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  1. I have (or had) this disorder. Listening to “Eric” tell his story, I was amazed: we might have been the same person. In my experience, living with this problem is like being a schizophrenic. For the most part, you feel great: you are interested in life, you have a wealth of hobbies and meaningful pursuits, not least among them some really good relationships (including a girlfriend I refused to kiss until we were married!). Then, something happens and suddenly you think it will all be lost if you don’t confess. No confession is ever adequate: even if you feel good about it initially, you always wonder whether or not you were fully honest, and a compulsion is born. People who are aware of it wonder what is wrong with you, why you keep coming back to them worried about nonsense as though it were a matter of life and death.

    For me, going on a mission was part of my cure: I learned that people in the real world (LDS and non-LDS) were much more comfortable with things much “worse” than my worst “sins” — and I finally realized that my obsession with sinning and confessing was ridiculous.

  2. I have (or had) this disorder. Listening to “Eric” tell his story, I was amazed: we might have been the same person. In my experience, living with this problem is like being a schizophrenic. For the most part, you feel great: you are interested in life, you have a wealth of hobbies and meaningful pursuits, not least among them some really good relationships (including a girlfriend I refused to kiss until we were married!). Then, something happens and suddenly you think it will all be lost if you don’t confess. No confession is ever adequate: even if you feel good about it initially, you always wonder whether or not you were fully honest, and a compulsion is born. People who are aware of it wonder what is wrong with you, why you keep coming back to them worried about nonsense as though it were a matter of life and death.

    For me, going on a mission was part of my cure: I learned that people in the real world (LDS and non-LDS) were much more comfortable with things much “worse” than my worst “sins” — and I finally realized that my obsession with sinning and confessing was ridiculous.

  3. This was painful to listen to because I suffered from OCD and Srcupulosity myself. I had some similar experiences on my mission.

    I also participated in the therapy discussed, in 1975, with a doctor who was one of the first to initiate it. It was effective.

    I agree with the lack of ambiguity in mormon child rearing exacerbates this condition. The mormon church is a very fertile field for this condition to grow in. I find it troubleing how little training mormon ecclesiastical leaders have. It is irresponsible and possibly dangerous. LDS Social Services is hardly better , again because of the lack of space for ambiguity.

    One of the best ways to relieve onesself from this is to deconstruct mormonism . Once you find out that it is not based on anything but man made doctrine and dogma the anxiety subsides almost immediately. So many that have done so describe the immediate release of guilt, pain,suffering and sometimes scrupulosity.

    I cannot imagine remaining mormon and be constantly in a fertile field as a seed that just needs a little water.

  4. This was painful to listen to because I suffered from OCD and Srcupulosity myself. I had some similar experiences on my mission.

    I also participated in the therapy discussed, in 1975, with a doctor who was one of the first to initiate it. It was effective.

    I agree with the lack of ambiguity in mormon child rearing exacerbates this condition. The mormon church is a very fertile field for this condition to grow in. I find it troubleing how little training mormon ecclesiastical leaders have. It is irresponsible and possibly dangerous. LDS Social Services is hardly better , again because of the lack of space for ambiguity.

    One of the best ways to relieve onesself from this is to deconstruct mormonism . Once you find out that it is not based on anything but man made doctrine and dogma the anxiety subsides almost immediately. So many that have done so describe the immediate release of guilt, pain,suffering and sometimes scrupulosity.

    I cannot imagine remaining mormon and be constantly in a fertile field as a seed that just needs a little water.

    Sorry for the double post. Please delete Pmarsco. I am him. 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for this podcast and all you’ve done to help me understand what I’ve gone through myself.

    I knew I was “addicted to religion” once grown, but as a child and teenager, I simply felt compelled to live the letter of the law and confess when I didn’t. I made up sins to confess… beginning with my baptismal interview. I guess I thought that I had sinned but couldn’t remember what exactly, so to be on the safe side, I’d find something to say. Until just a year ago, I always paid almost double tithing, just to be on the safe side… something that I think is related to this obsession and compulsion. Once a teen and with actual (but very minor) sins to confess, and with the Miracle of Forgiveness fueling my angst, I HAD to confess everything to every bishop I had. I also manufactured self hatred to bring about the tears the book said I had to have to truly repent… which only fueled more guilt and self hatred. I frustrated bishops especially in college who must have supposed that I was truly sinful and out of control. Most of them had little compassion but judged me harshly and said things that have injured my ability to accept or love myself. Because some of my confessions related to morality, their statements have left deep impressions in me that have impacted my ability to have an enjoyable intimate relationship with my husband. I agree that it would be valuable for bishops to have better training, especially in this condition. It would have helped me had they been able to spot that in me. I stopped confessing things about 15 years ago when a bishop refused to grant me a recommend due to a sin I confessed to but didn’t commit. It never occurred to me that I was lying. I just felt so sinful, the confessions must have made sense of the feelings I felt.

    Until about a year ago, I was an active member of the church going above and beyond (as usual) to try to be worthy of…. of anything. I did almost nothing I wasn’t supposed to do and spent my life in “righteous endeavors”, but I still didn’t feel worthy to get a temple recommend (although I was), I didn’t feel worthy of taking the sacrament, and I didn’t even feel worthy to pray. I can’t believe how crippled I was spiritually, given that I am in my 40’s, I have life experience, and I am smart. I wish I could have realized sooner what was going on. I couldn’t let go of the mentality that kept me bound until I began to question the church.

