Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Teen Years and Recovery – by Aaron McClaskey

From the Author:  When I embarked on the task of writing about the steps I took in order to heal from religious brainwashing in a strict, fundamentalist religion, I did it with the sincere desire to give other cult survivors some “options” to take in the healing and deprogramming process. However, I am not sure that most people would be willing to go to the lengths that I went to in order to deprogram.  After all, I did what worked for me.  Remember, that in my Recovery and Healing Series, I clearly said that, “. . . what worked for me, may not work for you. Everyone’s situation is different?”

When I received the initial post and email from a mother who was hurting because of the damage the cult indoctrination did to her and her children, I felt it would be helpful for people to hear from one of my children regarding what he did in order to deprogram.  So, I enlisted the aid of my third oldest, Aaron, to give his story regarding recovery and healing from cult brainwashing as a young teenager.  I believe you will find his ONE STEP Process quite easy; and at the same time, possibly difficult. We all know that sometimes it is easier to say something, than to actually do it.  However, I just wanted to give people one more “option” in the healing and recovery process. I hope it is helpful not only for the adults, but for the teens and young adults who are Aaron’s age, to hear his story of growing up in a cult and his one step recovery “option.”

The Teen Years
By Aaron McClaskey

From the day I was born, to the age of roughly 17, most of my life was saturated in the Baptist dogma.  When I was three years of age, I was enrolled into a private Christian school. As far as I was aware, it was a fun environment. I remember going to school, meeting with my friends, and mostly having a lot of fun. At that young of an age, there was little I understood. However there was one rule that I never quite fully understood (even till this day), and that was discipline. There were times when I would do something wrong at school, and being that this school was a private one, the teachers had permission to discipline students. If I was spanked at school, then I would get spanked again once I got home. I never understood this. If the punishment for being tardy is a spanking, and I receive one from the principal, then why should I get another one when I get home? I remember strongly disliking a particular teacher. She was always mean to me and often times would pull me by my hair and yell at me for things that I had no idea what she was referring to. However, when you’re the parent and the teacher says your kid was bad and needed disciplined, then there’s not much I can say to state my case. After all, I was considered too young to have a say about it. Anyways, if the punishment was meant to “fit” the crime, then was I over-punished?

At the age of six, I – along with my brother and sister, were pulled out of the private school and out of the church that ran it. We were then homeschooled from that point on. There were several reasons, some of which aren’t related to the church or school, but for the reasons that were related to the church and school, I didn’t understand until many years later. My parents told me why we were leaving, but I simply couldn’t comprehend the size of the situation. After leaving this church and school, my family and I spent many years at a few different churches, and every church we left was for the same reason; corruption.

My purpose here isn’t to give you a full biography on myself, or to say that all churches are bad, but for you to understand the toll that the cult environment took on me. I like to relate the Baptist dogma to smoking; many people start out enjoying themselves, but years later they realize that they’ve been infected with a cancer. As a child, they begin to teach you what you should and shouldn’t do. Some of these teachings are moral, and the others are opinions which are usually disguised as “Bible Truths.” The moral teaching, although some fell under the opinion category, still sticks with me to this day, and I can honestly say that I’m grateful for learning these values at a young age, for example; respecting my parents, respecting others, working hard, and (to an extent) representing myself appropriately.

As for the opinions disguised as “Bible truths,” here’s a list of things that were said to me…in literal form, and while you’re reading the list, I want you to imagine an older preacher yelling these things from behind his expensive pulpit:

   “It is a sin for women to wear pants!” (Yet they never touched on the fact that Jesus never said that.)

   “Woman are subjective to men and should be silent in the church!” (Yet, God allowed women to fulfill his purpose without silence.)

   “Protect yourself from all appearances of evil… It is a sin to go to a movie theatre!” (This one I never understood, especially since Christian films such as Fireproof have played there, and for nearly $10 a movie ticket, I doubt I’ll do anything other than watch the movie.)

   “What’s with all this MySpace and YouTube trash?? YOU DON’T NEED A SPACE!!!” (Funny they said that. Their social media bias was spoken with true conviction, but when you fast forward to present day, almost every church and pastor has a Facebook account… WTF – which clearly means Welcome To Facebook!)

These are just some of the legalistic and opinionated views that were directed my way through the years. There’s many more, and the worst part of it all, I believed it. I didn’t believe these things because of my research in scripture, I believed them because I was told to. I wasn’t allowed to question pastors on their beliefs, as I would have the ‘‘hammer of God’’ brought down on me. I was to believe what I was told, say what I was told to say, and maybe – just maybe, I’d be right with God. I behaved and acted in accordance with the truth as I perceived it to be. I remember participating in what they called “Soul-winning” or “Visitation.” I also remember how judgmental and opinionated I was when I would interact with complete strangers, and tell them what I was told to say in order to “bring them to Jesus.” I know for a fact that a lot of people probably looked at me as I walked away and thought “That kid was an a**hole.” They would’ve been right to think that.I was rude and judgmental to people, all in the name of Jesus. I didn’t care though. As far as I was concerned, God was going to bless me for “not letting people be comfortable in their sin.”

In my younger pre-teen years, I was sold on the Baptist cause. However, as I began to enter my mid-teen years, things began to become routine, and I began to get bored. I’m one of those people who begin to think about things when I get bored, and this is when my internal conflicts began. One of the yearly activities I would partake in is summer camp. I loved summer camp, but not for the reasons that I was meant to love it for. Honestly, I liked being able to eat a lot of food, go swimming, and have fun with my friends. What did I dislike about camp? All of the preaching services. Why? Because nearly every service involved the preacher literally telling us just how problematic we were. The preachers would always tell stories about individuals who became “casualties of the faith” and how they succumbed to lust and temptation and made life altering mistakes. Most of those mistakes in correlation with opposite genders locking lips (kissing) or any kind of touching for that matter. It sounds crazy, and it is, but it’s true. I can tell you now, just because the opposite gender is in close proximity does not mean that sex will ensue, yet that’s exactly how we were all treated every time the church would have any type of gathering. Even in Sunday school, boys sat on one side and girls on the other. It was in my mid-teens that I came to the realization that my Sunday school teachers weren’t concerned, they were paranoid!

The main agenda that all the Sunday school teachers and preachers would push is “Do you want to be right with God?” If we said yes, then we would literally be told the things we needed to do, which is quite formulated and legalistic if you ask me. So what is the list of things one would need to do in order to be considered “right” with God? Good question, here you go:

   Attend church three times a week (And yes, Wednesday services are unquestionable!)

   Show up for Sunday-school, morning service and afternoon service (Because you need to make sure you’re right with God).

   Be involved in the church! The more involvement the better, which include but are not limited to:

o   Attending “revivals” that take place during week days (Whether or not you have to work is irrelevant, you should get your priorities straight!).

o   Attending visitation every Saturday (So what if you work a full time job and want to spend time with your family? The church… I mean “God” comes first!).

o    Give at least 10% of your gross income to the church… I mean God… (Doesn’t matter if you’re struggling to provide for your family, the pastor said that God needs your money!).

o   Join the church choir! That is, after you have signed the terms and conditions (And no, I’m not making this up. They actually make you sign a document).

As you have read above, you can easily see how feeling that you have to do all these things can seem overwhelming, especially to a kid in their teens. Yet most teens are so naïve that they’ll do it because they literally do not know any different. I had to ask myself at a certain point, “If this is what being Christian is all about, do I want to be Christian?” Do not misunderstand me or this article I’m writing. My goal isn’t to tear down anyone’s personal beliefs, but to challenge you to think on your own and ask the questions that lay in the back of your mind, questions that you never wanted to ask yourself out of fear, fear that you may face rejection by everyone you know, or that you may face the reality that everything you have believed in and stood for in your life has all been a lie. I challenge you to ask the hard questions because in reality, the projection of your life depends on it.

As I reached the age of 16, significant events in my life took place, due to the church. I will not elaborate on those events here, as that is another topic for another time. However, In order for me to question myself and what I’ve believed, I had to face pain. My family had to face pain, and all of it stemmed from the very place we went to find joy and happiness – the church. Earlier I listed some of the things you had to do to be considered “right with God.” Some of you may ask why I mention those things in a negative connotation. Honestly, if you believe in doing those things out of your own merit, then by all means do it. But if you’re trying to secure yourself a place of prestige in the church by publicly doing these acts, then are you acting for God or for man? I’ve noticed many people put on a façade for others by demonstrating how self-righteous they are, and it was irritating to say the least. No one likes self-righteous, arrogant people, yet that’s exactly how you are taught to be, and it gets promoted constantly in the church (although no pastor or deacon will admit that to you).

In my eyes, I felt many times that I couldn’t live up to these standards, and as time went by, I found out I was right – but I’m happier knowing that. I felt that in order for me to fulfill the requirements of the church, I had to be nearly perfect. As a result, I always fell short, and I always felt disappointed with myself. It wasn’t till my later teens that I was made aware of an interesting fact. My dad and I often went to the gym together. There were many people that we would talk with and work out with, but one man in particular said something during a conversation that has stuck with me for many years now. He made the remark;

Everyone is so caught up with trying to be perfect, yet the last person to walk the earth who really was perfect was killed for it. Do people really want to be perfect?”

That statement was profound, and it certainly will resonate with me for the rest of my life. Jesus never asked for perfection from anyone, any time in history, and therefore no one should ever be required to attempt to live up to this kind of status. This is why I no longer partake in an organized belief system. I no longer attend a local gathering for that belief system. Why? Because religion is man-made, not God-made. A Baptist preacher once made a statement regarding Christianity, and I thought it was also profound, considering it came from Jack Schaap who is currently in jail for corruption. He said the following;

Christianity has brought alienation instead of unity. Imbalance instead of balance. Christianity is a divider of men.”

 To all the young individuals who may be struggling to feel their worth, just know that there is more to life than the church and religion. Jesus wasn’t of any religion, nor did he attend a church. His message was about truth, love, beauty, and unity. He did not alienate himself from people based on their lifestyle, ethnicity, race, gender, or sexual orientation. The bible says “For God so loved the world…” I am responsible for my life and for what I do. It is no one’s place to judge and condemn others just because they sin differently than you. What helped me recover from the Baptist mentality was simply having the will to think on my own terms. I realize that thinking on your own may be difficult, as there are many influences surrounding us every day, but I encourage you to take that leap of faith, and ask the hard questions.

There’s only one word that can appropriately sum up my life after the church: Freedom.

            Some of you may be reading this with the hopes of finding out how to go about deprogramming yourself from the religious dogma. If you are anything like me, then you will find this reading beneficial, and something you can relate to. However, if you are not like me, then unfortunately I cannot explain to you any other way that you would be able to relate to. For me, deprogramming was simply a choice. I acted in spite of what I had been told for so many years. For many people, that may come easy. For others, not so much. What works for me will not work for all. This is just my story, but I hope it’s one that you can benefit from.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As you will see from Aaron’s story, he simply chose to think for himself. Cult brainwashing is all about thinking and believing like the ‘religious leaders and religious system’ one is serving. Independent thought and reasoning is frowned upon and punished in all abusive religions. Aaron, as young as he was when we extracted ourselves from the cult, was smart enough to realize as a young teen that there were ‘red flags’ raised throughout his life. Aaron not only refused to ignore them, he also refused to ignore the reality of the pain we went through as a family because of the religious teachings. What my husband and I went through greatly impacted him and the rest of our children.  Amazingly, this shows us that children are more perceptive than we give them credit for as parents. They understand more than we give them credit for. They have the amazing ability to see through the lies that religion tries to pull over their heads once they begin thinking on their own.

I would have to say, that as a parent, I am very proud of the way he chose to recover. For him, it was a choice to simply think differently. That’s how it was for my husband as well.  He simply chose to start thinking differently and to question everything he was taught, developing his own belief system based on independent reasoning and experience.  For me, I needed to educate myself to prove every thought and question I had because I had almost 20 years of brainwashing to undo. My personality and way of doing things was different than my husband and son’s.  I was too AFRAID to accept the truth as truth without evidence to support it because my self-worth and self-esteem had been destroyed by cult teaching.  Thankfully, Aaron graciously and wisely accepted our extraction and realized as a young teenager that it’s not about ‘religion,’ it’s about love. It’s not about ‘following rules,’ it’s about following God. It’s not about going to church, it’s about have a relationship with God.  It’s not about separating yourself from the world, it’s about being a light and example to follow.  It’s not about self-righteous, separated, holier-than-thou living, it’s about exercising humility, kindness, mercy, love, compassion, patience, honesty, and integrity toward others.  It’s not about judging others, it’s about accepting them where they are, loving them, encouraging them . . .  and letting God do the work in their lives because only HE can change them and only HE can draw them near.  As a young teen, he realized these basic truths and life principles and, as a result, he has become a young adult that has gained wisdom beyond his years. Son, your Dad and I are so proud of you!

Healing and Recovery Series – Step Three

Today I would like to talk about another step that religious abuse survivors can take in the healing and recovery process. If you have not read Step One or Two in this series, I would encourage you to do so Here and Here.

As a religious abuse survivor, one of the most helpful steps that I took in the healing process was to sign up for Facebook and get involved in one of the groups for Cult / religious abuse Survivors. At the time, I had no idea that a social media group would be so beneficial to me in my healing process. The very first group I joined was a small group of a little over 300 people called Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Cult Survivors (and their supporters).  When I joined this group, I was still hurting and scared. I was nearing the end of my two years of isolation and my depression seemed to be letting up somewhat.  So, I decided to step out and take a chance to see what I would find.

