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Schizophrenia and Scrupulosity

Schizophrenia and Scrupulosity

Many schizophrenics are familiar with obsession.  Obsessive compulsive disorder is in fact an anxiety disorder and is oftentimes comorbid with schizophrenia.  The two can become intertwined as delusion fuels obsession and vice versa.  However, I want to speak exclusively of a certain type of obsession.

Scrupulosity refers directly to a negative religious obsession.  Schizophrenia usually has spiritual and mystical undertones, so it’s no wonder that one might find themselves obsessed with concerns of religious matters.  The word scrupulosity is derived from the word ‘scrupulum’ in Latin, which is a stone with a sharp edge.

The name fits, because this stone stabs in the schizophrenic mind that is overly sensitive and conscientious, struggling internally with abstract concepts such as sin and guilt.  The obsession with these philosophical objects can impact the individual so deeply that it causes great interference in normal functioning.  The daily life and especially the religious life of the sufferer is affected to the point of causing even greater distress, following the downward spiral as described by so many.

The spiritual practitioner will notice a change in his practice.  He will no longer feel the desirous pull towards a higher experience of good, but will become pushed away from the bad by a pathological anxiety surrounding these issues or morality and spirituality.  There is a subtle difference here that alters the experience for the devotee completely.  The individual is likely to suffer silently while attempting to conquer their own negative obsession.  They will begin by attempting to rationalize through the issues, and then by forcibly trying to deny the thoughts altogether.  This only seems to strengthen them.  They are too ashamed of the nature of their thoughts and will remain alone in this struggle.

Examples of Scrupulosity

The world famous Martin Luther spoke of his own struggles with this imp of the mind.  For no reason at all, he would experience compulsions to curse his god and his savior.  He was be urged by some unknown force to imagine the hind region of the devil while praying.  It was as if he was pushed to think of the most inappropriate thing he could imagine at the most inappropriate times.

St. Ignatius was overly conscientious and hyper aware of his environment.  He was threatened by an obsessive fear of stepping on two pieces of straw that crossed perpendicularly in the form of a cross.  He felt this would be a great disrespect to his Christ crucified.

Other highly attained adepts suffered from scrupulosity during the length of their spiritual achievements.  Some were urged to desecrate the eucharist.  Some had thoughts of molesting the Mother Mary and removing her virginity.  Some were compulsively pushed towards destroying religious iconography, spouting indecent phrases during the most compassionate sermon, or even considering Jesus in a sexual manner.  Others found themselves overly concerned with facing the precise direction, to a matter of degrees, towards Mecca as they prayed.

A Deeper Look at Scrupulosity

Negative obsessive thoughts are specifically focused on the worst fear possible.  This could surround inappropriate actions towards family members or envisioning horrible accidents.  For the schizophrenic, it is often surrounding spiritual topics.  This specific kind of obsessive thought, regarding religion, is called ‘scrupulosity’.

The unfortunate thing about obsessing about religious ideas is due to the nature of the foundational and fundamental beliefs involved.  This can amplify the confusion, fear, anxiety, and need for privacy.  This is the trap of scrupulosity, in that the secret will be kept and sometimes the problem is not even recognized for what it is, a psychological issue.  A believer may call it sin, or may believe they are truly possessed by an evil demonic entity.  So then, they try to conquer their mind alone through suppression, which only fuels the fire and inspires more negative religious thoughts.

The classic example of type of thinking is the command to try not to think of pink elephants.  The first thing you will do is envision a pink elephant. The act of denial and suppression is the creative force behind this illness.

Recovering from Negative Obsessive Religious Thought

The extent of this obsession can grow beyond the help of medication alone to manage.  Counseling in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy must be used in tandem with medication to achieve a full recovery.  Exposure therapy is not suggested as it would expose them to behaviors and actions they would deem sacrilegious.

The main reason cognitive behavioral therapy is the best bet is the ability to correct, or at least soften, some anthropomorphic projections people place upon their conceptions of god.  Most of what people think is not theological.  The scriptures themselves can’t even back it the beliefs, and yet people want to consider their god as an angry and vengeful person who will retaliate and bring forth his wrath on anyone who steps out of line.  This creates a fear of being damned.  Damnation and the anxiety surrounding this frightening possibility only further incites the thoughts to occur.

It should also be noted that obsessives, including us schizophrenics, probably place too much emphasis on certain ideas.  We also tend want to be in total control of our thoughts and have an extreme intolerance to not being able to control them.  It is also intolerable to the religious aspirant to not know fully the consequences of these thoughts.