    I am uncertain of the course my faith will take, but now that I am in the middle of a crisis of faith and have been inactive for half a year, I am free of the self hatred, the guilt, and intimate relations with my husband have taken on a depth and dimension I am sort of shocked and surprised by. I’m pretty sure I had scrupulosity that was cured by distance from the church. If I do return to church, at least I have this information to help moderate my reaction to it all. Thanks again for this podcast. 🙂

    1. “…with the Miracle of Forgiveness fueling my angst, I HAD to confess everything to every bishop I had.”

      I forgot to mention in the interview that some of the Miracle of Forgiveness content and tone was also a major source of fuel to the fire in my case. Further, a lifetime of hearing quotes in church like this had the same effect on me:

      “Better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction, ‘I would rather have you come back home in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it’ ” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition, Page 124.)

      Susan, it’s great to hear that you are now free of self hatred, guilt, and that intimacy with your husband has improved.

      1. Hi Eric, my mom often told me that she’s rather I be dead than defiled…even if it was through rape. We had church self defense seminars in the chapel where we girls (as young as 12) learned how to gouge out a man’s eyeballs in an attempt to avoid being raped. I was terrified of being raped… but I was even more terrified of being blamed for something so violent and out of my own control/choice that I would have to find awful ways to “not be defiled” and protect my virtue. Thankfully, the church and members don’t really teach that idea so much anymore, but that whole idea fed my anxiety for years. One problem with that whole mentality is that it negates the whole idea of the atonement… that we can repent. I don’t know how easy that would be from a pine box. Another problem with that idea is that it suggests that a woman should take upon herself responsibility for a choice she didn’t make, as in rape.

        I actually had a few experiences where I was not to blame (sexual abuse by an older brother when I was 7-8) and a couple of near rapes where boys in college simply wouldn’t listen when I said “No” and persisted anyway… until I physically threw them off and kicked them out or ran away. I never confessed the childhood sexual abuse but took 100% of the blame… which probably fed the whole sinful feeling I couldn’t shake. However, I did confess the college instances and was told by my bishops that boys couldn’t be expected to withstand that much temptation… that it was my responsibility… because women are the ones with the power to decide how far things go. In both cases, these boys were boys I had dated and knew but neither case happened on a date. Once I actually woke up to find a boy had snuck into my dorm room and was busy engaging in very sexual behavior with my sleeping and almost unclothed body. I was mortified. I felt terrible. True, he chose to do that, it was his fault. I stopped it immediately and never saw him again, but I think the worst feeling was because I blamed myself for it. I took the responsibility I was trained to take… but I wasn’t responsible. That created in me so much anxiety. I remember Dr. Phil once saying that anxiety results when we try to control or take responsibility for things we aren’t responsible for. I cannot express the damage I believe my life has sustained just because I took responsibility that was not mine to take.

        The bishop in the ward I last attended preached in Young Women meetings and even in my daughter’s temple recommend interview (I was there… she asked me to sit in on it)… that young women hold the key to young men’s virtue. He always talked about how much power women have to keep men in line, to keep them virtuous and worthy. He didn’t say immoral acts are all a girl’s fault, but the message my daughter received is that if she has the power then she must have the responsibility also. In the midst of my crisis of faith, I am hesitant from returning to church for fear that my children will receive similar messages and suffer the same anxiety… which in my case led to extreme efforts to be righteous, clean, spotless, dedicated, diligent, etc… but have only led to misery. I want so badly to find wonderful and good reasons to return to church, but my experience has taught me that confessing sins of a sexual nature to untrained middle aged men sets up a framework where too much damage can be done to young women. I can only imagine what it must be like for young men. Before becoming inactive 6 months ago, for about a year, I taught my older kids that they shouldn’t confess sins to anyone but God or those hurt by the sin. My best advice for the church would be to train bishops to be more knowledgable and sensitive than they are… or to stop trying to control the sexual aspect of members’ live so much. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, so until I find a compelling reason to return, I will stay away.

        I have served a mission, married in the temple, served in callings diligently and was considered to be spiritual giant by family and friends. I wasn’t a spiritual giant. I was spiritually and emotionally injured and just trying to prove myself worthy. I personally feel free of that injury now and the need to prove anything. Thanks again for your podcast, Eric, and thanks, John, for studying scrupulosity.

      2. Oh Eric how i hate that quote,it’s haunted the steps of many a good soul.Thankfully I had enough sense to see it as over the top at the time,but was still left with the broad sentiment,and it’s dogged my perception of both my life and that of my children.i know many a family who’s relationships have been poisoned by it.how lovely that you are strengthening the feeble knees with this discussion.thank God.

