The Benefits of Leaving your Church
Some churches work for some people. If you feel uplifted and closer to God when attending church, this article probably does not apply to you.
However, I was raised in a religion that was very insiders-only, and used guilt and fear to maintain members. I'll give you 2, maybe 3 guesses.
Anyway, once I decided to leave the church, for very intensely stressful reasons, I felt a freedom like I had never known. But, I had to work through the guilt and fear part, which took about 10 years, and part of that plan included trying and doing everything I had never been allowed to do before.
Overcoming my feelings of guilt was quite a long process and took a lot of self-examination. Basically, I determined that I wanted to eliminate this feeling from my life. So, I started recognizing when I felt guilty, then I would ask myself the following:
- Why do I feel guilty?
- What am I going to do about it?
If I determined that the source of guilt was illogical (I could now determine this based on giving myself some distance from the church and associating with normal people), based on religious perceptions, or parental expectations, I decided to abandon the feeling of guilt.
If, however, I determined that what I was feeling guilty about was actually harmful to myself or others, I decided to quit doing it. It was completely worth it, to rid the guilt from my life.
An enormous weight was lifted from my shoulders. This led to an increase in self-esteem, something I'd been missing my whole life.
In the church I had attended my whole life, fear of displeasing God was a large factor and frequently reinforced. Again, I did not realize this until I distanced myself from the church. Then it was pretty easy to recognize.
More self-examination was in order. If I felt that fear, I had to question why, was it a rational fear, and where did it come from? This helped me determine whether to change what I was doing or reject the fear.
College - My New Savior
This may sound strange to you, but there is at least one religion out there that is very anti-education. There's a lot of home-schooling that takes place so as to avoid a child's contact with "the world," and college is most definitely counseled against. I later realized this was because of what you learn in college, and how you come to question authority and your long-held belief system by being exposed to so many different cultures, beliefs, and values, and realizing that the world you knew, was so tiny, like a new-born baby only sees so many inches from their face.
I recently met a 19-yr-old, completely naive, who just left the church, was disowned by her family because of it, and is now seeming to lead a direction-less life of partying as much as possible. She doesn't work and she's not going to school. I see now the difference in her rebellion and mine, and the element, I believe, that saved me from self-destruction was college.
Having been so sheltered all my life, I was (and still am) really 'dumb' about a lot of things. For instance, I never used to know who the President of the United States was (as we were forbidden from engaging in politics). I could go on and on about my ignorance and how people continue to chuckle at me and say, "You didn't know that?"
So, there was about a year where I pushed myself to try most everything that had been forbidden, to see if there was a real, logical reason behind the taboo.
Being a fairly bright person (in my opinion), I did figure out that some practices were harmful, but some were beneficial, and with the continuing goals of removing guilt and fear from my life, I created my own set of standards and values that I am now comfortable with. For instance, I put myself through college and surmised that this is a good thing, not bad, as I'd been told. But, I also took up smoking, and soon realized that everyone in college was smoking to be rebellious, therefore, I was only following, not being rebellious myself, so I gave it up.
I tried dating, and learned so much about relationships that I never would have learned before (The rule had been: No dating allowed until you're ready for marriage, then the dating must be supervised). Turns out, men can be trusted to be respectful after all! (Usually).
The Parental Dis-Service
The above section on Experimentation illustrates the dis-service the parents (with good intentions) do when they over-shield their child from the real world.
Normal psychological development requires a teen to break from parental expectations at some point and discover the world and its consequences on their own. (See my article about Raising Your Child Using the Concept of Natural Consequences, a method that was very successful for my child.)
Over-controlling religions don't allow a natural development and awareness over the years; so, it's like an over-tight spring being released all at once. Who knows what will happen?
Take it Slowly
So, I guess my advice for those of you leaving an over-restrictive religion, is to take it slowly.
- Get educated
- Determine your own values and beliefs
- Hang out with positive, smart people
- Eliminate the guilt and fear factors
- Raise your child differently
I wish you all the best - it's a long journey to normalcy, but you can get there. I also welcome your comments and suggestions based on your own experiences in the Comment section below.