V. M. O'FLAHERTY

O'Flaherty, a lecturer in medical ethics at Marquette University, wrote a 1966 book called How to Cure Scruples. He offered a 4-step method for curing scruples (i.e., obsessions and compulsions).

Coming to a consideration of the four phases of curing scruples, our first observation is that the phases are not artificial divisions but, rather, a succession of four tasks which must be performed in sequence to bring about a cure in the manner in which St. Ignatius [of Loyola] cured himself of scruples. First, the chief incidents about which the counselee is scrupulous are listed.... Then, in Phase II, the counselee becomes aware that, due to a disorderly emotion, he is yielding to a temptation to engage in a futile argument with a doubt about a sinless sin. When the counselee is convinced that a scruple is a mental evil to be avoided, rather than the obligation he considered it to be, the next phase will be to learn how to avoid the scruple by turning attention to some distracting thought. This would be the last phase, since refusal to pay attention to a scruple cures it; but, unfortunately, the counselee has formed the habit of scrupulosity. Habits are not usually broken by the first refusal to indulge in them; a psychic effort proportionate to the depth in which the habit was ingrained will be required. Consequently, there is a fourth phase during which the acquired appetite is gradually killed by starvation and the ability to turn to some distracting thought is strengthened. The four-phase procedure is a method of backtracking along the emotional path that led to a weakness for enjoying a novel form of mental self-torture.

...The counselee should be given a small card on which the steps are clearly printed and properly authenticated as an Ignatian [referring again to Ignatius of Loyola] procedure. He should recall the steps periodically and eventually learn them by heart. After all, the counselee is under constant pressure to return to his torturous arguments. He must be given every aid to help him to turn away from his temptation....

Control of the different activities of the mind is a matter of attention.... [A]ttention is like a spotlight; if it is directed to one activity, it is not shining on another.... Thus, if I am urged to enter an argument about whether it is a sin to step on two crossed straws, I can let this inclination come to naught by giving attention to some other activity, for instance, to watching a football game on TV.... The chief point to be noticed is that I do not get rid of the unwanted thought by a positive act of rejection. It is not necessary to pound my head and say, I do not want it, I do not want it, I do not want it. To attempt positive rejection is, indeed, to curse darkness instead of lighting a light. Such adverse attention is just as effective in keeping a thought in the mind as is approval.

A scrupulous person can be helped in rejecting a scruple by a vivid realization that he is abnormally intolerant of the state of doubt.... Anyone who wishes to be cured of scruples must be resigned to bear his share of the doubts and fears present by the will of God in the trials of his life.... Freedom from scrupulosity demands a reasonable tolerance of doubt, fear, and anxiety.

From V. M. O'Flaherty, How to Cure Scruples (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1966), 42-3, 47, 68-9, 71-2.

 

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