Religious obsessions are a fairly common theme among people with OCD, and something I definitely experienced when I was younger. This grouping of obsessions and compulsions, also sometimes called scrupulosity, isn’t specific to any one religion; OCD likes to mold itself to fit any available situation! For me, I grew up in a Jewish household and the most important holidays of the year are Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, also known as the High Holy Days. These holidays are the New Year and the Day of Atonement. On Yom Kippur, in particular, you are supposed to atone for your sins from the last year in order to be inscribed in the book of life. Yes, the phrasing is actually “be inscribed in the book of life” and OCD loved this. I would get stuck rereading and repeating prayers throughout services and for hours after. I was worried if I missed a single word or if it didn’t feel exactly right I would die.
Sammi from Rants of an OCD Girl has also experienced religious-centered obsessions and has written a guest blog post about it below!
I was in third grade when I started having religious obsessions. I blame flipping through the television channels and seeing an increment of Agnes of God, a film about a naïve nun, Agnes, who has strangled her infant and claims that she had a virgin conception. The clip of the film that started my obsessions was Agnes looking at her bloody hands and screaming that she hated God.
I was a religious child and terrified to go to hell. After seeing the clip, I couldn’t stop second guessing if I hated God or not. Did I love God, or did I hate him? If I hated him, would I go to hell? The obsession over the fear of hating God developed over a variety of permutations. It evolved into questioning over if I loved the devil, fear if I wanted to have sex with the devil or God, and fear if I wanted to get married to either one of them.
There were no particular moments when these obsessions would come up. They bothered me when I was sitting in my splits during ballet class or when I was in singing in vocal lessons. The obsessions were severe that I had headaches and it became difficult to listen to people. I didn’t tell my parents that I had these anxieties because I felt ashamed, and they didn’t understand. Before I was diagnosed with an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, they often would tell me to decrease my anxiety by focusing on something else, which of course didn’t help.
Having these anxieties made me feel alienated from my peers. I was in third grade, and not keen on telling my friends that I had fears of having sex with the devil or literally getting married to God. At that age, children either tease you or stop being your friend when you tell them complex subjects beyond their understanding.
My religious anxieties wavered by the time I was in sixth grade because another obsession took over, which was the fear of being gay, which is another story altogether. In hindsight, I think what would have benefited me as a young child is if someone told me that thoughts are just like monkeys. If you keep preventing them from playing, they will bother you until they can play. If you allow them to play, then they will usually go away. Also, that having “bad thoughts” doesn’t mean something is bad or good, it’s just there.
Even though everyone’s experience with OCD is unique and there can be a lot of variation in symptoms, it is always nice to be able to relate to the similarities found in someone else’s story. I would love to hear about other’s experiences with religious obsessions. Thank you Sammi for writing a guest post!
More information about religious/scrupulosity OCD: