“I wonder how much of what weighs me down is not mine to carry.”Aditi
One physical attribute I frequently notice in people who suffer from severe scrupulosity is that they often look exhausted. Perhaps I’m sensitive to spotting exhaustion because I’ve ministered to many people with scrupulosity over the years. I’m sure others notice this trait. Exhaustion is measurable and difficult to mask. The observable symptoms reveal the inner truth of the struggle that’s the source of the extreme fatigue the individual displays.
The root cause of the mental and physical exhaustion is the weight of the burden of the scrupulous condition. The perpetual struggle with whatever thought, desire, or intrusive action that ignites the fear and which is the source of the constant anxiety effectively denies a person his or her needed rest. The more dominant the thought, desire, or intrusive action, the more dominant the fear that often results in sleeplessness, restless sleep, and eventually exhaustion. If this describes your situation, ask yourself: Do I need to carry all this weight, or is there a way to lay the burden down?
The good news is there’s an effective way to reclaim some sense of peace and calm. There is also a way that’s ineffective, and it’s probably the way you’re most familiar with. The ineffective way describes your present experience. But there is a way to manage the scrupulous condition. It’s a skill that’s learned, not something that happens out of the blue. It’s practiced and engaged deliberately. The opposite also is true: Unmanaged scrupulosity that rules the roost is also something that’s practiced and engaged deliberately, if not always with knowledge and never with full consent of the will. Let me explain.
It is counterproductive to struggle against the intrusive thought, desire, or action. The energy devoted to the struggle is used not to gain the hoped-for dominance and/or relief, but rather it’s the root cause that fuels even more intrusive thoughts, desires, and actions. In fact, the more you struggle, the more you enable what you most desire to find relief from. That may sound hard to believe, but it’s true. Still, you need not remain at the mercy of wave after wave of relentless fear and anxiety. There’s a way out.
The learned skill of management is the only way to enjoy any kind of peace of mind. Not perfect peace but a peace of mind that will make you feel less burdened and exhausted by life. It begins with identifying what needs to be carried and what doesn’t. To answer that, you have to be brutally honest with yourself and learn the skill of letting go.
The first piece of baggage to drop is sin. This demands a reordering of your perception of who God is. Learn to resist the image of a vengeful “God” who’s waiting to pounce on any error or weakness. A “God” who uses normal expressions of the human condition as an excuse to send you into eternal damnation does not exist. That “God” is a depiction of your fear, a self-generated and self-claimed fear. It feels real, but it’s not. Let it go.
The second unnecessary piece of luggage you need to release is your “favorite” go-to thought, desire, or feeling that guarantees a scrupulous response. If you can’t let it go, try to put it in a mental storage shed. Items in physical storage units still belong to you, but they don’t dominate your everyday habits and experiences. Same with the mental shed.
If you struggle with scrupulosity, you have a specific concentration and focus that expresses your condition and might dominate you. But, happily, there are entire swaths of your life that aren’t tagged with scrupulosity. These areas are free of fear and anxiety. But you haven’t paid much attention to them because of your scrupulous focus. This focus is not the result of free will or sin. It’s not a deliberate choice. It just is. Nothing more.
Just as you need to list what’s in a real storage shed to keep track of what’s in it, you need to make a couple of inventories of yourself. First, you need a fearless inventory of the thoughts, desires, and feelings that produce scrupulosity within you. At the same time, you need an inventory of thoughts, desires, and feelings that produce genuine happiness in your life. You may not be able to produce such an inventory on your own, and that’s perfectly fine. A confessor, a spiritual director, a friend, or a family member who knows you well may see positive traits in you that you don’t see in yourself.
Once you write the inventories, you must then choose again to put aside whatever generates scrupulosity for you. Every time you experience fear or anxiety that’s rooted in one of your self-identified triggers of scrupulosity, remember to identify the feeling as manifested scrupulosity, not as sin. Correct identification of what’s really going on within you is a sure path to freedom. It demands practice and the grace of fortitude, but it will lead to a deepening sense of peace and calm.
You need not carry baggage that isn’t yours to lug around. That mental hauling has exhausted you. That stuff weighs you down. But! If you fearlessly identify what you need to put aside and then store it or get rid of it—and also affirm good things about yourself—you will experience greater freedom: the real experience of the peace and love that God wants for his people.
Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR