The Odyssey of Scrupulosity

Image courtesy Stuart Miles @
Image courtesy Stuart Miles @

When your child has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, many people fail to see what the problem is.  OCD’s symptoms are often hidden from public view, or are so subtle to the outside eye that no one who is not very close to your situation would ever notice.  Many children with OCD are also notoriously good at hiding their symptoms.  When your child’s OCD takes the form of scrupulosity and religious observance, the whole thing can become (at least in our family’s experience) even more insidious.

Blake’s OCD took the form of increased religious observance and polite and moral behavior about two years ago.  At that time, our family began a journey that has caused us to question right/wrong, respect/disrespect, and the very basis of religious observance.  On the surface, Blake appears to be a very polite and religious young man.  We receive compliments all the time on his behavior.  The truth is that Blake is a very nice young man. He has solid values and believes in treating others with respect.  To the uneducated eye, there is nothing wrong here.  How refreshing to come across a 14-year-old who is so kind to others and who places such a strong emphasis on his religion.  Why would we be concerned or want that to change?

I have to say that we question that all the time ourselves.  Why, indeed, would we not want our child to embrace the religion of his family, or why would we not rejoice that he is as polite and conscientious a young man as he is?  Even my husband has found himself laughing with Blake about, “How bad can it really be?  I mean, we could be arguing over drugs or illegal activity.  Instead, we argue over being religious.”

We are in a quandary, for certain.  We are incredibly grateful to have a son who has internalized what we, and others who meet him, believe are good values.  On the other hand, when, in our private moments, I watch my son rise to pray over and over again because he repeatedly believes he has committed a sin, I hurt inside.  When my son panics and insists I must take him home NOW because he might not accomplish reciting ALL the prayers he needs to today, I feel cheated of his time and presence.  When the rules he has around food are based in religious observance, but go far beyond what any religious authority has counseled him – and when he rejects that counsel – I can’t help but feel frustration.  How do I explain this to an outside party?

Friends and family often ask me what they can feed Blake.  I get angry inside when I start to think about it, because the answer is, “I don’t know.  It really depends if he thinks what you have to offer will pass his test of ‘fitness.’  What was fit yesterday may not be tomorrow, and tomorrow’s may not be the following day.”  Sometimes I actually try to explain that to people.  I think they must believe I’m nuts – which I just may be.

Where I am going with this post, I am actually not quite sure.  What I am trying to communicate is that OCD, when played out in the form of scrupulosity, becomes a confusing situation for all involved.  To the sufferer, it is a never-ending process of trying to be the “best” person or to get religious observance “right.”  To the immediate family, it is a maddening experience of watching the core values and ideals you were taught being twisted in unimaginable ways, and to the outside observer it appears that this is just a very good and religious human being – nothing wrong here.  How we get out, how we separate what’s real from what’s OCD is such a strange odyssey. I’ll keep you posted on the journey.  – Angie


4 thoughts on “The Odyssey of Scrupulosity

  1. Excellent post, Angie, which shows just how insidious OCD can be. As you say, so many people must think, “What’s the problem?” because they only know what they see. Of course you know there is a difference between following your religion and being imprisoned by it. It is a strange journey, no doubt, this OCD, but I know Blake will find his way home, hopefully soon.

    1. A profound comment, Janet. “there is a difference between following your religion and being imprisoned by it.” That is a good way to explain it to people. Wishing you the best and, as always, appreciating your wisdom. – Angie

  2. I hear you there Angie! Scrupulosity OCD is a difficult one to tackle and actually one of the hardest I’ve found to address. Of course no one wants to willingly do things that make them a “bad” person, with OCD it just so happens that the things that make you a bad person are also the every day things. Mine has centred around being talkative and chatty (OCD tells me it’s showing off), going for drinks with friends (OCD tells me it’s misbehaving) and so on. If OCD had it’s way I would be a mute recluse and there lies the problem. When the drive to be a good person also means that life isn’t yours anymore it isn’t ever something that should be striven for.
    Wishing Blake the very best as he continues to fight, the change’ll come as he begins to realise what he’s missing out on and that will be when the most profound change takes place. He’s lucky to have such an insightful and supportive Mum 🙂 Emily

    1. Hi Emily! I’ve been away at a conference with no internet connection for several days. Profound and wise words you offer. It would certainly be awful to be a mute recluse! Thank you for your kind wishes and thoughts. – Angie

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