[TW: moral OCD triggers for some people I’d imagine]
What is Moral Scrupulosity OCD?
Common manifestations of Moral Scrupulosity OCD
Excessive concern with being 100% honest
Excessive concern with the idea of being “good” or of not being “bad” (a so-called “good” person wouldn’t think or do xyz)
Excessive concern with getting in trouble or breaking rules
Excessive concern that a past act was immoral
May include awareness of an actual moral misstep but with obsessive need to know exactly how much
May include concern that others would reject you if they knew about it
May include concern that a thought about an immoral act could be a memory of an immoral act that likely did not even occur (see my blog on False Memory OCD)
Excessive concern that adultery or some disloyal act could have or did possibly take place
Excessive concern that one has caused someone else to be immoralMoral Scrupulosity OCD: Part One
Do I actually have this?
I’ve spent the last four months considering it. I think if you read this blog post – you’ll understand that I do. I have been resistant to adding another mental health diagnosis after being diagnosed with autism, because every time I self-diagnose this is what happens:
- “Wow that sounds a bit like me? But I guess everyone is a little like that – so it’s probably just related to my existing conditions”
- Someone (@shiraisispired) tweets a lot about it – talks about how OCD is different to what people think – at this point I still think it’s turning light switches on/off and being excessively clean due to media representations (This is a form of OCD but not the only form of OCD)
- “Ok maybe I will read that article @shiraisispired – linked.” (The one I have linked above and will explicitly link at the end).
- “Oh some of this sounds quite familiar – but I am probably just more anxious because of the fact I have ADHD and autism” – I think it’s related to these, it wouldn’t be morally right to claim a label I didn’t feel I had experience based on this one articles interpretation
- [In the background in my mind I have cognitive dissonance over having something I am 90% sure I have]
- “Maybe I am just a moral person? That’s probably a thing I never excessively ruminate on it – and when I’ve had past moral mistakes – I’ve deserved them and deserve to think about them a lot because otherwise I’ll be evil”
- Time passes with me constantly considering this – but just still saying it’s my other conditions
- This tweet comes out and an alarm of memories floods into my head:
- Come to kinda accept that I have it now – still won’t claim the label at all.
- Final acceptance comes when someone says “You need to have this since childhood”.
- I accept I have Moral Scrupulosity OCD – i’ll show you why.
Moral Scrupulosity OCD – My own personal hell
[TW/CW: sexual assault, violent imagery, trauma, biphobia]
So most of my life I’ve never been believed. It’s a common thing with autistic people and ADHD people – a recent study has come out that shows that neurotypical people do not trust autistic people who display no obvious signs of autism – even though there has been no reason to do that. This has compounded a lot of my OCD.
On top of this – morality isn’t taught at school generally – I actually think this is really important a long with consent, and empathy at a young age.
Having a moral code is something I really like. I talk about morals and moral philosophy a lot – and I also expect others to have good morals. [There are positive external facing aspects to this but the internal stuff I am going to cover is debilitating].
Some presentations in childhood
- I have Object Personification (occurs at higher rates in autistic individuals) – that is that I have sometimes in my life (not always) ascribed extremely human emotions and feelings to inanimate objects.
When I was four years old I got a dinosaur toy that moved and shot sparks when you pushed buttons, but it could only do one of these two actions at a time. I didn’t know this – I pressed both buttons and my Dad got extremely angry with me, the toy broke because I did this.
I thought I had murdered the toy (and technically I did do this). I used to obsessively try and get it to work again – I’d sneak off when family weren’t looking to try and save it’s life – how could I kill a friend like this? I am evil.
- My mum was always mad at me as a child, I was naughty, I did things like be too loud – as well as some actual things that were probably bad behaviour just generally as a kid. I wanted to make her proud and so at age six or seven I entered every race at the school swimming competition, I was a terrible swimmer but I was bad and maybe I this would show her I was good.
When she turned up to watch, I saw another kid throw a rock in the pool and had been taught that was dangerous in pool safety – I dived in to retrieve the rock but couldn’t find it underwater. When I came to the surface I was absolutely scolded by my teacher for getting into the pool without permission.
My mum was so embarrassed that she left the swimming event – I watched her leave out the pool gate screaming for her to come back – I am evil I thought.
- Teasing kids at school with my “friends” – I was friends with my bullies. I’ve talked about it a lot already. It wasn’t good for me. I once teased a disabled girl at about age 8-9, and I still have the exact sentence she repeated back to me burned into my brain when I did this to her. I spent a significant portion of my childhood ruminating on how evil I was for this – I made someone who had done absolutely nothing to me sad and cry. I ruminate still on this – I am evil.
- I slammed one of my cats tails in a door when I was young accidentally. My parents yelled at me for doing so – I was an animal abuser, I hurt the things in my life that have never done me any harm except for careless scratches – I am evil.
- TW: Sexual assault
I was sexually assaulted at a McDonald’s birthday party when I was very young. I didn’t know it was sexual abuse though – this was done by an adult to me. Due to this when younger I made a sexually inappropriate gestures to another child. I got caught doing this and was told off and sent home. I am evil.
- I kept losing stuff that I was given at school – everytime it was a confirmation for me that I was a horrible person because my parents would be so mad at me for losing it. I’d made a conscious choice to do this when we were extremely poor they believed. I know now it was from ADHD, but I am evil.
- I was called “atrocious” a lot as a child – (mentioned this before) a family story they tell is me using this word when someone called me naughty – I replied “I’m not naughty, i’m ATROCIOUS”.
When I discovered what this actually meant when old enough to read and use a dictionary I realised that people thought of me as:
“If you describe someone’s behaviour or their actions as atrocious, you mean that it is unacceptable because it is extremely violent or cruel.” I am evil.
- Because I was thought of this way I started obsessing about whether in the future I’d grow up to be a bad person. This is a lifelong battle I am still living. The manifestation of this obsession has been really hard for me – I also have hyper-empathy. In order to try not to become a bad person – I had to learn about extremely violent and cruel people. The first ever study I was allowed to do I tried to find the most extremely violent person I could, and I did. I found Adolf Hitler. At age 10 – I read everything I could on Hitler and especially focused on his childhood. I also had to research other “dictators” so I ended up seeing the beaten bodies of Mussolini and his wife after the fall of fascist Italy. When you do a study on Hitler at age 10 and show it at a parents night. You find out pretty quickly how bad of an idea that was. I am evil.
Some presentations in adolescent years
- So at this point anytime I perform any action that is deemed disruptive, or detrimental to others. I get a sweet feedback loop of every one of the moments I listed above and others in my head to remind me – I am evil. Not only that – I am going to become Hitler or another dictator. I am evil.
- I decide to seek therapy for my sexual assault after learning sex education as I knew then it was wrong to touch children – and this class brought back the horrible memory. I couldn’t trust any adults at this point. I needed to talk to someone so I got help. At the counselling office there are tons of posters about family violence, drug addiction, sexual abuse – I think I am going to do all of these things now because I am in this place. I am evil.
- The form that I filled in to make a sensitive claim to our ACC program (national health insurance for injury), has a clerical error on it – it gets sent to my home – not my therapists office where I had made the claim from independent of my parents.
My mother gets it – she accuses me of fraud, she says that there’s no way she ever would have let this happen to me and how could I make such an accusation. Do I think she is a terrible mother? Why am I making things up? I try to tell her but she won’t listen, and I don’t want to hurt her. I admit it was a “lie”. I am evil. [My mother is not to blame here – this is a defensive reaction – the people who sent the form to my house are responsible. I needed to tell her on my terms not some bureaucrats].