One day I was watching 20/20 on television and saw a story about a young girl named Tina Anderson. She was a victim of child rape from the same religious sect that I had just left. In the news story, they also interviewed another victim named Jocelyn Zeichterman.  Jocelyn had a group on Facebook for abuse survivors of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. As soon as they gave the name of the Facebook page, I found it and joined. Within  just a few weeks after the episode on 20/20 aired, the group grew to over 2000 members.

This particular group was instrumental in the healing and deprogramming process for me and my oldest sons. We all joined this group and upon doing so, realized there were others that we personally knew that were in it as well. Together, we all found healing through fellowship and telling our stories to each other.

STEP #3: Get Involved in Cult Survivor Groups and Pages on Facebook.
Join Forums, Subscribe to Blogs.

Associating with other religious abuse survivors allows you to fellowship with those who have gone through what you have gone through. There is a common bond; an understanding. Just realizing that you are not alone in your pain and suffering is like salve to your soul. You will make new friends in these groups as well – friends that will encourage you in your journey out of religious bondage. They will support you and lift you up when you feel you can’t go another day.

I caution you though. These groups have all walks of faith in them. Many of these victims of abuse are angry and hurting too.  They are all in different stages of the deprogramming and healing process. They all express themselves differently. Be aware of this and don’t allow yourself to get offended easily. Understand that these are hurting and broken people too. These groups are not a place to bring your cult mentality into. They are also not a place to proselytize. These groups are based on acceptance and love for everyone. I encourage you to join as many as you can, and watch and listen. You don’t have to post in them, but listen and quietly take in what many say. You will know when the time is right for you to speak up. In the beginning though, just ABSORB. Here are a few groups, websites, and pages to get you started.

Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Cult Survivors (and their supporters) – Facebook group
Do Right Hyles Anderson – Facebook group
Do Right First Baptist Church of Hammond – Facebook group
Independent Fundamental Cult Abuse Surviving – Facebook group
Survivors of Abuse in Fundamentalism – Facebook group
Care – Facebook group
Together We Heal – Facebook group
Religion’s Cell – Facebook page
Religionscell.com – website
Wickedshepherd.com – website
Jeriwho.net – website
Tentmaker.org – website

Ask around in these groups for other groups, websites and blogs to visit. There are so many, it is impossible to list them all. Many of the survivors in these groups have some fantastic blogs and have written some really awesome books that will help you to recover and heal!  Don’t limit yourself with just one group. By all means, branch out and become part of many. Like me, you will eventually just narrow it down to the ones that meet the emotional needs that you have.

Associating with others that understand what you are going through is great medicine to the wounded soul that is struggling. This step in the deprogramming and healing process is one that can be used for as little or as long as you need it in order to recover. For me, this step rescued me from the absolute and total fear of people the cult mentality instilled in me.  Go ahead and give this step a try. After all, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so.

Healing and Recovery Series – Step Two

reading picRecovery from religious abuse can be a long and arduous process. It takes conscious effort and positive, decisive actions to undo the damage from such abuse. Many are at a loss when it comes to knowing what to do. They extract themselves and their families from an abusive religious environment and then struggle under the emotional load and strained relationships. Still, there are others that are struggling with chemical dependency as a result of some of the abuses they have endured.

In step one I talked about how important it is to first “accept the truth and take responsibility.” Denial of truth and responsibility will never lead to full recovery. I also talked about the importance of professional counseling in the recovery process. Professional counselors will always be highly recommended for all stages of healing and recovery.   Together We Heal is one such organization that I recommend often to survivors of childhood sexual assault. Together We Heal offers free counseling services to those who cannot afford to pay for a professional counselor.

I also emphasized in Step One that these are steps and thought processes that my husband and I used. While they worked for me and my family, they may not work for you. Everyone’s situation is different. Please keep this in mind as I let you inside my personal “bubble” again for this next step. Also, remember that the steps I give can be done in any order best for you and your situation. You can even combine some of them. You decide what you feel is best for you!

There are countless religious abuse survivors out there who have shared their testimonies, written books, and hosted blogs in order to help other survivors to cope, deprogram, find aid, locate professional help, recover, and heal. In order for any of us religious abuse survivors to live the remainder of our lives with any semblance of peace and happiness, it is imperative that we deprogram our minds and reprogram them. This is why my second step in the deprogramming process is to READ.

STEP #2: READ, READ, READ!!!

I cannot emphasize the importance of this step! Do NOT leave this step out. As cult survivors we MUST deprogram ourselves. If you want to deprogram faster and with less pain, READ!

WHAT I DID

I delved into books on early church history and Jewish Biblical Literacy. I wanted to find out if all the religious dogma, beliefs, and rules I was taught were true.  Did Jewish teaching and biblical history line up with the dogmas and beliefs I was taught?  Did the Jews degrade and oppress women like Christians do? Did Jewish Scholars interpret and translate Old Testament passages the same way as our English translation? What about New Testament passages? I had so many questions!

I bought and read all Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s books. I downloaded all copies of the Bible from the 1500s and 1600s and many of the Apocryphal books that are available. I read and compared these. I bought almost all of Bart D Erhman’s books and read them. I delved into Greek and Hebrew scholar’s works from the 16th – 18th centuries – Backhouse, Heeshon, Thayer, Jukes, Bushnell, etc. I visited countless blogs and websites to read and learn. I googled everything I had ever been taught. I bought and downloaded countless resources and articles. From all these sources I took notes. I filled countless notebooks so I could have all the “important” stuff in one place. What I found was that many of the doctrines Christianity taught me as “truth,” were LIES. These were not small lies either! The lies had long term and abusive consequences for women and children.  As you study, you will discover what’s been twisted too; especially if you read the works of Bushnell, Thayer, Backhouse, Telushkin, or Erhman.

Learning new truths through the experiences and expertise of others along with documented history, was key in helping me to change my perception instilled by the cult religion I had been a part of for many years. Many of the articles on my blog were birthed because of learning new truths that debunked the lies I had believed all my life. As I read, I came across information that in my heart I was not ready to accept. I warn you ahead of time that this does not mean it is not true. It meant I was not ready for it yet. Some truths needed me to grow a little bit more before I could accept them. The ones that were not true, I figured out along the way.  I Just set the stuff I was slightly ‘choking’ on aside and kept on reading. Please understand that not everything we read and learn will be used right away in the healing process. We may have to go back to it later.

In order to change my perception of myself, I had to get educated. I had to find “truth.” As I read and learned and grew in knowledge, I began to change. The twisted scriptures I was taught to believe by religious leaders that were abusive, began to stand out with glaring reality. The evidences I discovered gave me fact-based information to re-establish new beliefs and foundations. As the change began to take place, I realized that I had been poisoned by religious bias and sexual bias!  This is when I began to systematically extract all this “poison.”  As truth entered, the toxic waste began to erupt out . . . like vomit. I found myself angry. However, I did not give “public” place to this anger. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to express it in bits and pieces to vent it. However, “vomiting” out my anger in front of others could have caused hurt to other survivors who were in different phases of growth and healing.

