It’s wonderful to desire to grow closer to the Lord and follow in his footsteps, but have you ever worried too much about being perfect in your spiritual life or doing everything exactly right? If you aim to be holier than the saints and beat yourself up for stumbling along the way, it might be time to reevaluate the pressure you’re putting on yourself to live up to too-high expectations. Scrupulosity is a debilitating concern with morality and one’s state of grace that is far beyond a healthy level of guilt or fear. Jim Otremba, a licensed therapist and regular contributor to Morning Air®, shared some advice for those who are battling scrupulosity in their spiritual lives.
Scrupulosity is a difficult cross to bear and some of us are more prone to falling into this trap. “Those of us who do have some of that perfectionism, I think it’s really important to make sure it doesn’t seep into our spiritual life because if it does it can lead to scrupulosity. And scrupulosity can lead to OCD, which is a clinical disorder. So it’s really important, if you wrestle with scrupulosity … to name it properly, to say: Is this scrupulosity, or is it a clinical disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?” If you suspect you might be struggling with a clinical disorder, talk to your doctor. It’s not a bad thing to be diagnosed, says Otremba, because naming something helps us to treat it.
There are several things that could lead to scrupulosity in your spiritual life—such as an overabundance of pride, anxiety or need for control, or even unhealed wounds from your past—but there are also ways you can combat this struggle.
Trust in God is an important way that we can overcome scrupulosity. “I am not God; let God be God,” said Otremba about advice he received from a spiritual director as a young man. “It’s very clear in the Gospels that God is a God of grace, as well. Yes, Jesus is full of truth, and that’s the judgment part, but God is also full of grace and that’s the merciful part!”
Trying to grow in faith and be free of sin is great, but obsessing about it is unhealthy. “My spiritual director would always tell me, ‘Jim, you can’t accidentally commit a mortal sin. It’s impossible.’ If you’re asking yourself the question, ‘Is it a mortal sin?’ it’s probably not because you can’t accidentally commit it. I really believe Satan comes in there … and tries to trick us into saying, ‘Oh, that was a mortal sin.’ That’s the part I remember so well … because I wanted to be a priest and I wanted to do everything … exactly right, and so it’s a prison. It’s a prison because I didn’t feel God’s love for me.”
The great news is you can break free! Finding a good spiritual role model who has a healthy spiritual life can help, and if you’re struggling with low self-worth or past wounds, spend time with people who lift you up and remind you how loved you are. If you’re struggling, reach out to your priest or spiritual director for guidance or connect with a Catholic therapist for additional help.
Listen to the full segment here: