Scrupulosity and Faith

Elizabeth Landau, for CNN, and at the link you can read the rest of this helpful article:

(CNN) – When she was 12, Jennifer Traig’s hands were red and raw from washing them so much. She’d start scrubbing a half an hour before dinner; when she was done, she’d hold her hands up like a surgeon until her family sat down to eat.

Her handwashing compulsions began at the time she was studying for her Bat Mitzvah. She was so worried about being exposed to pork fumes that she cleaned her shoes and barrettes in a washing machine.

“Like a lot of people with OCD, I tended to obsess about cleanliness,” said Traig, now 42. “But because I was reading various Torah portions, I was obsessed with a biblical definition of cleanliness.”

Family dinners were awkward for Tina Fariss Barbour, too, as an adolescent. She would concentrate so hard on praying for forgiveness that if anyone tried to interrupt her thoughts, she wouldn’t respond.

“First I had to get rid of all my sins, ask forgiveness, do it in the right way, and then I had to pray for protection,” said Barbour, now 50. “Or, if something bad happened to my family, it would be my fault because I had not prayed good enough.”

The women come from different faith backgrounds: Barbour is Methodist and Traig is Jewish. But as children they believed fervently that they needed to conduct their own rituals and prayers, or else disaster would befall their families.

Both women say they suffered from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as scrupulosity. A fear of sin or punishment from deities characterizes this condition, saidJonathan Abramowitz, professor and associate chairman of the department of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, involves unwanted thoughts (“obsessions”) and accompanying behaviors called compulsions that patients use to reduce anxiety. In scrupulosity, the obsessions have a religious or moral underpinning.

Patients with scrupulosity often describe how they believe their thoughts are morally equivalent to actions, Abramowitz said. Psychologists call this phenomenon “thought-action fusion.”

“Scrupulosity literally means ‘fearing sin where there is none,’ “Abramowitz and colleague Ryan Jacoby wrote in a recent article.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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