- At this point in my life, no one ever believes me, not teachers, not friends, not a single person – I believe I am a serial liar, and worse than that I don’t even know that I am lying. So I start researching into what compulsive liars are – one of the terms that comes up is psychopath. I go to the library and get out books on psychopaths. Maybe I am one. I read these with hyper-empathy, I do not recognise anything here but I do imagine what happened to their victims vividly. Someone in my life notices that I am reading a lot on serial killers and they become concerned about me. I mean I am a liar according to everyone else, I also was sexually abused when young which is common in their stories. I am evil.
- These books were written about serial killers, not from their perspective, maybe if I read from their perspective I would understand better, then I can work out if I am evil. I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis at about fifteen years old. 131, 246, 290, 305. These pages are burned into my brain. They detail some of the most horrific acts of brutality I’ve ever read anywhere. This makes me so physically ill. I can never get these out of my head. The fact I even read them though and did it even though it was uncomfortable confirms one thing for me. I am evil.
- Not pleased enough with just that research I find an autobiography of a serial killer. I read about one third of it. It was so sickening. Unlike the previous part – I REMEMBER EVERY PAGE OF THIS BOOK. I remember every victim he named, the way in which they died, and his callous disregard for their lives. I understand at this point that I am not a “psychopath”. I must just be a sociopath, the distinction for me being that a psychopath knows what’s wrong and does it anyway, whereas a sociopath is someone who hurts other people without knowing why. I am evil.
- I was basically taught at school that I was a bad learner and I shouldn’t really pursue that, this was confirmed when I went to university after leaving high school early – and getting addicted to substances and dropping out. I was a on track for wasting my entire life, I was going to be a “beneficiary” that I had been taught to hate because they were “lazy” people. I am evil.
- Most of my information about how to behave comes from television, film, and adults in my life. Due to this I have a lot of terrible glaring character flaws – I am racist (although not supremacist racist as American History X taught me that life never pays), I am homophobic (despite being bisexual), I am extremely transphobic. I am influenced heavily by depictions of mental illness on TV. Because I have mental health issues. I am evil.
- I go to University to study – I learn about critical theory, the true nature of Ti Tiriti o Waitangi – New Zealand colonizer treatment of Māori people. I learn critical race theory, I learn about feminism. Morality starts to form, I realise how many moral failings I have.
- TW/CW: Sexual Assault(?)
I learn about consent from a feminine perspective – and I realise that this applies to male on male relationships too – all of my relationships prior to this were in coercive situations where I was either a child, or had been groomed I had no idea this was wrong – my coworker groomed me at seventeen when they were over forty. This primes a memory of an interaction when a teenager with a teenager where I think I may have sexually assaulted him – but I don’t actually know – I don’t know if consent was given so I assume the worst. I don’t know how bad the offence here actually is, or if this is true – I want to make this right without retraumatizing the victim. I compulsively think about this all the time. Which is a trademark of moral scrupulosity OCD. Maybe I really am evil.
- I study psychology – this is where I discover I have ADHD. But something far more insidious happens to me. I am sure that I love men, women, and basically anyone without consideration of their gender – the term bisexual is applicable to me. I am made to write an essay about the biological and social origins of homosexuality.
Bisexuality is a transitional phase according to science and science is always correct in my view at this point. I am a closeted homosexual and I’ve been deceiving women and manipulating them and I can’t admit to men that I am only attracted to them. I am lying to everyone and myself even – how can I be trusted if I don’t even know who I am – I have no understanding of myself because I am just going to become gay. Why can’t I admit this? I am evil.
- Coming out after meeting my wife (who I told early because I can’t lie to my partner at least – that part seemed like something she should know) because I hated hiding it was a five year struggle for me.
I was worried about the biphobia associated with being in a heterosexual relationship so therefore being an “invalid bisexual”, whether or not it would be morally correct to come out in that situation, and also I was conversely worried that all my friends would leave me if I told them the truth because I had lied to them about this.
Science had also sown doubt – I had started to reconcile this a little, I knew I loved my wife and wasn’t a closeted homosexual person. This personal hell of indecision was near every day that I had to deal with this moral quandary and my Dad died before he knew, I wasn’t honest with him. I can never tell him. I am evil.