    2. Susan~I can SO relate.  I’m not sure where my faith will take me at this point either.  I’m vey inactive, but I honestly think the church made my symptoms worse.  It’s nothing against the church, and I don’t care how much people I know and love critisize it-how much I have my own doubts-I can’t possibly critisize it.  My boys and their father are still LDS.  It kills the boys that I’m not active, and they worry about me, but honestly, their father probably has some issues with OCD and living the letter of the law issues too…we made each other worse I think.  Anyway, not sure where my faith will take me, but I’m pretty sure God is about love, and he undesrstands I have this doubting stuff…hopefully, he won’t judge me too harshly for leaving.  I just couldn’t continue teaching children in primary with so much doubt about the religion myself.  Anyway…good luck.  

      I have issues with intrusive thoughts of many types actually-confessing sins is just one of them.  I’m sure my bishops about had it with me.  I know my mom once threatened to punish me if I confessed to one more wrongdoing or took the blame for more thing my brother did…it makes for a funny story, but I’m thinking it was probably early manifestation of my OCD.  hmmmm…

  6. My daughter suffers from this. Literally. She is a fine young woman who is only now coming to terms with what this all means to her life. She served a mission and married in the Temple. At this time she remains a member of the Church–on her own terms. I’m sad that her dad and I were completely oblivious to the pain and suffering of our child. I have come to know recently how deep and wide that pain was and is. I am a fairly orthodox Mormon and it has been difficult to come to terms with my inadequacies as her mom. On the other hand. I have come to understand that we did the best we could given our knowledge. I truly am coming to understand that I know and understand very little; therefore I have to open my heart and mind wide to other ways of thinking. As a result of all of this, we are getting to know our daughter for real. We’ve discovered that the fact that we love her is all that we offer–unconditional in its true meaning. She is going her way. She says that how she relates to the Church is how it has to be for her own survival. Parents need to know so much and we end up knowing so little. I could see my beautiful daughter in so many of the descriptions of events and thought processes Eric experienced. I want people to know about this.

  7. I just finished listening to the whole thing. Amazing! My hat is off to Eric. In my own case, coming to grips with the monster has required a more or less complete ideological break with correlated Mormonism: I still count myself a Mormon, but my understanding of human reality does not come from the leaders or doctrines of the LDS church, and my participation at church has dropped off considerably. Lacking the means (or the knowledge) to seek professional treatment, I had to forge my own path to wholeness, which led right out of the mental universe where most institutional religion (particularly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) makes sense. I find a lot to like in Buddhism, with its emphasis on letting suffering go rather than striving to set it right through bloody sacrifices (or in my case, endless rounds of useless confession and hand-wringing repentance).

    Learning to embrace ambiguity was a big milestone in my journey, which is ongoing. I still feel very uncomfortable in professional settings where I am judged: every judgment strikes terror to my soul the way “God” used to every time I had an “immoral” thought or did something whose moral valence I could not define precisely as good or bad. (Straight-up sins were never really a problem: they could be confessed and gotten rid of once and for all, unlike ambiguous acts that resisted categorization. To give one example, as a youth I used to have terrible experiences where I would wake up in the middle of the night sexually aroused, convinced for some reason that if I did not manage to curtail my arousal, I was an evil pervert unworthy to hold the priesthood. Frequently, I would find myself entirely paralyzed in these situations, and in this state, needless to say, I would fail to curtail arousal before my little factory did its thing. I did not know what to make of these events: was I awake and masturbating, or asleep and morally OK? Worried out of my mind that I had committed a sin nigh unto murder [thanks, Brother Kimball], I would go to the bishop, who would pronounce me innocent or guilty to no useful effect, since either result would find me crying in his office when it happened again, as it always did. Years later, I learned about sleep paralysis and a light-bulb went on in my head; by then, experience had already taught me that the bishop had nothing useful to offer when it came to dealing with my sexuality.) I have to put in a good word for exposure to lewd images as a useful means of dealing with sexual scrupulosity. I ended up serving a mission in Spain, where my obsession with sexual purity receded as I saw Spanish women all but uncovered every day to no obviously awful effects. Despite constant, flagrant temptation, the men there were not all rapists, and I was not either, so Elder Oaks’ silly notion of “walking pornography” died as a useful way to characterize people, and I realized that I had no good reason for being so frightened of the human body (whether my own or that of another person). It was a relief to realize that I did not have to feel bad when I saw a woman’s breast, that miniskirts did not drive me out of my mind with lust, that I was perfectly capable of having a rational, pleasant conversation with a girl even if she came to the door wearing nothing more than a towel (as happened to me on more than one occasion: I managed all of them without even coming close to being seduced!). These experiences started me on the path of learning real sexual morality, as opposed to all the garbage I had been taught at church, where I learned that I was helpless to face temptation (the weird wet dreams), but that God would deign to let me live (in spite of my trying his patience almost as much as a serial killer), if I humiliated myself enough (and you never know when enough is enough: I could not get anyone in authority to tell me, and my principle source of outside information was a moral code designed by sado-masochists who liked to joke about solving moral problems by cutting off limbs). Looking back on my life, and knowing what kind of fanatic freak I am, I am somewhat surprised that I have managed to make it this far largely intact, with no more than a few psychic scars.

    Thanks, Eric and John, for getting our story out there. I know at least one other person who has dealt with similar issues; in his case, as in mine, the self-discovered, self-administered cure was ideological distance from correlated Mormonism.