So, I waited and continued learning and writing. Writing down my thoughts was so therapeutic and helpful! If you can keep a journal, I highly recommend doing so during this stage. After the anger subsided, I was left with a feeling of loss. I cried for weeks over the fact I had been deceived and had wasted almost 20 years of my life for nothing. What did I have to show for it? Nothing. My foundations the church helped me build upon the opnions of men and lies, crumbled completely. The next phase was uncertainty. I felt “undone.” If I was taught to believe lies, what am I to believe now? How do I rebuild new foundations? As I continued to read, however, the anger dissipated and gave away to new understanding and perception; not only of myself, but others. It also automatically began rebuilding my new foundations of faith; except this time, my faith was not “blind.” It was now based on evidence uncovered through my research. There is nothing wrong with having a foundation of beliefs built upon facts while exercising faith in the most important area of all – the savior. Faith in the Savior is all that is required; not faith in the church, religious leaders, rules, dogmas, or theologies. Faith in the Savior that he is sufficient to keep that which I have committed to him is all that is necessary.

Perception is everything to a religious abuse survivor because perception is “fact” in our mind. Changing my perception, changed how I viewed the facts that I uncovered. It also enabled me to accept the facts and change accordingly based on them. This is why reading was vital for me. I had to change my negative perception of myself and the world around me by analyzing the evidence of truth I discovered. I was taught that I was worthless and the cause of evil in my life. I was taught to fear the government, child protective services, public schools, law enforcement, other religions, and ‘worldly’ people. I was taught to fear drinking, wearing pants, going swimming, going to the movies, and a whole host of other ridiculous things. I was taught God would kill me, my children, or some other family member if I did any of these things!  I had to change that perspective or I would never come out of isolation! Yes, I isolated myself. I lived in such fear of so many things that I could not even go to the grocery store alone. I was afraid God would kill me or send someone else to because I was no longer in the “church.” I believe “fear” is the hardest of all things to overcome.

My fears caused depression, kept me isolated, induced panic attacks, kept me from making new friends. To this day, I still find it difficult to make new friends; not because I can’t, but because I do not trust. Trust issues will probably follow me for the rest of my life. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but, it can sometimes prevent me from enjoying others’ friendships and fellowship. There is more to life than we were taught in the cult, and fear can often keep me from enjoying life like God intended. Education and action overcomes most fears. I have been taking action and doing what I have been afraid to do. Now, I am in a much better place than I have ever been in my life. Life has joy. My relationships with my family are the best they have ever been. Life is FUN.

Am I fully recovered? Not yet. I continue reading and learning. For me this is something I will do for the rest of my life. I never want to find myself in the place of bondage to a religious institution and its leaders ever again. I never want to find myself in a place of manipulation, control and oppression ever again. And to top it off, I never want to lack the appropriate knowledge to be able to see through religious lies, men’s opinions, and false teachings! I am like a sponge, I absorb the knowledge and do my best to use it wisely for the benefit of others.

Here are some recommended books for those who don’t know where to start:

  • The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment – Thomas B. Thayer
  • God’s Word to Women – Katherine C. Bushnell
  • Religion’s Cell: Doctrines of the Church that Lead to Bondage and Abuse, by Cynthia McClaskey
  • The Truth About Tithing, by Cynthia McClaskey
  • Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
  • Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experience, by Ken Blue
  • Toxic Faith, by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
  • Combatting Cult Mind Control, by Steven Hassan
  • Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, by Steven Hassan
  • Misquoting Jesus, by Bart D Erhman
  • Jewish Biblical Literacy, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
  • The LIES We Believe, by Dr. Chris Thurman
  • People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Get some education under your belt with some of these books mentioned and you will find release and freedom from the lies that have held you in bondage to institutions, attitudes, behaviors and corrupted thinking. There are many more books, but these will at least get you started in deprogramming. This step could take many months. It’s okay to take your time on this step. There is a lot to digest and a lot of contemplation to be made. What you will find after reading a few of these is that your foundations built by the cult will crumble. You will feel like I did – undone, sad, angry, etc. You will feel a whole host of emotions because you will have realized many of the lies you believed. You will have also realized the destruction these lies brought to you and your family. This is all normal! In order to heal, we must let go of the old foundations built upon lies and rebuild new foundations based on truth.  Let’s get rid of the corrupted foundations. Let’s get through, and deal with, all the EMOTIONS that will ensue as these foundations are chiseled away and removed. We don’t want to try and build a new foundation over an old, corrupted one!

Let me remind you again that there are many religious abuse survivors that have written books. Don’t be afraid to read their books! Many of them are helpful and give amazing insights! These authors want to help others to recover and heal. They, too, want to help untwist the lies and corrupted domgas of religious teaching. On my blog I have a few of these authors, if you wish to check out their works. In the next step I will be giving more resources. These resources will enable you to come in contact with more religious abuse survivors that have authored books.

I hope this information is helpful to you as you embark on your road to recovery and healing from religious abuse. Please stay tuned for the next step I took in this journey to recovery and healing!

Healing and Recovery Series – Step One

wrongThe question below was sent to me recently through my Religion’s Cell Facebook page. It expresses so well what families are dealing with as a result of religious abuses in a cult-like church and Christian school:

I’m looking for some healing for kids who were treated as if they were worthless and a waste of space at their church’s school, at church, and then punished by their father when they got home if they didn’t obey the church’s and the church’s school’s rules every day of their growing up years. Rules set up by the cult leader — the pastor Jack Hyles. How do you tell the inside of you that you ARE worthy, that you ARE a good person, that you HAVE talents, that people DO like you, after a childhood of the above? — Joanne

In the quote above, we can see that this individual is hurting. Her children have suffered greatly due to the abusive teachings and control tactics of the church leader they served. She also wrote me a lengthy email in search of help for her daughter. In Joanne’s case, I connected her with Together We Heal, an organization that has professional counselors available at no cost to the victim.  I also told Joanne that in response to her plea, I would write a series on how our family recovered. In this series, I want to talk about the steps me and my husband took in order to heal our family, to deprogram, reprogram, rebuild foundations, and gain new perspectives.

Please understand that what I am about to share with you is MY thought processes and steps based on MY experiences. The steps in this series are what WE did. Everything I am about to say to you is to let you into our personal “bubble” and see what we did for ourselves and our children. Are these thought processes and steps the “right” way? They were for me and my family; but they may not be for you and yours.

Like, Joanne above, there are countless religious abuse survivors struggling to know what to do and how to overcome religious abuse. Religious abuses have destroyed innumerable people. That is why my blog and other blogs exist amongst religious abuse survivors – we want to help others to deprogram, heal, and know HOW to recover themselves.

It is my opinion that Abusive religions devalue people. They are masters at making men, women, and children feel worthless in order to control them. They are masters at instilling fear in order to control them. It is important we realize that sexual, physical, spiritual, and emotional abuses are being perpetrated in those religions where there is devaluation.  Again, any religion that devalues other human beings will be abusive toward those they devalue! It is important for everyone to realize this.

