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Moral scrupulosity is a subtype of OCD that involves preoccupation with whether one is a "good" or "bad" person, and overthinking about past, present and even future behavior as a means of seeking certainty about your moral standing. Many individuals with this type of OCD are fairly sure they are in fact a "bad" person, which leads to deep personal guilt and shame. The uncertainty of whether you have or could hurt someone as well as the looming threat of judgment from others are heavy and crippling, leading to impairment in any number of areas of life. This can overlap with fears of one's own capability and desire to harm someone, but this is better categorized as Harm OCD rather than scrupulosity.


  • questioning whether one was completely honest

  • doubt around having hurt someone whether with past actions or the possibility of it happening in the future

  • fears about the ramifications of being immoral or acting in defiance of one's values and morals

  • images that depict immoral or hurtful actions or ideas


  • mental review of past behavior

  • checking one's social media posts, emails and text messages to confirm nothing hurtful was sent on purpose or by accident

  • reassurance-seeking from family and friends

  • internet research

  • mental comparison

  • body scans for positive or negative feelings that arise in the presence of an intrusive thought or image

The Problem with Seeking Certainty

Thinking about one's own morality can be tricky when the goal is complete certainty and the only categories are "good" and "bad". This is another form of all or nothing thinking that is common with OCD; it forces us to categorize complex human experience into just one of two opposite buckets. Even the most saint-like individuals can find blemishes on their past behavior when OCD is taking inventory; an eye roll, an off-color joke or even an unkind thought. So as with all OCD treatment, the goal is not to get certainty that one is a "good" person. Not only is that unhelpful for an individual with OCD but it's clearly impossible. The goal, instead, is to get more comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing if one is "good" or "bad" while simultaneously finding joy and living a value-based life.

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