  8. I always called it my “Overactive Conscience”. Mine wasn’t as pronounced as Eric’s, but after listening to this, I’d consider myself among those who were instantly cured once I dismissed the validity of the LDS Church. It was complicated by the fact that I WAS gay and so those guilty and shameful thoughts only compounded the impulse to confess. Funny that I was always able to phrase it in such a way that the “g” word was never actually spoken and as soon as a bishop suspected it he quickly bounced on to something else.

    Hat’s off to Eric for coming forward with this interview.

  9. I have suffered from OCD and Scrupulosity for years! (16 years) At its peak I attempted suicide because the thoughts would not cease and no matter how good a person I was, I constantly saw myself as a sinner.

    It has only been in the last two years that I have been able to fight back.

    For anyone who suffers from OCD and Scrupulosity I know that it can be treated. You do not have to feel miserable.

  10. Eric and John,
    This was an incredible podcast! One that I totally related to. I was diagnosed with this in 1998 and was sent home from the MTC to get it under control before I could go back. I did get it under control but continue to battle “the monster” you both so factually described. Thankfully it’s under control for the most part but it will be something I’m certain I will battle the rest of my life. The book “Brain-Lock” was a HUGE help to me just to recognize that this was a REAL problem – up to that point no logical explanations could make me feel better at that time.

    I suppose that my new understanding of church history has also provided some perspective on things as well – even our most “annointed” leaders aren’t perfect so why should I carry such heavy burdens?

    Anyway – THANK YOU BOTH! For anyone that is struggling please ask for help. The sooner you get help the better!

    1. Hi Jay,

      “I was diagnosed with this in 1998 and was sent home from the MTC to get it under control before I could go back.”

      I’m curious, were your OCD/Scrupulosity issues related to sexuality, blasphemy, and/or hyper-honesty? What was the tipping point that led the MTC administrators to pull the trigger and send you home? I have often wondered why in the world they didn’t send me home from my mission. One time a psychologist on my mission confided in me that my mission president called him and asked for his professional opinion as to whether I was a threat to society. 🙂

      -Eric

  11. Great podcast. I put on my headphones, headed out the door and didn’t want to stop walking until it was over. Eric, thanks for sharing your story. I think we all know someone who suffers from this to one degree or another. My nephew suffers a lot of anxiety about following the church perfectly. As his early morning seminary teacher, I try to help him to lighten up about it. His is not severe but it’s definitely there…

    On a lighter note, I’ve heard that people with OCD make really good bill collectors. : )

    1. “On a lighter note, I’ve heard that people with OCD make really good bill collectors. : )”

      I guess there are some peripheral benefits from being “one of us.” 🙂

    2. I appreciate so many of the podcasts, but this was truly fascinating. I, too, put on my headphones and didn’t stop walking until it was over. I’m so happy that Eric has this under control and that he is now willing to talk about his experience. While listening, I wondered why on earth the mission president didn’t send Eric home. Do you suppose the president thought the feeling of “failure” he was sure to experience would have been worse than anything a two year mission could throw at him?

  12. Anyone who read and took serious the Miracle of Forgiveness had some level of this disorder to deal with. My mother and father in law live everyday in fear, trying to be perfect, always failing, always empty…God bless the harmless Mormon Church.

  13. I was listening to this in my car last night with tears streaming down my face. I’m pretty sure Eric and I are contemporaries in terms of age so this experience for me is about 16 or so years ago. The tears are tears of gratitude that my parents had the wisdom to yank me out of my mission before my scrupulosity/anxiety was able to really “bloom” as Eric puts it. I have no OCD in my immediate family but there is a very severe case with one of my parent’s siblings. I was never a totally straight arrow growing up, though I was a basically good kid that accomplished a lot in high school, held all the high callings as a kid, etc. In hindsight Eric’s comments on symmetry hit home with me because I had (still have!) several little habits that involved tapping, one with my fingers, another with my teeth, that involved that. Nothing that remotely intruded in my life though. It wasn’t until I got to the MTC and decided that I need to be THE BEST missionary I could be and not mess up in any way that I began to have these overwhelming anxiety attacks that could only be relieved by going and confessing. So yeah, I was a confesser too. I remember the first one and going into the commode to try to throw up, not being able to, and hitting myself in the head as hard as I could to try to snap out of this terrible thing I was feeling. I confessed and confessed and confessed. And then wasn’t sure if I had remembered everything and would confess again, the same things over and over and the relief would last maybe a day at the most. Then I would be sure that the priesthood leader had not understood me or that I had left something out. I needed so badly to be clean in God’s eyes so that no souls would be lost on my watch.

    My case was in some ways more and less severe than Eric’s. Less severe in that mine centered only around sexuality and lasted for a shorter period of my life, nor was it as elaborate as Eric’s (though I think in time it would have been). More severe in that I could not cope with it at all. By the end of my six weeks at the MTC, I had lost about 30 pounds (couldn’t eat) and the anxiety was near constant and nothing relieved it even a little. I wanted to die. I really wanted to die. The thought of having to live the rest of my life as an anxiety attack was AWFUL. It was just awful and only the people here who have been there know what I am talking about. Interestingly (in hindsight anyway) is that by the end it really wasn’t centering around anything and was just an anxiety attack switched to the “on” position and turned to the highest setting,.