Also rampant is spiritual dependency and blindness. These things can cripple us and prevent us from thinking independently and rationally. They also lead to our control and manipulation. Spiritual blindness and dependency will cause good people to do and say bad things to other good people.  It will also cause us to turn a blind eye to abuse.

In order to heal, we must change. We must learn how to deprogram from the abusive behaviors and thought processes that some religions instill in us. We must also learn how to reprogram ourselves in order to recover.  Healing and recovery will bring you joy and freedom in a way that truly is remarkable.  More importantly, every change we make, every step we take, every action and reaction we exercise, must be rooted in humility and genuine, unconditional love for everyone involved – including self.  So let’s look at some of the things my husband and I did that helped us and our family to heal, grow, and recover. I would also like to say that the steps in this series can be done in any order that is best for your situation.

The first step I want to talk about in this series is a very important step. Sadly, we have countless adult  survivors that skip this step. They refuse to believe or acknowledge that raising children in a system of control and manipulation does any harm to them. They are deceiving themselves; and, when their children try to voice those feelings of hurt, they are being chastised, called liars, or ignored.  All systems of control and manipulation DO harm in some way emotionally and psychologically; and you won’t know how much harm until you extract yourself from it.  Many parents refuse to believe their children have been harmed by the way they have been treated by them and others within the system. So, here’s the first step I want to cover:

STEP #1: YOU MUST ADMIT THE TRUTH AND ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

Too often, we find that some people are too proud to admit to themselves they were wrong. This can also be true when it comes to admitting to our children we were wrong. I know of parents who refuse to admit to themselves or their children they did anything wrong in raising them in a system that devalues them, controls them, and does not allow for them to be autonomous!  They refuse to take responsibility for the abuses they dished out to their children as a result of the religious teachings!  Some even refuse to believe the abuses their children suffered at the hands of religious leaders, along with their abusive attitudes and treatment of them, is abuse.  Furthermore, many refuse to believe the abuses they dish out to their spouses are abusive! Wow. Just because your religion sanctions the abuse, does not make it right at all. Just because your religion says it’s the right thing to do does not make it NOT abuse.

In order to recover, heal, and change, there is no place for ego or pride. When pride somehow manages to get in the way, all it does is stifle growth and create animosity. Sadly, many people will literally die for their religious and doctrinal beliefs rather than admit they are wrong in any area of them. Not only this, they will divide their family and destroy friendships because of them. Understand that religious beliefs and teachings are the ‘root’ of the problem and that you may have been lied to by the religious leaders and system you served. Understand that the teachings you accepted may have been abusive to you and your family and, you will never know just HOW abusive until you are WILLING to re-evaluate those teachings through an unbiased lens or, the lens of “questionable doubt.”

When a person is set in their pride, they refuse to believe the truth even if it is staring them right in the face. Realize that you are human and make mistakes. “To err is human.”  It’s okay to make mistakes! We all make them! Don’t let pride be the cause of the destruction of familial relationships because you are too proud to admit you were wrong or that your religion might be teaching abusive and twisted doctrines. Admit that you made a mistake in following the abusive dogmas and rules and don’t beat yourself up over it. Admit to yourself that your children may have been negatively impacted as a result of the religious teachings, rules, and standards.  Accept responsibility for the schisms with your famiy members. Then, forgive yourself and ask your children for their forgiveness. You will know by their reaction to your apology if they were impacted negatively. You will know by their reaction if they are harboring hurt, anger, and bitterness toward you because of it.

WHAT MY HUSBAND AND I DID

The first thing my husband and I did was to admit we were wrong.

  • We were wrong in how we were treating each other and responding to each other. We apologized to each other and made a commitment to change.
  • We were wrong in raising our children in a fundamentalist religion.
  • We were wrong in how we treated our children as a result of the teachings, rules, mindsets, and attitudes we were taught by the church leaders.
  • We admitted to ourselves the “root cause” of our relationship problem –  religious teaching was entirely responsible for the schism in the relationship between us, as husband and wife. It affected how we treated each other and responded to each other in given situations. So, we acknowledged to each other and ourselves that we were harmed and our thinking contaminated. We just didn’t know to what extent yet.
  • We admitted to ourselves that we were fully responsible for any schism in relationship between us and our children. They had no choice in being raised in a fundamentalist religion! Just as the teachings affected our response, attitudes, and behaviors, it probably affected theirs too.

Not only did we admit it to ourselves, we admitted it to our children. We went out and bought each of them flowers and a gift, sat them down, and with genuine tears of remorse, apologized for raising them the way we did. We apologized for OUR behavior over the years toward them. We PROMISED them we would change; promised them WE would get better; promised them WE would never go back to the way we were. We took full RESONSIBILITY for any hurt, anger or bitterness they might be holding against us. It was OUR fault, not theirs. We did NOT give excuses. We did NOT place blame on the religious teachings even though they were the root cause of the problem.  That day, we did an about face and completely changed. For the ones still at home, it was like culture shock, but in a good way.

I cannot tell you the tears that flowed between them and us when we did this. It was like releasing a pressure cooker lid for some of them. We realized for the first time in our lives that some of our children WERE carrying a huge load of hurt and bitterness toward us. We had no idea!  It was so heartbreaking and eye-opening at the same time.  Did all our children believe us when we said all these things? No. We had one that didn’t believe us right away.

Our oldest lived 1500 miles away when we did this. So, we did this with him when he came back to visit. He needed time to watch, listen, and evaluate whether or not we really did change; that we really meant what we said. He took our apology with a grain of salt.  It took almost three years for him to finally believe that we were not the same parents anymore.  While this was painful for my husband and me emotionally, we knew that it was something we had to accept. He didn’t live at home with us, so of course it would take longer for him to decide if we were for real or not. He wasn’t here to see our day to day living. We did not let this stop our growth. We continued to change and grow while he watched and tested.

Did he test us? Absolutely! He tried to push every button he knew of to get us to react like we used to. While we were changing and growing, he was trying to prove we hadn’t changed at all.  He baited us and accused us often to see how we would respond. Did we fall for it? Every now and again, Yes.  He had so much hurt and anger pent up against us that he needed time; and, he also needed to express that hurt. He vented his hurt and anger a number of times when he would visit us, or we, him. These are some of the most painful and heartbreaking memories of the recovery process because they pierced us and hurt us. Was it his fault? No. It was our fault. We accepted it. We continued to apologize. We worked through it. We never stopped loving him and continued to support him. Sometimes, we have to endure the pain for a while before we see the growth and change. We must remember that.   Today, we are so very proud of the man our son has become and the relationship we now have. We are also proud of our other children as well. All of them have continued to grow and now understand that humility and exercising unconditional love is the key to happiness and success, not religion and rules. They also understand fully that you can walk with God without religion around and that, sometimes, religion gets in the way of a genuine relationship with Him and each other.