- I failed at every job except one, I struggled through university – I was a failure, I was a burden, I was constantly thought of as lazy, stupid, once got called wilfully negligent or grossly incompetent. I am evil.
- I’ve been confessing stuff to other exes that they said has never happened. Acting on these compulsions never actually helps though – I think they don’t know what they are talking about and I want to keep confessing to them repeatedly until they agree that I am awful… because I am evil.
[There’s a lot from my church period too – I’ll cover those separately I think.]
These are some examples – but the ones that I haven’t talked about are more fleeting.
So as Shira mentioned earlier – one of the issues with OCD is that you have ego dystonic thoughts – that is you think incredibly horrible things that do not align with who you are as a person.
An example of this is the other day I almost dropped a knife in my house. Instantly an intrusive thought popped in of me murdering my cats – the things I love most in the world along with my wife. This causes me to believe everything bad I believe about myself – I never act on these thoughts – but I BELIEVE that I will. It causes a rumination cycle that’s hard to control. It’s incredibly debilitating, but I am usually somewhere I can go somewhere quiet to process this.
Some times this happens in places where I can’t get away – occasionally on the motorway I will have an intrusive thought about crashing and killing people. And I will still have to drive – I can’t pull over – so I have to deal with incredible anxiety and believing the worst things about myself while driving also. There’s always a small part of me that knows that I won’t do it, but the anxiety from it is just so overwhelming.
Gaslighting me about my internal motivations for doing things has made this infinitely worse. When people read the worst into you, you believe that you are the worst. I’ve never acted on any of my intrusive thoughts in my entire life, but due to the fact I don’t have confidence due to being told I am so many things I am not. I am prone to still believing them.
What helped me a little?
THE GOOD PLACE – I can’t really express how important this show was for me for helping me challenge the good person/bad person dichotomy. I kind of fundamentally understand that my actions are what make me a good person, not anything else. And I know from undoing ableism – that when I do fail people due to ADHD – that doesn’t mean I am bad – I just have challenges.
Developing a moral code – I learn almost everything I can now about what makes a person good – the problem was with my earlier research I was trying to disprove the hypothesis I was evil by focusing on evil examples – this wasn’t good for me mentally. Now I read books by people who challenge bad morality by being good. These people are better examples for me than trying to disprove I am evil by not empathizing with serial killers and mass murderers.
I settled on Stoicism as a base, with intersectional feminism interwound with the more deficient aspects of a philosophy written ~2000 years ago.
This is a double edged sword though – due to justice sensitivity and the statement in morality I have come to accept:
He who spares the wicked injures the goodSeneca
This has caused a lot of anxiety for me. And because I don’t agree with social norms and instead morality, I have put myself in harms way multiple times in order to try and prevent harm.
A core set of values – I talk about these often – but if I am living in accordance with my values – then I am achieving what I want to – and making sure that I am doing this means that each day I feel a little more certain that I am not evil. I still have intrusive thoughts that derail me, but they are less frequent.
Understanding I have Moral OCD – just naming the thing helped. It took a while to claim the label – and I have so many more examples but I wanted to cover the “I am evil” dominate thought. I know what horrible intrusive thoughts are now. I know they are ego dystonic. I am not these horrible thoughts – I’ll still feel I am horrible when they intrude at the time.
I still constantly believe I am narcissistic, sociopathic, or psychopathic at times. Terrible stigmatization of mental health conditions such as my autism have not helped. I have complex emotions, and usually many at the same time – so the idea that psychopaths “choose” their emotions resonates with me, but I am not a psychopath. I can’t harm people – I never want to manipulate anyone – I am just trying to fit in.
I hope this has helped explain what it’s like living with this is like. And it’s actually worse than this, no one can ever really truly describe the hell of living with this – and it’s lifelong. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
I just try and focus now on the positive things that result from it – I am honest, I can’t deceive people or it makes me sick, I will always correct my view when challenged, I can always adapt to a newer better version of myself – and being honest about everything has brought me more peace in my life than I’ve ever experienced.