As a Baptist PK (Preacher’s Kid), I was expected to obey every authority over me without question and to obey with a good spirit (for testimony’s sake). I was also expected to put up with being teased, ignored, or insulted by my peers while at the same time, somehow I was also expected to stand up for myself and not be bullied, or be a wuss. Our daily before school routine was to a. Get dressed (always a good start right?) b. Eat breakfast c. Brush my teeth d. have my devotions (read my Bible and pray) – although, as I write this, I can’t honestly say this was enforced on us every day, but I believe it was a daily expectation at least at some point in my school years.
The expectations I operated under were
- Be separated from the world – this meant that I could not enjoy many of the same social (normal) activities that my friends enjoyed. Dancing and prom come to mind.
- Be ready to give a defense of the Gospel ‘in season and out of season’ at all times to everyone I meet. My personal emotional or social development didn’t matter. If I was laughed at, rejected, and cut out of inner social circles, then God would see this, and reward me in heaven!
- Do right at all times! Make sure everyone knows that I am doing right, and they are not! Guess how well that went over?
- Call out anything, including my science teachers who were obviously all working together in an international conspiracy to undermine God’s Holy Words especially when they taught about evolution instead of ex nihilo creation. My Dad even told me that I needed to keep an eye on one of my teachers. And so I felt that only our family had THE TRUTH and that it was my duty to correct everyone who ‘erred’ by disagreeing with our literalist view of the Bible. In retrospect, my teachers generally treated me with grace, and possibly felt sorry for me.
- Make A’s and B’s in every class as the normal expectation. I was once met at the front door of my house by my Dad who chewed me out for receiving a C+ on my report card because my teachers all seemed to agree that I was smart and should get good grades.
- Being ‘average’ is unacceptable. In band, I looked down on my fellow students who played 2nd or 3rd chair because ‘obviously’ they weren’t as dedicated to regular practicing as I was. The reality was that my parents (Mom mostly) made me practice 20 to 30 minutes daily for quite a few years; my character wasn’t better than my friends character even though I lived with a delusional inflated sense of my own character. I did relatively well in school mostly because it was expected, and reinforced to do homework and practice my trombone at home.
- I was really not taught how to win at life. And what I mean by this is that I was not given affirming messages about myself apart from being encouraged about what I did. I always knew my parents loved me, but I remember seeing another family in our church that had ‘something’ that I really knew that our family didn’t have. And I believe that ‘something’ was that the parents nurtured their children with loving, affirming messages about themselves apart from their performance. Big difference!
Here’s my main point. As I child growing up under the strict expectations of fundamentalism, I was not really given respect for myself as an individual. I obeyed authorities in my life. I performed for external praise. My beliefs were not my own, but were applied externally on me.
It cannot be overstated how entrenched fundamentalist beliefs are entwined around your very core identity. When a child is told that his parents will never lie to him, when his concrete cause and effect little brain is told that he will burn in fire forever unless he asks Jesus into his heart to save him, what do you think will happen? And when that child is brought up being told that God has A PLAN FOR HIS LIFE and his job is to Trust and Obey in order to live a happy life, then it is extremely difficult emotionally to walk away.
Our entire lives have been molded by accepting what other people think about us, what other authorities tell us we should believe. Decision making has been an external process of ‘praying’, asking other people what they think we should do, and then deciding by how we feel. Our lives, our identity has been external to us.
Self respect is just the opposite of how I was molded to live. Because self respect comes from inside me, not from cotton candy compliments of other people. In fact, I am a slave to other people’s opinions if I live to please others. I am a slave to my pastor’s particular views on what it means to be a testimony, what it means to be separated from the world unless I value my own thoughts first.
Fundamentalism stole my innate right to choose for myself what I think is right, what I think has value. Fundamentalism treated me as not much more than a cog in their massive religious wheel and expected me to ‘fly right!’
I am just now, at 58 years old learning that I actually matter, that my wants are important. And that it is not a sin to take care of myself first. I am learning that the best respect is self respect.
HERE IS WHAT SELF RESPECT LOOKS LIKE TO ME . . .
- Suppose that I have a garden party and invite a bunch of people over who I think are my friends. These ‘friends’ insult my appearance, tell me that I am boring to be around, tell me that I am so socially broken, that I repel people, nobody wants to be around me, they tell me that I am too broken to ever fix myself and create a great life, they tell me that I must defend America from every liberal opinion every time it pops up anywhere; that I must defend the truth all the time no matter what my personal cost is, that I’ll never be able to start a new exercise program, or lose weight, or build a business because I will start and always quit. They tell me that I am a loser, have always been a loser, and my personal efforts, self-talk, and opinions don’t matter- I am just kidding myself. And every time these ‘friends’ tell me these things, they grow taller, so that eventually, I am surrounded by all these loud, raucous, screaming ‘friends’ who are all taller than me and block out the beautiful horizon that inspires me that I could see if I could see around them.
However, what they don’t tell me is that they are mere shadows, screaming lies at me. I can push them down relatively easily- they are shadows without substance, appearing formidable, but are all facades.
- Self respect looks like I cause these shadow liars to fade into the background and eventually disappear completely. I surround myself with supportive, positive, helpful true friends, not dead thought zombies from my past!
3. Self respect, for me, starts with faithfully keeping promises to myself. After a lifetime of ignoring my own needs, and beating myself up, even this is not like just flipping a switch. It also makes me consider quite carefully what, exactly, I promise to myself. I make promises to myself that I must keep, and hence I am starting out by only promising things to myself that I really believe I can keep. Even a small 1% change over time can grow into a big positive change, so I’m just shooting for baby steps right now.
I am growing away from and out of the fear and threat based belief system that I was raised in. Because threatening someone in order to force them to comply is not in any way respectful.