It takes TIME and EFFORT to UNDO the brainwashing, instilled habits, and old beliefs. Did we eventually overcome and conquer the old ways? YES! Was it easy? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

We had to keep in mind that our children would experience a wide array of emotions from the extraction we made from the abusive religion and its environment. It was vital, however, that we did not criticize, condemn, or place blame on them during their healing process. We, as parents, were responsible for raising them in a cult-like and abusive religion! We took responsibility for it. We decided to help them heal and recover by showing love, patient endurance and, by accepting responsibility. On the other hand, we didn’t beat ourselves up over it. Accepting responsibility does not mean we continue to beat ourselves over the head with negative self talk!  We have to find a balance. We had to learn not only to forgive others, but ourselves. No negative self talk allowed! We are all human. We all mess up! What’s most important is that you LEARN from your mistakes.

The younger children were so much more resilient than our young adult children when it came to forgiving and moving forward. Younger children want to make things right with their parents immediately, therefore they are more likely to forgive and move forward than young adults.

It was our older children that needed time and expression.  When they unloaded their feelings on us, we listened and sincerely apologized. We tried really hard to not fight back, argue, or place blame on them when they did this. We tried really hard to not give excuses for our behavior. We understood that this was not what they needed. They needed to release the hurt and anger.  They needed to know we understood their feelings and that their feelings were being validated by us. We had to realize their perception of us was their “truth” whether we believed it to be right or not. We accepted their truth! We let them know we were sorry every time they expressed it. Our children needed to know we believed them, supported them, and loved them. Most of all, they need to know we were genuinely sorry. Going through this was very painful for all of us.

Now, let me say something important here: Sometimes our children can really press our buttons and make it easy to fall back into self-protect mode where we find ourselves in a full blown argument. If you do, don’t let it derail you. Just work harder on not going to that place the next time you are confronted by them for things in their past that you did that hurt them.

I warn you ahead of time that your children will place blame on you. Accept it and apologize. Placing any blame back on them or anyone else, any excuses at all for your behavior, will shut them down and stunt their growth and recovery. You are dealing with their “truth.” It will be different from yours.  If we cannot as parents accept someone else’s truth without placing blame, giving excuses, or getting angry, then we will never have the fullness of relationship with our children. There will always be an underlying “seed of hurt and contention” that will continually rear its head.

Eventually, our children came to the realization that we were manipulated and controlled by the cult teachings; that those teachings affected them the way they did. At the point when this realization hit them, was the point we started seeing the most progress and change in our relationship with them. It’s one thing to come to this realization for yourself, but when your children finally grasp this truth, it is life and relationship changing!

On the flip side of this, let me say that you should not allow your adult children to continually heap abuse onto you. Use some wisdom here. If all they want to do is attack you repeatedly, and live in the past, back away from them. Set boundaries and do not allow them to cross them.  Discussion is okay, attacking is NOT okay. Distance yourself and allow them to find healing on their own while you work on your healing. Don’t allow their anger and bitterness to sabotage your progress. Fix yourself FIRST; then, you will be better able to help them and be what they need you to be in their healing process. Remember, sometimes just seeing the change in you from a distance can affect a positive change in them.

Let me say something important here.  Enlisting the aid of a professional can sometimes be the BEST avenue for recovery from religious abuse in all its forms (See my blog article, Religious Abuse – What Exactly Is It?). While I did not utilize this step, many others do and it has made all the difference in their recovery. Find a professional counselor, outside of the cult, that deals specifically with cult survivors and/or religious and sexual abuse survivors – especially if the child has been physically or sexually abused in any way! Do not take them to a church counselor, pastor, or other person who is connected with the religious sect you are escaping from!  Do not take them to a pastor or church counselor of a different religious sect! These are usually not licensed professionals who are trained in dealing with RELIGIOUS abuse in all its forms. You must enlist the help of a licensed professional who knows what they are doing. When a child has been abused by “religion,” the worst thing you can do is force them to be “counseled” by a religious leader. The harm done can be irreparable!

Also, let me say that sexual and physical abuses have lasting effects.  Don’t think that children can deal with them on their own, they can’t!  That is why chemical dependency is very high among survivors. Suicide rates are also high.  Don’t use the excuse you cannot afford it. There are many services out there that are free. Find them by searching on the internet! Your children are worth it. If we as parents can sacrifice for the things the church wanted us to do, we can sacrifice for our children to get them the help they need.

During all this, be very careful not to spew out all the religious poison you will be vomiting up, onto your children. Do, however, share new knowledge and truths with them along the way. I continue to share with my children what I learn and this makes for some very valuable discussions.  I often turn to my children for their input and advice. I treat them as the adults they are and as the individuals they are.

I hope this step that we used in healing and recovery is helpful. If you can go through this step and accept responsibility and truth, the journey to recovery will be much better. Stay tuned for the next step in this series where I will give specific sources to aid in the reprogramming and recovery process.

More LIES We are TAUGHT to Believe

  • lieswebelieve2“God cannot use me. My life is a mess.”
  • “God cannot use me. I am not good enough.”
  • “God cannot use me. I am not strong enough.”
  • “God cannot use me. I have been sexually assaulted.”
  • “God cannot use me. I have been sex trafficked.”
  • “God cannot use me. I am a victim of incest.”
  • “God cannot use me. I drink alcohol.”
  • “God cannot use me. I don’t go to church.”
  • “God cannot use me. My faith is too small.”
  • “God cannot use me. I suffer from mental illness.”
  • “God cannot use me. I am depressed.”
  • “God cannot use me. I have a chemical imbalance and have to take meds.”
  • “God cannot use me. I am too sinful.”
  • “God cannot use me. I suffer from panic attacks.”
  • “God cannot use me because. . . (You fill in the excuse.)

There are multitudes of people who believe they cannot be used of God because of their failures, shortcomings, sins, abuses, etc.  What’s worse is that many even believe God is angry at them because of these things and his wrath abides on them. May I say that God does not react to us the same way we react to each other?

From early on in one’s Christian development, church leaders instill in us that we need to live holy and separate from the world. They also place an unreasonable expectation on one’s own personal faith and standards.  We are expected to have a very strong trust and faith in God no matter what happens to us or our families.  If we waiver the slightest bit in that faith, then we are told we are sinning against God and he is angry with us. This is a LIE. May I remind everyone that Jesus did not tell Peter he was sinning when his faith waned and he began to sink into the water. He reached out to him instead and showed Peter love and compassion by pulling him back up. God will reach out to us too, in our time of need – when our faith is small. He won’t condemn or punish us. Wavering or small faith is not a sin! It opens the door for God to show how great and wonderful he is. Weaknesses are not sin, they are avenues for God to show himself mighty in our lives.

The religious tell us those who suffer from emotional and mental disorders lack faith in God;  they are told they are sinning against God. This is a LIE. It is one of the most damaging lies that can be told to someone suffering in this way. We must remember that God made the blind man blind so that his power could be manifested. Religion told him he was born blind because of sin. It was not the blind man’s faith that healed him. It had nothing to do with his faith or lack thereof. He was not blind because of sin. The blind man was born blind to manifest God’s power.  We must understand that God doesn’t rain judgment and wrath down upon the weak, weary, down-trodden, and broken. He extends love, compassion and grace. Don’t listen to religious leaders who tell you otherwise. If you suffer from emotional and mental disorders, it is an avenue for God to show himself in your life. It is not sin and God is not angry with you.

