I am writing this on my laptop while listening to ‘Oldies But Goodies 70’s and 80’s’ on You Tube. I am alone. After 34 years of marriage, my precious wife couldn’t stand living with me any longer, and felt that in order to save herself, she had to jettison me. While a part of me understands, other parts of my heart are lonely shreds, crying out helplessly because my entire web of everything I ‘knew’ was literally ripped into shreds, thrown out, and stomped on. I miss her companionship horribly and most days wonder what is the point of living? Everything I knew is gone and there is no fixing this. Ever. And since I know how big a part in this that played, I feel the horrible, aching hurt and regret of hurting someone I deeply cared for, believe I loved, with the guilt of what I did and didn’t do.
My divorce was my fault, I am an utter failure, a piece of feces to be stepped on, thrown out with the trash. Or perhaps I should get off the mental/emotional cross and stop crucifying myself because of this possible thought thread. . .
When Jesus was being crucified, He actually prayed this. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34a]
Is it possible that in part my marriage failed because fundamentalism made me a ‘broken toy‘ and completely unaware that I was even broken? Could I possibly start seeing the huge extent that I was damaged by fundamentalism and eventually be able to have a spark of forgiveness for myself?
The point of this article is not to gain sympathy, as time passes, the more I realize how devastating this horrible belief system was to me, and still is to countless of good- hearted people who suffer in silence, while believing that their emotional misery, their sense of not being connected, of always being the outsider looking in, is somehow their own fault. It’s not.
Marlene Winell Ph.D. has discovered what Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) and writes this about it at her website, Journey Free which I think is spot on. Here is an excerpt from this fine work;
Religious Trauma Syndrome
by Marlene Winell
Religious Trauma Syndrome is the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination. They may be going through the shattering of a personally meaningful faith and/or breaking away from a controlling community and lifestyle. RTS is a function of both the chronic abuses of harmful religion and the impact of severing one’s connection with one’s faith. It can be compared to a combination of PTSD and Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). This is a summary followed by a series of three articles which were published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Today.
Religious Trauma Syndrome has a very recognizable set of symptoms, a definitive set of causes, and a debilitating cycle of abuse. There are ways to stop the abuse and recover.
Symptoms of Religious Trauma Syndrome:
• Cognitive: Confusion, poor critical thinking ability, negative beliefs about self-ability & self-worth, black & white thinking, perfectionism, difficulty with decision-making
• Emotional: Depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loneliness, difficulty with pleasure, loss of meaning
• Social: Loss of social network, family rupture, social awkwardness, sexual difficulty, behind schedule on developmental tasks
• Cultural: Unfamiliarity with secular world; “fish out of water” feelings, difficulty belonging, information gaps (e.g. evolution, modern art, music)
I ‘score’ on every one of these items.
So what if you were lied to about the nature of reality by the two people you intrinsically trusted the very most in your world growing up, what if your parents placed false expectations on you while being highly authoritative? Well, you’d end up where I, and many others are at today. Broken in many pieces, but trying to make our lives work as best we can.
It occurred to me last night as I was watching a video of a child’s birthday party, that to this day, (I’m now 57 years old), I’ve never had a birthday party growing up. I never had friends invited over to my house who brought presents for me. I don’t know what that’s like, to have friends your own age all at your house, excited to play with you. And I don’t even know why this was. My family celebrated birthdays, but it was all immediate family.
I think that due to Dad’s ministry, we a. Didn’t live in a location where there were Christian friends my age to invite over b. Operative word here is ‘Christian friends’ since we certainly didn’t want our best friends to be ‘unsaved.’ GASP!!! How horrible would that be?
So, I was not really allowed to just be a child. I always had to be a salesman for God. My parents called it ‘be a witness and testimony everywhere you go.’ It was not acceptable to get angry at someone because they had wronged me; rather I was supposed to ‘take it for testimony sake.’ I interpreted this as I was supposed to be a doormat somewhat because after all, everything is about God, and making sure that people get saved and not go to hell! And if I screwed up publicly, I could be the cause that someone is in hell for eternity! Me, a middle school kid.
And, at the same time, I was also taught to stand up for myself. And on the third hand, I was taught that God already knows who will be saved, and who will not be saved. So. . .
I was trying to do a cognitive juggling act with believing that God already knows who will be saved, what the circumstances will be, and yet somehow, it still falls on me to be a ‘Christian role model’ so as to have them look at me, and think to themselves, “I want what he has.” HA!!! No, no they don’t!! Because if they have what I had, they would get a crap load of rules, conflicting ideas, expectations, and emotional pain.
All in the name of a supposedly Sovereign God who is in control of everything and knows everything.
So I have to ask, if God is Sovereign, then why did God need to worry about the actions of a 12 or 13 year boy always being correct at the expense of that boy’s core being?
I was used. I was broken a long time before I ever contemplated marriage. There were so many moving shards, its really amazing my relationship to this wonderful woman lasted as long as it did.
Fundamentally screwed up, but damn, I was a great salesman for God, and hey, that’s all that matters right?