    I very quickly gave up the idea of being a perfect missionary by the end because after weeks of fasting and pouring my heart out to God for healing and innumerable priesthood blessings I was pretty sure He wasn’t going to help me, though I didn’t understand why not and was deeply wounded by that fact. Later that wound morphed into pretty serious anger at God (didn’t occur to me at that point in my life that there might not be a God, that thought was still a good 15 years away). My shedding of my black and white view of the world and judgmental mind set was almost instantaneous as I went into survival mode.

    Fortunately I returned home and was immediately taken to top Docs in the area who did what the well intentioned but inept retired Doc at the MTC could not: give me a combination of therapy and drugs that ended the anxiety attack that had been near constant for about a month. Ended it that day (thanks Ativan, Anafranil and Prozac!). It took me a good 5 months before I was ready to re-engage in the world. The thought of going back on a mission terrified me and didn’t seriously cross my mind, but the whole experience left me in a tail spin that I didn’t really pull out of fully for another eighteen months to a year. I went back to BYU and failed out. I took a run at explaining to a BYU administrator what had happened to me but we was not really sympathetic. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

    This process was all the beginning of a long journey for me of now having permission (from myself) to deconstruct the church bit by bit until there wasn’t anything left many years later (though I did get married in the temple, held high callings, etc.). This little demon is still with me, and as Eric says, when I have work stress irrational thoughts will enter in but by now I know them and recognize them and have techniques for dealing with them. Best of all I know they do go away. Luckily for me, the full blown anxiety has never returned and I have not needed medication except for the five or six months first following my mission, nor have I confessed since. Had this not happened to me would I still have the same unsympathetic black and white, dyed in the wool stage three view of the world I did back then? I don’t know. I feel like I had to exit that view of the world Andy DuFresne style, but with the benefit of a lot of hindsight I am glad it catapulted me (though perhaps in slow motion) from that world view and paradigm.

    Thanks guys for doing this, if it reaches even one kid about to head down this path it was worth it.

  14. Thanks for doing this podcast Eric and John, although I have never suffered from Scrupulosity I have and continue to suffer from AvPD. Your story gives me hope that with work I can someday break free from my vicous cycles that have taken over my life and hopefully find peace inside my head. Again thanks for doing this and I am looking forward to the spinoff series