Because we fall short of religion’s standards, we are ridiculed, chastised, and looked down upon by those who believe their faith is stronger than ours. These holier-than-thou, self righteous people do everything in their power to instill guilt in us for not adhering to their set of rules and standards. Sadly, we are judged by our weaknesses instead of succored and extended love and grace to help us grow in spite of our weaknesses. Genuine Christian love is more interested in helping us GROW and MATURE than interested in forcing us to conform to religious rules and conditions. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is Long-suffering and gentle. Love is interested in benefiting others, not self. Love does not label, attack, slander, call names, or abuse, to force conformity. Genuine love, when extended to us, wants to encourage us, lift us up, gently teach us, and coax us along in order for that growth and maturity to happen.  Love will not give us an ultimatum – do as I say or God will punish you and we will too!

If we do not follow religion’s rules, dogmas and precepts during that growth:

  • We are shunned.
  • We are labeled (backsliders, rebellious, bad influences, worldly, haters, unsaved, and on and on. The labels placed on those who do not conform to religion’s rules are too numerous to list.)
  • We are told we are going to hell.
  • We are gossiped about.
  • We are harassed.
  • We are slandered.
  • We are guilted.
  • We are called names.
  • We are physically harmed (women and children)
  • We are the recipient of destructive mind games.
  • This list can go on and on.

Religion says to us that in order for God to truly use us in doing great things we must:

  • “Separate ourselves from the world.”
  • “We must not drink, smoke, or dance.”
  • “We cannot cuss.”
  • “We cannot wear certain clothing styles.”
  • “We must memorize scripture.”
  • “We must be chaste, monogamous, or celibate.”
  • “We cannot be divorced.”
  • “We must attend every church function.”
  • “We must serve in a ministry of the church.”
  • “We must give our life to God in service to the church.”
  • “We must give our money to God through the church.”
  • “We must go out and ‘win’ souls to Christ as a member of a church.”
  • “If we can’t win them, cut them off, or destroy them,”

The reality is this:  It is through our weaknesses God can show his power; through our imperfections God can be glorified. Through our sin, God can show us He is God. God uses flawed people to bring his purposes to fruition.  Don’t believe the lies you are told. We all can be used of God – saved and unsaved. For whatever reason, the religious do not believe this. They are looking at outward appearances (works), but God is looking at your heart and motives. Your character, motives, and how you treat others are more important to God than works of righteousness done for him.

When we admit to being weak, flawed and insufficient, it enables us to fully understand that it is not about US, it is all about God working through us to do great things. No matter our situation, no matter our religious affiliation, no matter our abuses suffered, it is all about God and what he can do through us.  It is not about the church. It is not about Christianity. It is not about denomination. When we treat others with the same compassion, acceptance, grace and love God has extended to us, we are being used whether we realize it or not; whether we have faith or not.

God accepts us where we are and works from there to help us grow toward Him. He is very long-suffering and patient toward us during the process. God extends to us his loving hand to guide us no matter how long the process takes. You see, God knows we will mess up. God knows we will make mistakes that will get us off track. But he is ever faithful to gently lead us along until we get back on track, mature, and become like Him – loving, kind, caring, patient, long-suffering, humble and gentle. This is true maturity.

Religious leaders expect us to change immediately and PROVE ourselves to THEM in order to receive their hand of blessing — God doesn’t. We do not have to prove anything to the religious crowd. There are countless multitudes who love their religion and church leaders above God. They want the church’s hand of blessing instead of God’s. As a result, they will follow the church’s rules and commands even if it means shunning, slandering, and spreading hate.

God loves us unconditionally. Let’s all remember that. There is not one single sin we can commit that will separate us from the love of God or his mercy. Every sin ever committed has been paid for. Our sins are remembered no more and God views us through the shed blood of Christ. Our goal in this life, according to God, is to walk humbly, to do justly, and extend to others the same things God has extended to us. In doing so, everyone can be used no matter their situation. We don’t need religiosity for God to use us. All we need is some good old fashioned character – loving-kindness, honesty, ethics, gentleness, humbleness and patience. When we extend these things unconditionally to others, we are mirroring God and God is pleased. By the way, you don’t have to be a ‘Christian’ to mirror God in this way. Anyone can do these things.

LIES I was TAUGHT to Believe

 

lieswebelieveThroughout my many years of religious indoctrination, I was taught to believe LIES that nearly destroyed me from the inside out. Unfortunately, I am not the only person to have believed these lies. Countless multitudes of believers across all denominations are taught to believe the very same lies. Believing these lies affected me in a huge way. Not only did it affect me, it also affected my family and it affected the way I interacted with others.

One of the areas I have had to really focus on in deprogramming from an abusive religious cult is my “instilled beliefs.”  It has taken a lot of reading, research, and self-examination in order to identify what is truth and what is lie.  Instilled beliefs are not God’s beliefs. They are not even your own beliefs! Instilled beliefs are beliefs we are TAUGHT.  These type of beliefs are dangerous. They are destructive. They only lead to a lack of compassion and genuine love and concern for others and SELF.

Religion is fraught with opinion. These opinions manage to make their way into interpretation. Interpretation is taught as truth and the affects of believing these interpretations are far reaching and destructive.  The many lies we believe as Christians will absolutely determine how we respond to others, how we treat ourselves, how much compassion we have, and how controlled we are with our emotions. Although I was taught to believe MANY lies as a Christian, these two LIES almost destroyed me. . .

LIE #1: Feeling or exhibiting negative emotions is a sin.

It shows a lack of trust and faith in God.

In the sect I came out of we were taught that negative experiences are a result of God’s punishment for sin (A LIE).  When these negative experiences came my way, I was taught to handle them with contentment, peace, and happiness. If I was treated with disrespect or hatefully, I was taught to not respond to it, accept it, and move on.  In doing so, it was supposed to show others that I had a complete and total trust and faith in God that he was in control and would take care of the situation.  At the same time, we were also taught that if we responded to those negative influences in a negative manner, we were exhibiting a lack of faith in God and were sinning. Other Christians had no problem attacking my lack of faith if I dared to voice my opinion, my frustrations, or grief; if I dared to show them with my countenance. Others had no problem attaching “labels” to me if I spoke up about being treated unfairly, disrespectfully, or abusively. I had many labels attached to me – rebellious and stubborn being the biggest two. To dare to disagree usually gained these labels and more. Time and time again I found myself shutting down and pushing how I felt aside, stuffing it all in and putting on a façade. I held years of anger, heartache, and frustrations inside to the point that it nearly destroyed me emotionally. It led to bitterness. It almost destroyed my relationships with family.  It led to depression. It almost led to suicide.

