condition. You might be explained that God is the God of mercy, and He has indeed forgiven you, but your body, mind, and soul say, “This can’t be! I am the most wretched sinner! Why would God pardon for these thoughts?”  

Or maybe, “I’m being tempted with these thoughts because I have angered God.”

Intrusive thoughts of doubt constantly bombard the soul. We all have all experienced crazy thoughts that we are much embarrassed to admit. Yet, we don’t willingly think or consent to them.

Them come into the mind like a breeze, and when we realize it’s there, we are often startled by them, and we reject them and carry on with our business, even maybe laughing it off as something crazy and outlandish. There is no sin in these thoughts. In fact, it’s meritorious for us to reject them.

Yet the scrupulous soul latches on to all thoughts that come into the net. It does not rejoice in the vileness of these souls. On the contrary, once made aware, the soul immediately saddens and despairs at the depravity of the thought or temptation.  

They can see the sin in the thought and temptation for the vileness that is it in it, but the soul clings on to it, thinking, “It must have meant it because I thought it!”  

It’s the idea that we, as human beings, are our thoughts.

You can imagine how painful this can be to a soul striving for holiness because our thoughts are not holy at times. But, even more so, the devil is aware of the soul’s condition and will constantly bombard the soul with truly horrible thoughts just torment the scrupulous person.

It creates a vicious cycle. Bad thought, cling on to the bad thought thinking you have sinned against God, afraid of offending God so you go to confession, only to have another thought pop into your mind, so and so on.  

Now I want to say and emphasize that two scrupulous souls are not the same. Some people might have it because of a distortion in the way they see God. Other times, God uses it as a cross to purify another person. Sometimes it can be biological or psychological. For others, it might just be, as I said, a cross God gives them. It might be a life-long fight. It might be a one-and-done thing; it could come in bouts.  

The point I’m making is that no two people with the case of scruples are the same.  

I recognize that as I was reading St. Therese. Here was a young girl. I believe she went through her first bout at the age of fourteen. It was after her first major illness and her healing from Mary. 

Nuns had asked her what Mary looked like, and she couldn’t answer them. All she could say was, “She was beautiful, especially her smile.” Yet, the seed of doubt was planted in this timid soul with deep faith and love for God.

She doubted herself and asked the question, “Did I just lie?”

No, she didn’t. She lacked the words to explain what she saw. She did her best to relate her trial, but she couldn’t properly answer the question as a child on the verge of death. 

Yet, that idea stuck out in her mind. For the pious young girl who never sought to offend God willingly, she was desperately afraid she might have done so by telling a lie.  

Scrupulosity doesn’t usually manifest itself in a flagrant person living a sinful life. Instead, it pops up in people trying to live a good and holy life. Usually, these people want to have a right and loving relationship with God, so they don’t want to offend Him.

My personal experience with Scrupulosity 

I remember coming back to the Faith, I had was indeed afraid. I realized I had missed out on so much. I didn’t understand or see the value of tradition, of solemnity, and the culture in the Catholic tradition. I took all that for granted.

Coming back and making a general confession after living in the world for, I’d say, fifteen years. I had a lot I wanted to atone for, first out of fear but then out of love.

I wanted to make up for my sins. I strived to grow spiritually, reading about the faith, my first ever consecration to Mary, and St. Augustine (thank you, St. Augustine)

I had a love for God, and I wanted to grow in that.  

Then a thought entered my mind. It startled me deeply because I was in the middle of a rosary. It started a harrowing journey and cross for me to carry.  

To be honest, it would be wise for me not to mention it. Yet, I remember that thought all too well because it scared me. I stopped my rosary and thought, “Where did this come from?” “Why did this come up?” 

Then, when I couldn’t find an answer, instead of dismissing the thought, I believed, “Well, if I thought and there was no way for me to see where it came from, it must mean it came from me. Because it came from me, I must have meant it somewhere deep down.”

Oh, how horrendous and evil this thinking was! Here the devil shot an arrow, and it hit a vital weakness in the armor! The poison lingered and saturated the soul, causing horrendous infections and allergic reactions.

I should have dismissed it as “well, I don’t like that thought. I’m going back to the rosary!” What anguish it would have saved me.  

Yet, I was a spiritual infant. I was learning how to crawl again, my conscience was fragile, and my heart was not fully formed. I was unprepared for the enemy assault.

Yet God deemed that I was to carry this cross. He knew that I still had no idea of who He was and how infinite His mercy was. Moreso, He knew that I had no idea who I was.  

So, in His loving wisdom, He deemed it acceptable for me to undergo this passion. St. Therese often wrote, people do not understand scruples unless they’ve been through them.  

That is absolutely true. In some ways, they were the darkest moments in my life. Living in fear, not of God or the devil, but in reality, I lived in fear of my thoughts. It was a horrendous cycle. 

The Cure for Scrupulosity

I say “cure” because, in truth, there is no natural “cure.” I did everything you could think of, counseling and medication, yet these did very little to help with the inner turmoil I was drowning in.

Yet, there is an old Catholic cure for this. But, unfortunately, most people don’t like it. They want an easy solution to their problems without the work. Well…. that can’t always be done.

But the cure for this spiritual illness… is to pick it up as your cross and carry it. Carry it and realize that God will see you through it. Know that you willingly embrace it. God is using it to some benefit for you.  

But, He also knows how weak and fragile we are. So, there are some more hands-on approaches to help you carry that cross until God has taken it away from you.  

The first one, and I think this was really important for me, was having a normal confessor. I love confession! It’s a beautiful place to encounter God’s mercy and receive very practical spiritual advice.  

Yet, for the scrupulous person, confession is a place to relieve the constantly itchy spiritual itch. But, unfortunately, it’ll eventually become worse and infected.

Having a regular confessor and telling him what’s going on, he can guide you gently yet firmly through the storm you are going through.

Following up on the regular confessor is a no-brainer, but follow everything he tells you. If he is a good confessor, he will very actionable advice for you. He will say to you only go to confession for actual sins you have committed. Go only once a week or once every two weeks (unless you have willingly and deliberately committed a mortal sin without any doubt in your mind)

Next, realize, this was so important to me that you aren’t your thoughts. We all have those crazy thoughts. Sometimes we are caught off guard, so what’s the best thing, laugh them off, go back to what you were doing, or say a quick prayer, and get your mind off of it! I know that was super hard for me, but over time, it does get easier.  

Also, this was crucial for me. But find a Saint that went through the same thing they went through what you are going through. Trust me, there are plenty, or ask God to point you in the right direction.

I was blessed to have come to St. Therese. Reading how she struggled with it, I felt reassured that I wasn’t the only one who went through it. I would also encourage you to develop a relationship with that Saint.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt St. Therese look down at me. I knew she was praying for me, and her prayers helped me overcome those dark times. In those darkest times, I even received some roses from her. It was just letting me know in some small way that she was with me in my fight.  

Also, just realize that temptations are not your thoughts. They might appear that way, but they aren’t.  

Lastly, realize that there will be a light to the end of the tunnel. I felt like I was going to be stuck there forever and that I was doomed. That was most certainly not the case. Know that God is using this opportunity to shape and mold you in some particular manner. Be faithful to God in those moments, just as He is faithful to us. 

I was not a fan of the scruples, going through them. It was a year, year and a half, of a nightmare. But, I can say now, I’m glad God gave me that cross to carry. It helped me to see His mercy. It helped me to understand myself better. But it also let me to St. Therese, and through her St. Joan. So, in the end, it was a blessing to have gone through those storms.  

In those darkest moments of doubt, God taught me to trust Him step by step on the spiritual side of things. He was teaching me how to ride a bike. Not only was He there picking me back up when I got scraped up, so was St. Therese. 

2 thoughts on “Scrupulosity: Doubt Disease

  1. I think there are other forms of scrupulosity that don’t get as much attention. EG: beating oneself up for past sins not because they are so bad but because they hurt your pride. The cure for that is humility.
    I think a lot of Catholics’ vocational struggles are also scrupulosity in the sense that they are looking for answers to unanswerable questions, while the devil steals their joy.

    Like

    1. Hey there!
      I wanted to thank you for your response.

      I think you’re right. With any kind of illness or disease, there is a wide spectrum of severity and symptoms. What one might be going through, another has no doubt or fear.

      I know I struggled with beating myself up for past sins when I first came back, and it manifested itself in the form of obtrusive thoughts.

      That is the essence of scrupulosity; it does steal a great deal of joy. In the same way, though, I think God allows this as a way to purify ourselves and to learn to trust him more.

      Insightful comment!

      Like

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