  15. Wow! Finally a term to classify what I went through. I went on my mission and was somewhat obsessed with the order of things at the beginning. The area where I diverged was in regards to how it was expressed. I always thought that my companions were the ones that were in the way of me being a better missionary, so I would passive-aggressively attack them, either by urging them to do more in some kind of way, while looking like it was to suit the mission president or rules, or I would actually make up stuff that my companions didn’t do in an effort to make myself feel less guilty and more righteous, like I was doing enough, but they weren’t. I made many enemies on the mission for a while and was unable to relate to people in any sort of meaningful way because of the fact that I was living in my head and trying to formulate the perfect concoction for being 100 percent worthy of being a missionary for God. I was also trying very hard to make sense of the gospel, so I would often just be seriously lost to those around me. Add to this the fact that my sex drive was through the roof and I was trying to avoid all that bad thinking, but ended up ONLY being able to focus on sex and after I would give in, I would feel guilty. I later found out that “releasing” will erase all your bad thoughts instantly. Oh, how I wish I could have just had done that from the beginning instead of enduring my never ending cycle. I was so obsessed that, in order to get it over with in what I deemed to be a more appropriate way, since I had given in by then, I would just zone out and lie in my bed for hours and ONLY think think of sex before bed. Sometimes, I would just avoid everyone just to be alone and do this. One night I had pizza and lots of caffeine. *Sorry if this is too revealing. You can erase or edit this post if you want.* I had such an energy rush that I actually thought myself to orgasm. For about 3 nights after that, I would try again, but this led to masturbation eventually and a downward spiral into a short-lived depression. I also had thoughts that I wanted to erase not related to sexuality and it stemmed from reinactments of horrible things that I did in the past that I imagined in my mind. Every time that I would imagine a bad thought, I would also imagine shooting myself in the head, which would instantly erase the bad thought. I also had problems with accumulating anything of sentimental value and had to always start things over from the beginning in order to feel “clean” or “pure.” I would start this out on a certain day of the week or try to do something starting from sacrament or the first day of the month, or even at the beginning of a new hour, etc. This thinking mainly in terms of weeks came from the fact that I was convinced that in my youth, if I masturbated, I would have to wait a week to feel worthy. The longest I waited was usually a week for a period of months and because my parents could find out, I usually lied by saying it was for some other reason, when in reality, it was because I was being a typical boy. Every thing that I did wrong required some kind of time frame. Confessing filled me with anxiety because I would be deemed unworthy and someone would find out if I didn’t participate in a blessing. It really was just a matter of time. The only thing that stopped my depression on my mission was finding out that the church was pretty much bogus, at least to me. This is how I ascertained that. Nothing that I did worked how people said it would. Turning myself into a robot and giving away my whole being finally seemed impractical, seeing that I already was engaged full-time in church stuff and only had an hour and a half to myself every night. But having to focus on serving others and forgetting yourself almost provoked a mental breakdown of sorts where I thought that I had to save myself from becoming a walking Mormon parrot and save my individuality. I became ever more unselfconscious and didn’t know my own needs and also didn’t feel like I had free will anymore. I never knew how people could give so much and just “get” the gospel and do it all. I guess I didn’t have the social background in my youth for support. But the material they give you makes you feel like you SHOULD get it, but there is some kind of magical formula that is impossible for humans to grasp. Like, if you give up a certain something that God would be happy to see you give up, you would magically baptize. So, in essence, less individuality=Holy Spirit working through you, basically taking over your body as if you’re not really you anymore. Well, I started to really rebel after all that and wanted to feel normal, so I didn’t do hardly any missionary work and didn’t read the scriptures for a very long time and just played around with my companions and other people and started to break free of the authority that I was supposedly under that made me so submissive and passive and without personality. That was when I started to perceive reality again, because I didn’t believe in Mormonism and discovered myself again. Hell, one time, I even prayed to find out if the priesthood was restored and went into a trance and thought I had a false confirmation from a dark spirit. It was weird. That, among other things, made me not know what reality was. Add to that all the superstitions and I was a mess, just cannon fodder living in a spiritual war zone, being taken over by either the Spirit or Satan. The main tipping point was reading Rough Stone Rolling and finding out that Joseph Smith practiced polyandry. I finally realized that the reason I didn’t get it was because I was being fed a magical story without balance from the real world and that I was being lied to in order to further the cause of the church. I always thought it was weird to have so many faith-promoting stories and no counterbalance. Wanting to get it, I always felt guilty when I tried to talk to investigators, but wasn’t pure and the reason that I didn’t baptize them was because I wasn’t a clean vessel for the Lord. I even had an instance where I thought that I had damned myself to hell for denying the Spirit and not being a good missionary. It’s supposedly THE defining moment in your life, the one chance where you get to serve with everything and be a soul harvester. It was just like you said. I even thought that though I had ruined my chance at heaven, I would guide others to the truth. That was the part of your story that REALLY stuck out to me. It hit home. I really wish I could chronicle my mission in better detail, but I’m glad I didn’t have to relive every day by chronicling it in my journal and then having to reread it to my embarrassment later on. Otherwise I would be better able to detail the feelings and exact things that I suffered. But, in the end, I’m glad that my mission is over and the less thinking that I do about it, the better, though I learned A LOT about myself and others. I owe that much to my experience. Living without having to be “worthy” is so much better. I sometimes do things that make me feel bad and when they make me feel bad, I stop. No need to obsess over them and correlate it with whether you’re bringing souls to Christ or not. That just doesn’t make any sense. I am not, nor ever will be, responsible for another person’s salvation. I just don’t have enough knowledge or ability and it would not be right for God to exact that kind of thing from us. I also have a problem with thinking that I’m responsible for myself, being that I don’t and never will know enough, and if I do something out of the threat of being damned or under the premise of receiving a heavenly reward, it could easily turn into an obsession and wouldn’t, in my opinion, prove that you’re good or bad, because you did not do it of your own volition, but by coercion. Thanks for reading! I appreciate it.

  16. Wow. Listening to this podcast was a little bit terrifying to me. I can see myself in a good part of Eric’s story. Like others who have already responded, I feel like for my long-term survival it was necessary for me to redefine and reassess my views about the church. This is still something that follows me around today, but keeping the church’s hold on me more or less at arm’s length has helped me heal at least some of the wounds.

    I can relate to the ultra-religiosity leading up to my mission. I am disappointed and sometimes still embarassed to admit that I abandoned and avoided almost any association with any of my friends who weren’t LDS because of my fear that they would lead me to do things that I would not be proud of as a missionary. So my last year or two of high school was pretty sad. I quit the basketball team after my junior year because I swore too much (because everyone else on the team did), and I couldn’t be an effective missionary if I didn’t get that under control.

    I can remember getting numerous blessings where either my father or other priesthood holders assured me that I stood approved before the Lord and that the Lord was pleased with me. I would immediately go into my mental cavern and think of things that I had never confessed to them that if I had, they would not have given me those assurances, so they didn’t amount to much comfort for me.

    I remember being to the point where I asked my branch president in the MTC to send me home because I just could not cut it with all the pressure as a missionary. At one point he responded in almost complete confusion and frustration, “Have you had sexual relations?”

    “No.”

    “Have you killed anyone?”

    “No.”

    “Then you are fine. Stop worrying about it so much.”

    Even then, it was not comforting to me. I could always think of sins I had never confessed, like watching a bad movie, or masturbating. And like Eric said, the temple recommend and temple experience were both a bear for me. I knew I wasn’t telling the truth when I answered those questions. I knew I wasn’t fully honest. I downloaded files on Limewire the week before. I knew there was something still to be confessed when asked if there were any other sins that had not been confessed that needed to be forgiven, even though I answered ‘no.’ My first seven or eight years of temple going I was basically unable to feel comfortable because I was sure I wasn’t worthy to be there.

    Thanks to John and Eric for this interview. I still have listen to part 2 about him getting better. I hope when I do I can see signs of how I am getting better. It has been so helpful to listen to Eric’s story for me so far.

