An obsessive fear of sinning is common in shame-based churches.

Scrupulosity is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that relates to religious/moral obsessions. The person suffering is overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or another violation of doctrine. Scrupulosity has been the story of my life, since a young age. It was such a relief to find that it had a name, that I wasn’t crazy.

I discovered this about 3 years ago – 3 years after leaving the sect. I have a genetic and environmental tendency towards depression and anxiety, and other mental illnesses. From a young age I was obsessed about hell – and not going there. I think that sects and cults and other high-control groups that operate on shame, fear, and control are catalysts to produce large numbers of people who suffer from scrupulosity. They suffer mostly in secret. I try to spread the word about this type of OCD whenever I encounter someone who has been damaged by religion.

The severity of my symptoms diminished by about 80% when I discovered that other people also suffer in this way, and that I am not inherently evil and wicked for having such thoughts and fears. Wikipedia says “It is personally distressing, objectively dysfunctional, and often accompanied by significant impairment in social functioning.” This is a very accurate description.

My main obsession was that I was not saved eternally because of some unconscious sin that I’d not repented of. Or because of the intrusive thoughts that accused me of things like “do you really love God in your heart? Maybe you just intellectually love him?”. The intrusive thoughts were destructive and always accusing me of being the worst and most disgusting sinner – unworthy of love and grace because I wasn’t perfect. (Caused by hearing a perverted version of the Gospel). It caused me to repeat the sinner’s prayer obsessively; question whether God was truly a God of love; fear praying to God because he was so big and scary and had the ability to banish me to hell for eternity so I didn’t get warm and fuzzy thinking about him. I also secretly questioned His existence for most of my sect life.

If I could count the energy I spent obsessing about not being saved it would be a sad statistic. What a waste! I am convinced that toxic churches, that are about religion and not relationship, are the birthplace of scrupulosity. Especially when fire and brimstone are preached at toddlers, infants, and young children. In my sect there was no Sunday school, we all heard the same services. They naively think that “oh, the children can’t understand what is being said”, but this is not the case. My earliest memory of God is one of a hell-banishing-monster. My earliest impressions of God were not of a Father of love. Far from it.

The childhood emotions and psyche are not ready for such an onslaught of terrifying things. Youthful imaginations run wild and the monsters under the bed and behind the curtain get larger and larger until the child is already exhibiting signs of mental illness(es) at a young age. All in the name of God. Who in fact is love. And love is an opposing and opposite spiritual force to fear! How ironic.