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Religious OCD

In What Ways Does Religious OCD Show Up?

Religious OCD involves unwanted, intrusive thoughts about things of a religious nature.


Religious OCD occurs in people of all faiths and belief systems, including those who are nonreligious. People with Religious OCD may worry about not adequately or perfectly following their religion, and therefore upsetting God. They may worry about sinning and may scrutinize their actions to ensure that they have not sinned. They may feel extremely guilty and deserving of harsh punishment for even minor infractions.


It is possible for individuals who are nonreligious to experience Religious OCD. Nonreligious individuals, may for example, experience intrusive thoughts about eternal damnation for being irreligious and ruminate over their decision to not have a faith-based practice.

Religious OCD can also cause people to follow their religious commandments and customs to an extreme. They may feel the need to “perfect” their religion to ensure God’s favor or avoid something bad from happening. Religious leaders and others observing their behaviors may recognize the behaviors as too rigid, unnecessary, or unhelpful. 


Scenario: Alexander reads his Bible every day for two hours no matter what. He will do this even if he is exhausted after a long day at work or is sick. He has cancelled important events to make sure he has time to read for two hours. In the rare event that Alexander is unable to read his Bible for two hours, he feels extremely guilty and worries that he is not a “good” Christian.

People with religious OCD may also experience unwanted images of a religious nature. For example, people may imagine themselves in Hell, having sex with Jesus, or spitting on their rabbi. The images cause significant distress and cannot be stopped no matter how much people try to control them.

Religious OCD Compulsions

Compulsions are anything that people with OCD do to relieve the anxiety and distress brought on by their intrusive thoughts (i.e., obsessions, worries). The variations of compulsions are endless and vary from person to person, which makes it impossible to include examples of all possible compulsions in this guide. Below is a selection of examples illustrating a range of ways Religious OCD compulsions present.

Examples of Religious OCD Compulsions:

Mentally reviewing what you did to ensure you did not sin.


Mentally checking how you feel about God or your faith.


Trying to get loved ones to follow religious practices to your OCD’s standards.


Avoiding religious practices because of intrusive thoughts.

(e.g., avoiding going to confession because you doubt whether you really confessed everything; avoiding reading religious texts because it triggers blasphemous thoughts)


Avoiding things with demonic associations.

(e.g., the number 666; movies with demons)


Excessively engaging in religious activities.


Over-analyzing religious text(s) to ensure you understand it correctly.


Excessively confessing sins or religious intrusive thoughts.


Avoiding things of religious significance because it triggers intrusive thoughts.

(e.g., religious texts, crosses, synagogues, temples)


Purposely bringing up blasphemous thoughts to check that you do not enjoy them.

(e.g., purposely thinking “I hate God” to make sure that the idea horrifies you)


Repeatedly seeking reassurance from a religious leader about your religious intrusive thoughts.

Help for Religious OCD

Religious OCD can be overwhelming and distressing if left untreated. However, there is effective therapy. The gold-standard treatment for OCD is a type of  behavioral intervention called exposure therapy. In addition to exposures, there are also other highly effective acceptance-based interventions that complement exposure therapy for OCD. 

We hope that this guide has helped you to better understand Religious OCD.

You do not need to live a life overwhelmed and controlled by OCD. Equipping yourself with practical information for treating OCD and learning how to respond to OCD in an effective way can be life changing. Oftentimes, people unknowingly engage in actions that feed the OCD cycle

If you would like to learn more in-depth information about OCD treatment and recovery, you are welcome to read our Educational Guides on exposure therapy and other acceptance-based interventions for OCD:

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