  17. Eric,

    Thanks so much for coming on to MormonStories to tell your story. I have no clinical experience or any kind of formal training in this area, but I wonder whether we all experience a certain form of Scrupulosity on a continuum. To be clear, I never experienced anything like what you did. But, at the same time, I definitely recall moments of similar feelings where I felt like the repentance process wasn’t covering me because there was that little bit I hadn’t confessed. Or, worrying whether the cleansing power of the atonement had me covered for sins I had forgotten or that maybe I didn’t fully represent to my ecclesiastical leader. This was especially potent on my mission where I felt like some little sin from five years prior may be dampening the spirit during the discussion and, in turn, made me responsible for my investigator’s decision to not get baptized. There was a lot of guilt and it’s a lot of pressure, but, again, never coming close to what you experienced.

    On a lighter note, perhaps what you needed, as opposed to that special priesthood blessing, was a Second Anointing. 😉

    Jason

    1. Jason,

      “…perhaps what you needed, as opposed to that special priesthood blessing, was a Second Anointing…”

      Where do I sign up? And how much does it cost?

      🙂 Eric

  18. Thank you so much, Eric, for sharing your story. I can identify with so much of what you expressed. I have had severe anxiety all of my life. It attaches itself to my worries about health-related issues. I also have a lot of existential angst. Your description of how you overcame your scrupulosity by learning to accept ambiguity really rang true for me. I want certainty and guarantees in life, but that is not how it works. I really appreciate your courage in sharing your story. You have helped me and so many others.

  19. What a fantastic podcast. I was dying for you to ask one question. If you know someone who suffers from scrupulosity is it advisable to go, “hey, I know what you have – it’s called scrupulosity you can get help for that”?

    I will enjoy sharing this with my friends. Thank you ‘Eric’ and John.

  20. Wow, this really rings true here in Tokyo. The Japanese already have a tendency toward taking things overly seriously. Many missionaries have commented on the Old testament aspect of ‘letter of the law’ thinking here. I have seen many members who become increasingly serious about finding more and more commandments to try to master to the point of actually starting to manufacture them. (I once received a wrenching letter of apology for having laughed on the sabbath from a sister.) I find that these members continue in this progression for about a year, and then they reach an escalated point of impossibility where they can do nothing but leave the church. I have at least 3 friends who have left the church because they were unable to continue with this sort of obsession. I suppose the combination of certain personality types, and an unequivocal attitude in the authoritarian message (and followership) will contribute to a larger than average percentage of scrupulosity in church members.

    Once its identified though, I suspect the major battle in a lifelong war will have been won.

  21. Just a suspected…there are probably lots of Mormons that experience this sort of thing. The guilt used to be crushing to me. I felt anguish over things I said and did and always felt a need to cleanse myself of even the most trivial misstep. The desire to be the perfect LDS was obsessive at times. This lead to feeling like two people at times. There was the good LDS boy and then the one that ‘cut loose’ for a time only to try to start over again.

    I observed behavior in others that made me think they had the same feelings and struggle.

  22. I am probably the least OCD person I know. I don’t care about neatness or order or ritual or any of those things. But when I was a missionary, I did exhibit some of the symptoms of scrupulosity too. The church really feeds that destructive way of thinking with its intense focus on guilt, shame and perfectionism. Specifically, I always felt on my mission that if I even ever NOTICED some good looking girl (this was in Latin America, where there was a lot of bare skin) that I was a terrible sinner. I spent most of my mission feeling guilty all the time, even though I never came close to flirting or looking at porn or masturbating or any of those things.

  23. Pingback: Scrupulosity Podcast with Eric Langford on MormonStories.org - Faith in Salt Lake City and Beyond - Religion in Utah

  24. It’s tough for a mission president, when he has 100 to 200 young men, 75% of whom are the kind who would rather just hang out and have fun. Try to motivate them! So some try to motivate through guilt. And that guilt really hits the few, who already are overly zealous.

    Myself, I don’t really have OCD, but have an autism spectrum condition called Asperger. It means that I can really concentrate on something, like an autistic person, actually. So sometimes I work myself to death (well, almost) with whatever happens to be the one I get hung up on. There’s no real cure but try to learn the remind yourself of realities regularly.

    I have OCD in the family, though, and “Eric’s” story had a very familiar ring to it. Also, to blame the LDSChurch explicitly for creating the condition is ludicrous. Also, “deconstructing Mormonism” as a “cure” is a bogus claim. An OCD person with scrupulosity already knows his/her obsessive/intrusive thoughts are not based on reality or anything anyone expects of him/her, but you have to do something to the anxiety…

    How this differs from schizophrenia (which someone alluded to) is, that it’s much harder for a schizophrenic to tell if the intrusive thoughts are based on reality or not; plus in schizophrenia the intrusive thoughts don’t have to have any base in reality, unlike in OCD you go overboard with something that’s already important for you.

  25. I just found out that I have OCD. I have to say to Velska, that I had no idea that my religious obsessions weren’t based on reality. I believed that they were real. Deconstructing Mormonism is actually what cured me. It was like taking painful chains off. I finally feel free.

    The LDS church twisted and manipulated my scrupulosity severely. I believed and took seriously everything the missionaries taught me and everything else they taught. It led me to becoming suicidal twice, because no matter how hard I tried, I never could meet all of the things they were asking me to. I still wasn’t willing to look at what the church was doing to me, but when I finally did, I was released from the pain.