The truth is this:  God created each of us as EMOTIONAL beings. He gave us a broad range of emotions to feel. Not all of these emotions are peaceful or happy! However, you cannot stuff down emotions – even good emotions! You cannot contain excitement and you cannot contain hurt, anger, and grief. After all, we all know the negative outcome of holding in anger, grief, and anxiety.  We must also realize that exhibiting negative emotions is NOT sin. Standing up for yourself and what is right is NOT sin.  IT IS THE RIGHT AND HEALTHY THING TO DO.  It does not show a lack of trust or faith in God just as exhibiting good emotions does not show a complete trust or faith in Him.  This is a lie we have been taught to believe!  For instance, if I swerved to miss an on-coming car while driving down the road, my heart would probably beat loudly in my chest. Emotionally, I would feel many negative emotions! Does this mean I have a lack of faith in God? Of course not! When my best friend died of cancer, the sense of grief and loss was overwhelming. I literally found myself in a depression.  But no one knew I was depressed because, after the funeral, I held in my emotions and shoved them aside.  I had to put on a happy façade while the inner turmoil, grief, and sense of loss raged on the inside.  Did feeling these negative emotions mean that I was exhibiting a lack of trust or faith in God? Again, no! However, because I had been conditioned to hold in negative emotions up to this point, it led to negative self talk after she died that contributed to my depression. This negative self talk was the result of another LIE I was taught to believe.

LIE #2: I am not good enough!

Bad things happen to me and others because my faith is not good enough.

This self talk told me, “If you had prayed harder, God would have healed her.” “If you had trusted Him more, God would have healed her.” “Cynthia, if you had just had enough faith and believed fully, God could have healed her!” Angie’s death was all my fault because my faith just wasn’t strong enough!  As a result, because I did not pray enough and believe enough, my self-image took another nose dive for the umpteenth time. Yes, suppressing emotions is destructive in more ways than one. Every failure or bad outcome in my life I blamed myself for because I wasn’t good enough. Bad things happened to others I cared about BECAUSE I wasn’t good enough.

When negative or abusive circumstances come our way, it is healthy to experience a wide array of emotions. To hold them in and never express them can lead to uncontrolled anger, anxiety attacks, fears, mental illnesses, and depression later on.  As Christians, we are taught to suppress all our negative feelings. However, those feelings do not go away! They stay with us until such a time as they are ‘triggered’ and erupt like a volcano all over some unsuspecting person.  Not only this, but our bodies will deal with all those emotions if we don’t! This is why there are countless people suffering with physical, emotional, and mental disorders. They have held in and not dealt with the emotions that resulted from traumatic situations where they were told to “suck it up,” “forgive and forget,” or worse, “If you really gave it all to Him, you would not be depressed.” Holding in the hurt, the anguish, the anger, the resentment, and the anxieties can also lead to poor self-esteem, poor self-confidence, fears and phobias, depression, emotional disorders, behavioral disorders, and more!

Many church leaders across all denominations are teaching that if you are depressed, you are sinning and showing a lack of faith; if you are anxious or having panic attacks, you are sinning and showing a lack of faith. Unhealthy churches that teach you to hold in negative responses and emotions are creating cold and heartless Christians! Those of us who are going through a traumatic life experience need to be rallied around and treated with compassion and patience!  Instead, we are being taught to NOT have compassion, to NOT feel emotion, to NOT care about others. When we stuff down emotions, we become conditioned to be cold and heartless.  Again, this is dangerous.

When we stuff down negative emotions, we will also stuff good emotions down too. As a result, it becomes easier to turn a blind eye to the abuse of others. Another result of stuffing down good emotions is that life will lose its joy. Instead of seeing the goodness in life, we will focus on the negative. Negative emotions WILL control how you view yourself, view others and view the world around you. If your view is negative, then your responses will also be negative. One of my biggest struggles is viewing life through the lense of beauty and goodness. Because of the many years of emotional and spritual abuse in a religious cult, I easily see the evil and sin arround me. This negative focus causes distrust and fears. De-programming from this kind of view of life has been a very long and difficult process because I have been “conditioned” to respond a certain way.

Painful emotions are not a sign of weak faith. Even Christ expressed strong, painful emotions — he wept when Lazerus died, when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he told his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He exhibited anger when he overthrew the tables in the Temple. Christ did not lack faith, but he did exhibit negative emotions.

Now let me balance all this out by saying this. We CAN have emotions that may very well be immature and/or show a lack of faith!  We can very well have sinful emotions such as jealousy, envy, spite, self-centeredness, rage, etc. Sinful emotions and actions are somewhat easy to detect and differentiate.  I am not talking about these.

It is very difficult to differentiate between faith and lack of faith because we cannot put ourselves in other people’s shoes to know their life experiences. Only God knows the thoughts and intents of the heart of man. Only God truly knows if there is a lack of faith.  Also realize that even if a person does lack faith, God will not accuse, condemn, label, or judge that person! Instead, he will excercise compassion, gentleness and love toward them. Anyone who judges someone’s emotions or actions as lack of faith is putting themselves in the place of God. In exercising judgment in this manner, by default, they are exercising a lack of compassion and genuine love toward another in need of help and healing. This type of judgment only heaps more hurt and anguish on the one suffering.

If we cannot differentiate between faith and lack thereof, then what should our response be to someone who is suffering depression or emotional distress or grief? Compassion, gentleness, kindness, patience, and love. These all help in healing because these traits allow for the one suffering to expend the emotions, hopefully deal with them, and move forward in recovering from the trauma. These traits also strengthen faith in the one suffering! Not dealing with the emotional distress of the death of my closest friend, crippled me in so many ways mentally and emotionally and exacerbated other areas of my life where my response should have been more compassionate and kind toward others. I was taught to ignore my emotions, stuff them all inside, and forget. Because I was taught how to ignore my emotions, I became cold, uncaring and lacked compassion. Then, there were those times when something small would “trigger” all the pent up anger and emotion and I would unleash a tirade and venom at a loved one saying things I didn’t mean.  Undoing the programming has been quite a process. While I have made large strides, there are times when I feel as though the path to full recovery is still very far away. The negative self talk and fears just do not disappear with the revelation of truth! Instilled beliefs do not disappear at the revelation of truth! It takes a conscious effort to undo what has been instilled.

Feeling or expressing negative emotions is not a sin. They are not the result of a lack of faith or trust in God. Expression is a release. Just as a pressure cooker releases the pressure when the lid is removed, our emotions release the pressure when we are allowed to express them appropriately and receive consolation, genuine concern, and love in getting through them. Expression leads to compassionate behaviors, kindness and genuine love and concern toward others. It helps us to live weightless so we can sleep at night. Holding it all in makes for angry, uncompassionate, bitter people who live their lives in fear, discontent and gloom. Having or lacking faith is not for others to judge. Telling someone their faith is not good enough is the same as telling them they are not good enough. The truth is that God says we are good enough – where we are, whether we have faith or not.