What is Scrupulosity and how do you prevent it?

Before joining CAF I had never heard of the term ‘scupulosity’ but have heard it mentioned several times on this forum and wanted to have a better understanding of the term. My impression is that it is a combination of OCD tendencies with a dash of legalistic agonizing over one’s moral actions, but I may be wrong on that.


  1. Can someone clarify what Scupulosity is and provide a few examples of it?

  2. How can one avoid scrupulosity or prevent it from taking over his/her life, if possible?

I realize God’s help is a key along with support groups like I see on CAF, but I was after other practical steps that people can take to help themselves in addition to these, if any.

  1. Do Catholics struggle with this more than other Christian groups or do other Christian denominations know it by a different name?

1) Basically, scrupulosity is a condition of the conscience where a person sees sin when there isn’t sin or thinks that venial sins are mortal sins.

An example would be someone not wanting to go to Communion because they feel like they’ve broken the hour-before fast by swallowing blood if they had a bloody nose.

Another is thinking one is in a state of mortal sin for simply having lustful/violent/suicidal thoughts without consenting to them. These thoughts can be quite intrusive and very graphic.

It’s actually not a fun condition to have because the person uses a lot of energy determining whether or not they’ve sinned.

As such, the scrupulous conscience is not a healthy one, and the issue becomes even more compounded when mental illness such as OCD enters the picture.

A person need not have a mental illness to be scrupulous, but I do think on some level most everyone with a scrupulous conscience needs spiritual direction.

Individuals with a scrupulous conscience should probably not be looking for answers on-line as they need in-person spiritual direction from one qualified person. Support is fine, but there’s a fine line that I’m suspecting should not be crossed.

**2) **Spiritual direction is often needed when a person has scrupulosity. It’s not always preventable. Sometimes, it’s a phase, other times it part of a larger issue like mental illness.

The more a person knows about the faith (this is why proper catechism is important!!), the more they can discern their conscience.

**3) **This is hard for me to say for sure. HOWEVER, I suspect Catholics have a much more larger issue with it.

First, Catholicism has a lot of rules. I don’t mean that negatively, either. But when you have more rules, it’s more to keep track of. Take the hour-before-Communion fasting rule, for instance. I don’t know of any Protestants that have such a rule because they don’t believe in the real presence of Christ at Communion.

Second, Catholicism is more about that just following the Bible word for word. It’s about natural law and common sense. Catholic scholars have looked at everything from ancient Greece to Immanuel Kant in their deliberations of philosophy.

Third, mortal and venial sin. This is the big one. I don’t see these concepts emphasized much in other denominations. Some give me the impression that you are saved by believing and being charitable to some extent, and once I was even told that we all sin constantly, which based on Catholic teaching is absurd because I would say that most every sin out there requires consent.

This is also an issue because Catholics who have sinned mortally must seek out Confession, but if a person is scrupulous and thinks they are in mortal sin all the time, they are probably going to Confession more than they are obliged to, This is a problem because Confession is generally available once or twice a week, so the scrupulous person is seeking appointments with priests or will just sit around for several days thinking they are in a state of mortal sin.

The situation can really compound itself.

Thanks for the explanation and real life examples, SuperLuigi. That helps me get a better picture of it. To me, scrupulosity almost sounds like a type of bondage brought on by well-meaning people who can get caught up in all the rules and regulations while trying to do the right thing but are challenged by how to sort things out, such as whether a cerrtain sin is mortal or venial. In other words, discernment issues. I can see how this could potentially happen.

An example from history would be Martin Luther who suffered from this and mishandling by his religious order in some minds lead him down the path he eventually took.

One other potential cause of scrupulosity – in my mind, based on my understanding of it --is for a believer who truly wants to do what’s right — to lose focus on the Lord and to inadvertently place more importance on the rules and regulations that the Church established as guidelines to help follow Him instead of on God.

I can’t (and won’t) judge anyone who has this because I could see myself potentially falling prey to it. May the Lord be with all those who suffer from scrupulosity so that they can better deal with it and put things in perspective.

As I understand it, there is a scrupulous-ness that is an asset: detail oriented and able to read the ethical and moral implications of most actions. Then there is a scrupulosity gone wild, often afflicting the earlier mentioned people with a talent for detail. The shut-off valve for this behavior becomes impaired and they cannot prioritize the essential and important detail. Everything is under extreme scrutiny, including themselves. Some even believe they are responsible for crimes they did not commit.

It was explained to me that it is part of the anxiety spectrum which includes anxiety, compulsions, obsessions, phobias, body image disorders, addictions, and repetitions. A lower serotonin level can cause such a malfunction. I have seen a very bright court reporter/transcriptionist (detail oriented) become very highly scrupulous and perfectionistic after going through times of extreme stress. She became almost non-functional in her life and career with a brain that could not shut off.

Good nutritional recovery with 5htp or tryptophane can restore serotonin levels and bring someone back to a more human and humble discernment.

My problem is when people label a healthy ethical person as “scrupulous”, which undermines a healthy discernment of right and wrong. We need good scruples.

Great points, Auntie A. I hadn’t thought of it that way before in terms of a shut-off valve issue and the physiological dimensions involved. I am beginning to see that this is a more complicated issue than I had originally thought.