    1. I too suffer from Ocd and scrups and have been in and out of activity in the church over the course of the last decade. I have been down the “deconstructing Mormonism” route wih reading tons anti material and at one point even questioning if a former marriage was worth the effort due to a fear that our sealing wasn’t done correctly despite questioning a witness who said that it was. Part of me wonders if this trial falls in tbe same vein as homosexuality and is to be “endured well” as a by-product of our carnal and natural state. I have recently in the past 6 months reactivated, remarried a woman in the church with goals to be sealed in the temple. I still have an unrelenting testimony of the church that I guess you could say requires me to place more faith in the grace of the atonement. I believe Heavenly Father understands this disorder and the trials, physically and psychologically associated with it. I also believe the Advesary is aware of what a great tool this disorder can be used for to seperate God from His children. As one poster wrote, they didn’t feel like praying, and as we learn in the Book of Mormon it is the evil one that teaches that we must not pray, thus he may be detected. My heart goes out to those of you co-suffers of this cruel and unfair disorder, I pray for your solice in Christ, our Savior- even from ourselves, if we let him.

  26. Pingback: Chapter 2: A crack appears in the wall. | Second Gospel of Matthew

  27. Pingback: On Discernment and Love | i am a tree

  28. I really appreciated this broadcast. I experience OCD and have recently started on my own healing odyssey. It strikes me that the condition is treatable and it was quite a healing momemnt for me to hear ‘Eric’ talking. It could have been me in many respects. I have started blogging about my experiences on http://www.mormon-ocd.blogspot.com if anyone wants to follow me in my recovery. Thanks again.

  29. Thank you for this and the other podcast on scrupulocity. I was diagnosed with OCD about 14 years ago. It wasn’t until later that I found out about what scrupulocity was and that it was a large part of my obsessions. I came back to the LDS church about a year ago and have been through quite the repentence process, including multiple confesses, a displinary counsel, and then more confession. I have tried to find some rules for confession to no avail, such as do I need to reconfessess sins of a previously confessessed nature, or ones that may naturely be part of leading up to that greater sin? For example knecking, light petting, are pretty much on the way to fornication. Does one, having confessed fornication, really need to go back in “fill in all the blanks” of less-serious sins? And what if another instance of fornication is remembered after that meeting, does that separate incident need to also be confessed? I’m beginning to feel like I’m ticking down a list of Law of Moses rules when I’m trying to do is get things behind me.

    When I ask my Bishop, he simply says if you feel like you need to come and talk to me, then do it. That may work great for people without OCD, but for me it’s an open invitation to search every memory and dig up even some previously confessed ones from over a decade ago and take them to him. I, of course, see the vicious cycle in this, but the anxiety of wondering if I’ll be met with surprise and denied the Celestial Kingdom is so strong. I actually took today off work because I have a monthly meeting with the Bishop and I felt too distracted and ill to work. Thank you for any insight or comments.

  30. You guys are going to love this: I was diagnosed with severe OCD 8 years ago. Yes I obsessed and compulsed, but that was rather minor to the scrupulosity that I just found out about. The strangest part is how I found out about scrup. I love to watch the tv show ‘criminal minds’ and I found out on the second episode or so from ‘Reid’ about the disorder, and I just froze. Until then, I just thought I had OCD. In my own words, I have come to know scrupulosity as OCD’s ugly couisn. It is VERY comforting to me to know that this isn’t just a branch of OCD, it is it’s own mental disorder. So now I can combat it with research and other people’s experiences soooo much easier! For all of you with scrupulosity, I have a question for you: Isn’t it interesting how there is always that ‘authority figure’ in the church that we are completly at the mercy of with all of our confessions? At first it was the bishop, then he wasn’t good enough anymore for me, so I went to the stake president (bishops and stake presidents NEED TO BE TRAINED TO RECOGNIZE THIS DISORDER, it would have saved me from a lot of heart ache I believe.) anyway, it continued to my mission president, and then back to my college bishops after the mission. Having been married for a few years, I have realized I just need to stop confessing, stop feeding that fire, or it will NEVER stop. So I don’t confess to my bishop anymore, (unless I end up doing something really bad…haha) that athorutiy figure has now morphed into my wife. Yes, I confess to my wife when I look at something online breifly, or not so breifly that is questionable. It is strange, I get the same relief by telling her that I did by telling my bishops. You should know that I have never had a huge porn addiction, but I do have somewhat of an addiction that comes and goes where I look at something I shouldnt online or on a movie etc… But I have found out the trigger for me, it is when I succomb to my weakness in pornography (in all of it’s forms, written, pictures, movies, etc…) that I have these incredible urges, nay, insurmountable urges (those of you with scrup know what I’m talking about) to confess to my wife. After I confess, I feel better, I pray to the Lord for forgiveness, and I go on, with a determination to not succomb again. I get stronger every time this happens, and so that is where I’m at now. If any of you have anything similar to this, or just want to talk please talk to me, I need to hear from you. I have created an email address that wont give away my identity. Email me at: scrupsucks@gmail.com. I am a 25 year old male living in utah just so you know. Thanks. Please, let’s talk.

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