I remember growing up in the church having this idea that every decision I made was a path toward sin or righteousness. Even the clothes I wore were seen as bad or good. A value statement was put on what movies I watched (I’m talking like Disney movies, not X rated), we had to be careful about what we wore and what slang words we used (oh my gosh was too close to oh my god). I started to view my life like I was preparing for judgement. Whether before God or before the people around me- my community, my leaders. It was all about my performance, the choices I made were a sign of whether I was devoted enough my christianity.
I think this is a common experience in the modern church. The message you receive is that your choices and your behavior prove whether I belong (more on belonging in the church later…). This over-scrupulousness is what can attach itself to us, even after we’ve moved out of that kind of religious culture. It can feel like there is one narrow path you must walk down to be “enough” or to be “good enough.”
Our past religious experiences teaches us to submit to a moral and virtuous life. As I have walked with clients through these experiences, I see there is so much value in letting your life be guided by a moral code and by the love of a higher power. I think it can lead to growth and health and a love for your God. It’s also is an important part of your story and identity.
But I have also seen people deeply wounded by the church of their past. Sometimes the church can engulf our sense of self and holds us to an impossible standard in order to belong.
Many of my clients process this kind of inner conflict. In therapy we work on letting go of legalism and self-criticism, and holding on to those beliefs that bring hope and healing. It’s a necessary step in taking ownership of our faith as adults.
I talk more about deconstructing your faith and how to handle doubt here.
Written by Morgan Myers, LPC
A little about me… I help people who feel boxed in by self-doubt, criticism and the expectations of others. Some people come to me burned out and wanting to understand where they went wrong. Some come in to process their past pain from church and religion- rejection, dark night of the soul, legalism, or doubt in God. It can be so difficult to even know what we need, let alone asking for those needs to be met. Many of my clients are trying to cope with depression or stress from this season of life. Sometimes we work on healing their past pain so they can grow and move on. More about me here.