Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Atheism scrupulosity

By Sara Anderson, LPC

Oct 25, 20226 minute read

Reviewed byTaylor Newendorp

Scrupulosity OCD is a subtype of OCD that attacks one’s spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. Atheism is described as the disbelief in God/gods and an absence of adhering to a religious system. People who are Atheist most often hold strong moral beliefs that are often in common with many religious people, but their beliefs do not come from any religious source. People experiencing fears regarding Atheism in Scrupulosity OCD may have nothing to do with morals according to a person’s own beliefs, but rather doubts or uncertainties about whether there is a higher power. That excessive doubt then creates significant anxiety, shame or guilt. As a result, they often experience fear that they may have somehow angered or offended a higher power.

Common thoughts may include that they were somehow wrong in their belief that there is no higher power and they may worry that their decisions throughout life could have somehow offended a higher power in a way that could negatively impact them. This fear of offending a higher power is normally generalized and not necessarily attached to a specific religious sect, but can have elements of a particular religious belief or many different beliefs, or may be related to religious teaching they received growing up. For example, someone with this type of subtype may worry that they offended God (or Gods) and as a result will not get into heaven, may not be able to reincarnate, may not receive good fortune in the afterlife, etc. The fear of offending a higher power may also come with feared consequences in life: “What if I offended God and he punishes me now?”

Religious Scrupulosity OCD, just like any type of OCD, is about doubt and uncertainty. Fears are not necessarily about religion and belief systems, but about the uncertainty that OCD attaches itself to. It is impossible for anyone to be 100% certain in their religious views and about what happens after death, so OCD can latch onto any shred of doubt.

Fear of Atheism – Common obsessions

  • What if I am wrong about a higher power?
  • What if I am punished by a higher power for not believing?
  • What if I don’t receive a reward at the end of life as a result of not believing?
  • What if I have done something to anger a higher power and I don’t know it?
  • What if what I believe is wrong and I will regret it?
  • What if I am feeling shame/guilt/anxiety because what I believe is wrong?

Common triggers

People with Scrupulosity OCD centered on Atheism may be triggered by various situations involving people, places, or items of religious significance. People may struggle with these thoughts while engaging with media that reference religious belief systems/views. They may struggle during traditionally religious holidays or when spending time with religious family members, as it might remind them of doubts of their own worldview. Some may even find it triggering to discuss their own belief system with others or read about Atheism or religion. 

Triggers for people with Atheist themes in Scrupulosity OCD include:

  • Participation in traditionally religious events/practices
  • References to God/Gods in the media
  • Viewing religious materials, shows, scripture, etc.
  • Discussing current religious views/worldview
  • Discussing or reading about Atheist views
  • Spending time with religious family members

How can I tell if I’m experiencing Scrupulosity OCD and not just questioning my own beliefs?

To be able to identify something as potential OCD, one must consider first if their thoughts are intrusive or unwanted. Typically, these thoughts also create distress, anxiety, and perhaps even shame or guilt as a result. The thoughts can become distressing to the point that one feels a need to engage in compulsive behaviors such as checking their beliefs internally, mentally reviewing reasonings behind their worldview, seeking reassurance about their beliefs, ruminating in an attempt to find certainty, and so on. A person might find short-term relief in these behaviors, but the doubt, uncertainty, anxiety, and urge to perform compulsions returns again and again. If you think you may be struggling with OCD, consider these questions: Do these thoughts and compulsive behaviors interfere in your relationships or day to day activities in some way? Do these thoughts make it difficult for you to focus on other things throughout the day? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, it could be OCD.

Common compulsions

When people with Atheism themes in Scrupulosity OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may find themselves seeking reassurance, researching religious texts, or researching information on Atheism and the rationale behind it. People struggling with this subtype of OCD might avoid religious ceremonies, events, materials, discussions, topics, and company. They might find themselves ruminating in an effort to “solve the problem” or find certainty in their beliefs to try to make their doubt and anxiety subside. Some might even avoid people they know due to differing religious views.

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with Atheism obsessions in Scrupulosity OCD include:

  • Rumination to try to find certainty
  • Avoidance of people, places and things that serve as reminders of their doubts and obsessions
  • Googling/researching religious materials and/or Atheism 
  • Mentally reviewing their own views to seek reassurance
  • Seeking reassurance from others with similar viewpoints

How to treat fear of Atheism in Scrupulosity OCD

Scrupulosity OCD can be debilitating, but all forms of OCD are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, you can gain more control over your life and live with less distress.

Our brain sometimes misinterprets certain triggers as threats and as a result, we engage in compulsions to reduce the anxiety we experience. These compulsions then reinforce the mistaken idea that these triggers were dangerous in the first place. ERP works by providing opportunities to engage with the same triggers without utilizing compulsions, and instead accept uncertainty and sit with anxiety. Over time, this teaches your brain that the triggers are not as dangerous as they initially felt, and your distress decreases over time when obsessions come up. 

This approach proceeds incrementally, where triggers that lead to less anxiety are utilized first, progressing gradually to exposures that cause more anxiety. This way, not only are you facing your fears and developing new knowledge and comfort with perceived threats, but you are also building confidence and trust in yourself along the way. 

Examples of possible exposures done to treat obsessive fears focused on Atheism in Scrupulosity OCD include: 

  • Reading/watching religious material 
  • Utilizing phrases or scripts to induce anxiety-such as “I may be wrong about Atheism” or “I may or may not be offending Gods/God and might be punished”

The idea behind both examples would be to sit with the anxiety produced by the triggers and allow for it to reduce on its own without attempting to get rid of it with compulsions. When these types of exposures are repeated, they become easier to tolerate over time, resulting in less distress overall if and when these thoughts come up again.

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.

We specialize in treating Religious OCD

Reach out to us. We're here to help.