Monday, March 3, 2014

Mental Health Part Two

During my battle with postpartum depression this last year and dealing with various situations/stressors, I learned that I suffer many symptoms of codependency. If you click the link you can familiarize yourself with codependency and related issues.

In my journey to personal independence and also leaving religion, I did develop some healthier thought patterns and coping skills. However, certain beliefs had been so ingrained in me that it took my entering into a deep battle with depression to truly accept my issues and learn how to deal with them in a healthy manner.

In this post I want to address how religion can cause or create codependency issues in a person. Note I say CAN cause- this is because not every religious person becomes codependent. However, there are certain aspects of religion that can definitely build an environment where such issues can thrive- and so I will outline these:

The belief that "I am not good"

Having this belief creates self esteem issues and makes it difficult to thrive and function in relationships and life in general. Any negative situation or interaction with others seems to reinforce this belief and elicit emotional reactions that often exceed normality. It is painful to believe that you are not good. And whenever it's reinforced, the pain swells. You allow others to treat you in abusive ways (I deserved this, I caused this because I am so bad), you have little to no boundaries, communicating your needs/desires is very difficult (my needs/desires don't matter because I am bad- why communicate them? I do not deserve to have my needs/desires met anyway). . . All of this makes it extremely difficult to navigate relationships and friendships in a healthy manner.

I grew up believing I was a sinner. I believed that I was destined for hell and that the only reason I would not be going to hell (a place of torture and eternal flames), was because at 6 years old I asked Jesus to save me. Like most children, I was curious about life and death and what happens when you die. I don't know of any child that, after being informed that they are hell bound, would not immediately do whatever they could to get out of going to hell. Of course I wanted Jesus to save me from an eternity of burning flames, gnashing of teeth, etc. Who wouldn't?!

So now in my early years I have this foundation: I deserve to go to hell. Therefore I am not good. I am a sinner. I am bad. Even though I have not murdered someone, my small sins are just as great in God's eyes. Therefore, I am just as bad as a murderer. I am evil. I have a sin nature. Anything good about me is only through the grace of God and ONLY because I have accepted his gift of salvation.

These beliefs lead me to feel like I deserved anything bad that happened to me. If anyone treated me poorly or "life handed me lemons" it was something I deserved. And anytime something happened that reinforced these very painful beliefs, I reacted very strongly to it. Any criticism, any altercation, any less than positive interaction with another human being would send me reeling. I didn't know it at the time, but I felt angry because I did NOT like having these terrible thoughts about myself seemingly validated by others. No one would! Living in a world where you feel- and believe- that you are a terrible person, born sinner, hell worthy etc can turn into the following beliefs: I am unlovable, I am inadequate, I am disgusting.

Over my teen years it became my habit to think these types of thoughts about myself whenever I was involved in any sort of negative situation or had received criticism. They were overwhelming. Although becoming an adult and gaining maturity helped, I had built a habit of going to this dark place where I would pummel myself with these thoughts and beliefs. To this day, it takes a good deal of strength to avoid slipping back into this place whenever I face difficult situations.

The belief that pride is evil

As a Christian I came to believe that pride was very bad. Even taking credit for something good you had done was "prideful". When someone complimented me- it was uncomfortable because I had to find a way to direct the compliment to God instead. Anything good that I did was solely because Jesus saved me and would use me for good. This created a lot of room for the "I am bad" belief to grow and thrive.

It also made me look at others who were "prideful" with resentment and bitterness. Anyone who believed they were good at anything or who took personal credit for any talent or did not deflect compliments to the Lord- was someone I found difficult to get along with (so. . . a majority of the human race!)

A good Christian should always direct glory and praise to God, no matter what.

Part of this was that "Others always come first" and general attitude of self sacrifice. My comfort, my well being did not matter. If I was truly humble, I would always put the needs of others ahead of my own. My needs were never more important that God or the needs of others.

The belief that if I live the *right* way, God will bless my life

This is a tough one. Many times Christians will say that God doesn't care about performance and that "good works" aren't important. That your salvation isn't dependent on your good deeds.

However it seems- the amount of "blessings" you receive is in fact dependent on how you live.

I thought that "blessings" included:

A healthy marriage
A good job
Financial stability
Basic needs met
Good friendships

Pretty much all of those ideal things in life that every human being desires. I thought I needed to live a certain way to get them. If I honored the Lord, he would bless me. If I did not honor the lord or follow his principles (or "guidelines") for life- bad and SCARY things would happen to me:

Broken relationships
Financial struggles
A "shattered" life
The list goes on. . . 

It seems to vary from denomination to denomination on what exactly it means to live the "Christian" life. But one thing was clear to me- living the way God wanted me to live meant life would be GOOD. . . I would receive blessings from him. If I did NOT live how God wanted me to- if I did NOT follow his commandments- the devil would have full access to wreak havoc on my life.

Here are the things I thought I was supposed to do:

Honor and obey my parents until I was married (Then honor and obey my husband)
Not listen to any music with a syncopated (rock or DEVIL) beat
Attend church multiple times per week
Dress modestly
Save my virginity, first kiss, any orgasm for marriage 
Read my bible daily- the earlier in the day the better
Serve others as much as I could 
Stay away from entertainment that glorified sin (sex outside of marriage or any "worldly" principles)
Avoid sin at all costs! (This could be anything from lying to being "lazy"- unproductive in any way, shape, or form)

The list goes on. The list varies depending on which brand of Christianity you subscribe to, but there is typically some sort of list. And I thought being a christian means you DESIRE these things.


Needless to say, these three core beliefs made it difficult for me to maintain good mental health and engage in healthy relationships. It made it difficult for me to accept criticism or feedback without overreacting. It made it very easy for me to become depressed and stressed.

I understand that not everyone experiences the same effect from being a Christian. But this is how it affected ME.

Even after I had walked away from Christianity, I still held to some very damaging core beliefs. Beliefs that would flare up when life got difficult:

I am not good.
I deserve this. 
I did something that caused this. 

You see, for most of my life I had trained myself to believe that I was horrible and evil. That I deserved punishment (hell). And that I could control situations in my life through specified behaviors and actions directly from the bible. Of course I cannot deny that our behaviors and actions can cause and affect results in our lives (both good and bad). However I have found that they are usually directly related not obscure (example: I didn't read my bible enough which is why my husband and I aren't getting along verses My husband and I are not getting along because we cannot communicate and meet each others needs).

Here's some other things I have learned:

You cannot control life circumstances. No matter how good you behave, life happens.

You can only love others as much as you love yourself.

If I take care of myself, I can take better care of others.

My needs are important and it's important that I communicate them in every relationship (work, friendship, intimate, etc).

If my needs are met, I am better able to meet the needs of others in my life.

I do not deserve to be treated poorly.

Humans are individuals and this is beautiful!

I can feel good about my talents and abilities and realize they are MINE and mine alone.

I can enjoy the talents and abilities of others and compliment THEM directly.

It is NOT bad for others to believe good things about themselves and receive compliments.

As a result, it's made me a better person, friend, wife, mother, employee, manager, sister, daughter. I am healthier. I can cope with life easier. I can enjoy life so much more. 

No matter how difficult it gets, life is still good. 

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