Not to diminish your rather good post - but many Protestants profess the True Body and Blood of our Lord at communion. Lutherans and some Anglicans for example.

Tommy I was a rather scrupulous Catholic. I would question the validity of my confession…wonder if I’d told the priest everything, or if he had understood me correctly, if I’d left anything out or inadvertently misstated anything. I would agonize over having to skip communion.

Then I started to realize that an intermediary is not required, and I should be making my confession directly to God. I believe in daily repentance, and I pray to God for forgiveness every day, as well as give Him thanks and praise. Before I take communion now (and I’m a spiritual presence-pneumatic believer) I pray God’s forgiveness- just between me and the Lord.

Thank God, I’m done with scrupulousness!:thumbsup:

I can totally relate to your post. I used to lay awake at night wondering if my contrition was perfect or imperfect. Or if I even had it at all. I used to be terrified of dying on the wrong day, I hoped to die directly after confession, or at least on the weekend so it was still “fresh” or before I had a chance to commit another sin. I was doing everything my spiritual adviser was telling me to do.

I realized I had yoked myself with a yoke heavier than that of even the Pharisees. It had become torture and I had to make it stop.

Hi Faithdancer and House Harkonnen,
As an evangelical who has never had Confession with a priest, I cannot relate to that experience at this time.

Can you tell me if the priest(s) involved provided counsel to you to help deal with your scrupulosity issues while you were a Catholic?

I tend to think scrupulosity exists more in Catholicism than in most protestant denominations simply because there aren’t as many rules and obligations to follow in most protestant denominations or as many things to keep track of, like mortal vs venial sin discernment. Also, there is no belief in purgatory, so it is kind of a simplified belief system compared to Catholicism in some ways, in my opinion.

That doesn’t mean that protestant dogma is necessarily correct compared to Catholicism, but it is logical to me why there would tend to be less scrupulosity.

However, I sense that many Catholics on CAF don’t seem to have an issue with scrupulosity so obviously you can be a Catholic without having to be subjected to it.

Since you don’t confess to a priest anymore, how to know for sure that your sins were absolved? Just curious. You don’t have to answer if these questions are too personal.

I’d say quite a number of those Anglicans professing the real presence are hardly protestants at all. :wink:

Can you tell me if the priest(s) involved provided counsel to you to help deal with your scrupulosity issues while you were a Catholic?

Yes, they did.

Since you don’t confess to a priest anymore, how to know for sure that your sins were absolved? Just curious. You don’t have to answer if these questions are too personal

I actually still confess my sins corporately at church, and occasionally individually with my pastor. But I view the issue in an entirely different light now.

Can you elaborate on that? When you say corporately, are you talking about a quiet time where all parishoners silently confess their sins to God? That’s kind of how I remember it at the Presbyterian Church where I grew up, but I don’t know if it the same thing as what you describe.

The reason I ask is that I pereceive value in confessing my sins to a priest (even though I’ve never done it before) because of the counsel that goes with that sounds like it could be valuable, including a little coaching and advice that might provide additional insights.

No, I mean in the Lutheran liturgy there is a corporate confession in which all parishioners confess sin (in general terms) and the minister announces forgiveness.

Its similar in our rite of individual confession but you say all your sins.


Thanks, and thank you for the link.

Note: My father was raised a Lutheran. My mother was Presbyterian. It just so happened that her faith meant more to her than my dad’s did to him so I was raised a Presbyterian (God’s frozen people or God’s frozen chosen, as some jokingly say :). I realize there are key differences between Lutherans and Catholics, but in some ways Lutheran and Episcopal beliefs and worship service are more similar to the Catholic way than they are to other other Protestant denominations like mine, I think.

The Anglican Church also has this. A confession is made as part of the liturgy before the Eucharist is received. It is rarely done individually, although my (Anglo-Catholic) parish apparently has that option.

Thanks for the info, DeFuret. Do Anglicans and Lutherans occasionally struggle with Scrupulosity issues, also?

Not too personal at all, Tommy. First, I was counseled by a priest about being scrupulous. I think it is tied in very much with communion, and whether or not I was fit to receive on any given day, since the emphasis in the Catholic service is on communion.

As far as knowing now whether or not my sins are forgiven- I have to trust in the Lord that when I pray, He listens and when I repent, He readily forgives. I think I already mentioned that I repent daily. Some Catholics go to daily confession for the same reason- to keep in a state of atonement with God as much as possible. The difference is, I’ve come to believe that the words of absolution spoken by a cleric are powerless- it is the contrition and repentance on the part of the sinner that bring forgiveness and absolution. That being said, if anyone wants to debate me on this from a dogmatic RC standpoint- don’t waste your ATP as I won’t respond. I’ve been a Catholic, understand the rationale for sacerdotalism and know the Scripture verses that are used to justify it. I just ain’t buying that interpretation anymore (no offense). I don’t have an issue with corporate confession, but again I know that God has all the power.

In some Lutheran liturgies, after the corportate confession and absolution, the priest will say something like:

"And by the same granting of the power to bind and lose I declare, as an ordained minister of God, that if your are not repentant and are not contrite in confession that your sins are not forgiven and that you have set yourself apart from the grace of our Lord. "

That at least how I remember it.

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