I had the honour of being a guest on Relaxin’ With Rachel recently where we got REAL about the effects of both of our conservative upbringings and how we have deviated from that in order to find self-worth and value outside of guilt. It was crazy to put into words a lot of the things I’ve held resentment about and the many traumas I have experienced due to certain things I was taught about my worth from a young age, but the more it is talked about and acknowledged, the more healing and reversal can take place. The talk is definitely NSFW but really digs deep into where I’ve come from and how I’ve ended up here. (read more below link)
I was honestly hesitant to do the interview, and equally hesitant to post it. Hearing about trauma in between bits of advice or other quirky articles about bad kissers and period-shaming is one thing, but really being completely vulnerable and brutally honest about how my past continues to affect my present is another.
I was truly surprised when I got such a positive response about it – even more so when people began to come to me with questions and stories of their own that were similar to mine in one way or another. I had a conversation with one anonymous subscriber in particular that I’m posting here in case anyone else finds themselves in a similar space.
Hey, I’d like to ask you for some advice. I watched your interview on Relaxing With Rachel because I’m coming from a similar situation with a conservative Christian upbringing. Mad respect for making your own way. I haven’t been able to distance myself from that upbringing. If you don’t mind I’d like to ask how it was to ultimately distance yourself from Christian friends and family.
I thanked the subscriber for reaching out before diving in the deep end:
“It’s been a real journey and it’s pretty scary, honestly. I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy. It’s definitely painful and I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you have a really good support group of secular/non-Christian friends.
When I became aware of how my upbringing/early education had badly damaged my psyche, I realized that I would feel trapped forever in needless guilt unless I straight up made an announced exit. This meant that at Christmas time (of all times), I sat at the table with my family and told them that my relationship with them was changing and I was dealing with a large amount of trauma that they had never been aware of.
Deciding for myself that I was no longer going to allow them to impose their beliefs/built on me or making me feel like I am somehow less for wanting other things was incredibly freeing. Still, in large part, they do not respect my decision, to the point where Jesus and/or sin is brought up in casual conversation and to “subtly” (not at all subtly) suggest that my life struggles could all disappear if only I would return to church/the conventions of conservative Christianity.
I don’t know how close you are geographically to your family, but moving away and getting distance has been hugely helpful. If that’s not an option, really emotionally distancing/not engaging with them as often is the flip side of that. My relationship with my family is very surface-level now. If I have something going on in my love life or really any area of my relationships at all, I go to some of my older friends, not my parents.
There is really no way to maintain the relationships in that circle at the same level while also making an exit from the church/Christian environment. I found that when I tried to put all of that in a box and make myself smaller, I was feeling horrible all the time and like I was just a huge disappointment to these people because every discussion led to them trying to “convert me back” in one way or another and I would always be fighting it because my decision wasn’t respected and I didn’t want to feel like a doormat.
It’s honestly a kind of emotional abuse/manipulation that I was never really aware of until recently; to have the people in your life who are supposed to love you unconditionally put so many (Biblical) conditions on their love for you.
It’s a really dangerous place to be in – that being, to stay in that environment when you know that you no longer want to participate in it – because then, like with what I’ve been through, you risk experiencing great trauma or loss or grief and having your “support system” chalk it up to “well if you went to church that wouldn’t have happened to you” and then they offer you… prayer? As support?? Like a seatbelt made of dental floss when dealing with real traumas.
I want to stress also that I’m not anti-religion or anti-spirituality. I have a spiritual side for sure and I know that there are tons of religions that function in different societies and cultures, but the reality is that mine was super damaging and healing from it is going to be a life-long process.
Reining in the relationship with my family and telling them about my trauma has also been really painful. Moving far away has been difficult. Meeting new people and wondering if at some point you will be able to consider them a “new family” can make you feel really lonely and honestly having a therapist has helped me a lot because I got better (and un-biased) advice and support there than I ever could in my previous environments/relationships.
It is also okay to feel awful and nervous and really fucked up about it. But being true to your own will and desire is so much better than the alternative of having to be a faux version of yourself to please other people.”