Eventually in some doctrines, thought was equated to action.  If you had a bad thought, that was as bad as having performed the action.  We all clearly know this is not true, yet we still will feel the guilt and fear associated with it and the possible punishment and judgment awaiting us.  This happens due to the inability to know anything surrounding ethics or metaphysical realities.  If we can become okay with knowing that we can’t know, and nobody else can either, then we can dismiss much of the fear and guilt.  Then, medication can help us get the scrupulous thoughts under control to a reasonable level.


Scrupulosity is a baseless fear of sinning that is derived from faulty ideas, errors regarding metaphysical concepts.  The combination of three factors lead to the problem of obsessive religious thought: conscientiousness, spiritual sensitivity, and unfortunate neurochemical composition.  Any fundamentalist believer of their holy scriptures is also subject to a possible spiral down this obsessive path.  The obsession is the thought, and the compulsion is the thought.  It is a self-reinforcing illness related to impulse control.  Cognitive behavioral counseling and medication should be used together to put an end to this suffering.


  1. Very informative and well written and affirming. I experienced scrupulosity (though this is the first time I have heard it coined that way) in the way of being punished by God based on conviction by a set of holy jurors for a) not fulfilling my God chosen duty as a healer and to save the world and 2) continued punishment in the form of different illnesses/ailments of not being able to attempt to try again after my psychotic break. But the one experience that I rarely speak of is the feeling of being possessed. It was terror like I have never known. Taking an anti-psychotic helped me to deal with these fears and thoughts… and ditching everything spiritual or God-centric. I am slowly starting to redefine my spirituality now… almost 6 years after the trauma.

    • Hi Trish, how are you?

      I’m interested in what you say about the terror of feeling possessed. I wonder if you are a natural trance medium?

      If not, I’ve also had similar experiences. Before I had my past-life regression I used to feel there was “something else” living inside me. I felt it as another spirit and I felt that it hated me with a vengeance. Since the past-life therapy I’ve never felt this again. I don’t know if I told you before, but apparently it was part of a previous incarnation- part of the past soul had incarnated with me, I guess to get help. The therapist sent it to the light and I have never since felt the vicious hatred for myself that I felt before. I used to “see” a distraught face in my head before I would go to sleep sometimes. That has gone too.

      How much of all this I believe, I’m not sure, but I certainly believe there is truth in it. The fact that I haven’t felt this entity again is fantastic!! I used to think it was just my imagination, but the therapist was the first person I ever spoke to about my belief and she immediately identified it and helped me. It was comforting to be believed.

      I still have fear about spirits, even with the spiritual development work I do with “higher” beings who reside in the light. Night times I’m still jittery.

      I’m so glad to hear you are redefining your spirituality- I think this is what I’m also doing. I hope things improve loads more for you.


  2. Trish, my experience was one of guilt. I was constantly praying for forgiveness. I also had the guilt of not living up to my messianic and saving purpose. There was always more I could have done, and the things I did do could have been done better. I did the same as you. I ditched every spiritual and philosophical thought for a long time. But I found other thoughts to obsess over. SSRI’s helped me out tremendously with it, even though I thought obsession was a dopamine issue. Either way, I’ll take it! Thanks for stopping by and sharing 🙂

  3. I can really relate to this. I was brought up in a Christian household and went to a very strict Catholic school. My view of God was a very scary one. I was, and still am to some extent, terrified of going to hell. I think I watch my thoughts a lot, to check they’re “OK” and “safe”. If I feel uncomfortable with a thought I judge as “bad” this causes anxiety and I usually try to push it from my mind, or focus on much more positive things. I sometimes feel people can see what I’m thinking.

    I’ve never been diagnosed with OCD- I definitely don’t exhibit the classic compulsions, but sometimes I think I might have Pure “O”, defined as being purely obsessional.

  4. I honestly don’t know that I have scrupulosity. I keep directing blasphemous things at God mostly from just out of the blue. There is some yearning inside me to think and say these things as if it would give me some form of release. If that isn’t burden enough I find myself “double thinking” in religious matters. I can’t think something positive without thinking something negative as well. It all seems like some form of bad habit I’ve gotten myself into and can’t break out of it. As a result I’ve lost myself as an individual. I wish Imcould be pure but it seems impossible. I don’t know what to do or think.

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