Scrupulosity is a spiritual disease that causes you to have an excessive fear of sin. You may think you’ve sinned when you really haven’t or you may go through life paralyzed with anxiety about the possibility of committing sin.
Scrupulosity is a trap set by the devil to weaken your trust in God and — ultimately — lead you to despair of the possibility of your salvation.
Many devout Catholics are susceptible to scrupulosity. Here are a few ways to overcome it.
1. Practice radical abandonment to the mercy of God
Fact: God loves you and is actively working to lead you to heaven to be with Him forever! And He knows that you’re going to trip sometimes along the way. But He’s always ready to forgive you and give you His grace, so long as you don’t run away from Him out of shame, fear, or spite.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by scrupulosity, focus your gaze on Jesus and His merciful heart. Recite a prayer of trust, such as this one given to St. Faustina by our Lord Himself, “O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You.”
Matthew 14 is a powerful Scripture passage that teaches us how to practice radical trust. In it, Jesus walks on water to a boat the Apostles are sitting in during a storm:
“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
In other words, look at Jesus, not the spiritual storm engulfing you.
2. Don’t go overboard in the confessional
The Sacrament of Confession is the font of God’s mercy. Yet many scrupulous Catholics fear the sacrament because they think it requires more of them than it really does. In confession, you are required to list at least your mortal sins and make a firm resolution to amend your life.
You don’t need to feel any emotional sorrow for your sins to be forgiven because, frankly, we as humans don’t have complete control over our emotional state. It’s the will that counts.
If you unintentionally forgot to mention a sin — even a serious one — don’t worry! You’re still forgiven, although you should mention any forgotten mortal sins in your next confession.
And don’t make a general confession of your entire life each time you go to the sacrament. As long as your last confession was sincere and complete, you only need to confess the sins you’ve committed since your last confession.
3. Find a spiritual director
This is advisable for most scrupulous people, but it’s especially important for those who have become so scrupulous that they can’t function in day-to-day life.
A scrupulous person can’t entirely rely on their own judgments and feelings about their spiritual state. The anxiety caused by scruples distorts these. That’s why an outside assessment provided by a wise spiritual director is needed. And — as many saints have taught — you need to be ready to obey your director.
In your journey to overcome scrupulosity, it’s crucial that you are patient with yourself. Just as you won’t conquer all your sins overnight, you won’t overcome all your anxieties right away.
By putting these tips into practice, you’ll learn to grow in your trust in our merciful Lord, who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).