Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sharing, maybe oversharing, and possibly triggering. Also long-winded.

My last post was vague.  This one won't be much more clear.  I've been learning a lot lately and I've gained a lot of insight.  But, I haven't remotely untangled it all yet and I don't feel that I have anything resembling a real grasp on things. If I did, I would share more in hopes that someone else might benefit.

Here is what I know: The messages I received in church and from friends and family who were also raised in the church and in Utah, with all of the cultural crap that includes, have affected me in profound ways.  But, I am not talking about the things that I think.  I never thought the things I was supposed to think.  I never believed the things I was supposed to believe.  I was born a skeptic and questioned, questioned, questioned the mythology and the dogma from early childhood.  So, I think pretty independently and rarely find myself thinking something like, for example, "abortion is murder" or "homosexuality is a sin" (these examples are things I NEVER think but I say rarely because I am sure I occasionally think things that might fit into the same category - absolute truths taught in church).

Rather, the profound and lasting effect the CofJCofLDS had on me was in shaping my behaviors, my interactions with others, my ability to be assertive, and, most importantly, my ability to set boundaries to protect my self (two words in this case).  As a result, I've developed some "self issues".  This isn't the same as self-esteem. I've got plenty of self-esteem.  I'm intelligent, kind, empathetic, ethical, strong, hard-working, diligent, ambitious, and dare I say, funny? I know I have significant resources within me.  But, the way I move through the world isn't consistent with that knowledge.  My behavior and communication are often interpreted by others as resulting from a self-esteem problem.  It's not.  The self issue I have is in knowing that I exist and that I am alive. I don't always know that. I feel empty, dead, non-existent.  I stop experiencing emotion although I am intellectually aware of how I should be feeling in a situation.  Feeling unsure about whether I exist (or whether I am the only person who exists and everyone else is a hollow shell) makes me feel like I am losing my mind.  Literally.  As though I am losing my intellect and grasp on reality.  I start to fear that these are early signs of schizophrenia or some other delusion disorder.  (They aren't in my case.)  I know it sounds weird.  Well, it sounds weird unless you've experienced it. 

I've been in a therapy group exploring these self issues.  It's been hard and scary.  I've picked out things that cause "Aha!" moments when I wonder if or how much the culture of mormonism, and personal deity belief more generally, caused these confusions/delusions.  The boundary issue and denial of the right to the private self are obvious culprits.  Also obvious is that we weren't taught to be assertive.  In fact, we were taught to be passive or passive-aggressive (especially the women?).  Assertiveness was portrayed as negative and even confrontational. But, assertiveness and aggressiveness are very different animals.  Unfortunately, I have a difficult time knowing the difference or seeing the lines between them, so I often attempt to be assertive (And why shouldn't I?  I'm intelligent and capable and deserving.) but overshoot and hit aggressive or undershoot and hit passive-aggressive or passive.  And, as a result, I don't get what I need at work or in relationships most of the time. I feel bullied.  Then I beat myself up because I know people can't meet my needs if I don't communicate them effectively, although sometimes they try. If I had to pick the one personality flaw that hinders me most,  it is this struggle to be assertive.

In the self group, we talk a lot about trauma.  This terrified me at first.  It seemed as though I was learning that having a self issue meant that I MUST have experienced some big trauma in my life. In many cases these traumas are related to abuse, witnessing violence or suicide, or near-death experiences. The doctor who runs the group mentioned that sometimes people block these things or that they may have happened before the age at which children form conscious memories.  I couldn't think of a trauma, which made me fear I had blocked it or had been abused as an infant. I wept for a few days. I considered asking my mom but feared it would scare or devastate her.  Then, I met individually with one of the group leaders who explained that trauma might not be so acute or obvious and I wasn't necessarily blocking anything but that maybe I was looking back to narrowly.  She isn't my regular therapist though and doesn't really know me so she had no ideas.  It had occurred to me that maybe my mother's cancer when I was a young child was my trauma.  It also occurred to me that the mental abuse of my religious upbringing, and subsequently leaving the church, has been a life-long trauma.  But, I didn't know and I felt like I was grasping as straws looking for a trauma that might have caused sense-of-self issues for me.  These ideas just seemed so trivial compared to the physical violence others have experienced.  Yesterday, I had an appointment with my regular therapist.  I was explaining this group and the theory behind it (still unpublished so unfamiliar to the psychological and psychiatric health community). She, unprompted, asked if I thought that my former religion could be my trauma.  It might not be the only trauma I've endured.  But, I KNOW that it was/is a traumatic experience and definitely the most formulative traumatic experience of my life.  It has caused me damage that might be irreparable.

That isn't so easy to accept or move past.  I can't imagine what positive I can ever find in that.  Therapy is long (maybe life-long), time-consuming, painful, expensive, and absolutely necessary. I'm not going to be able to sue the Church to cover the expenses or get closure. My brain is likely never going to function at the capacity it might have had I been raised without religion.  I am likely to be haunted by an existential crisis forever.  I will likely experience emptiness and numbness off and on for life.  All I can hope to do is learn how to recognize when I am drifting into, and snap myself out of that state more quickly and more effectively.  How can I possibly benefit from a lack of normal sense-of-self?


  1. I hope you figure it out without too much pain, and learn to love the self that is in the process. hug

  2. Wow. This post rang very true for me. I have all of the trauma and abuse. It was easy (well not EASY, but others had no problem) labeling my trauma. Diagnosing me with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). As I worked in therapy, even with all of the "events" in my life, things just weren't adding up...

    I went to a CALM (Community After Leaving Mormonism) support group. They asked all of the new people to kinda share how they got there (to the meeting). What I shared shocked even me.

    "As I have confronted abusive relationships, how could I not confront the most abusive relationship I have ever had and known? The one I had with the church."

    Abusers blame the victim. Abusers never take responsibility. Abusers expect me to change everything, so they can love me, but they won't let me leave. (It would make sense if I was THAT bad, they'd want me out of their lives.) Abusers "punish" me, and often don't even tell me what the "rules" are until I've "broken" one. Abusers made me feel like there is no one else who will take me. Abusers made me believe there was no life after them. Abusers made me believe they would die without me. It was my job to serve and love them. Abusers made me believe I had to tell them everything. I had no boundaries or personal space. Abusers made me believe nothing was mine, it was (at best) ours, or (at worst) theirs. Abusers made me believe that telling them "no" was bad and selfish, and I had no right to do that. Abusers made me believe I was just an object to be used.

    I have worked really hard to change those old beliefs. I am with you on, "What good can come from this?" I have decided the good that will come is that I will change me, and I will tell my story.

  3. That's just hard, Amy. Does it help to write about it?

    When I read this I was trying to remember if I have experienced anything like what you described. I don't know if this counts but I was so conditioned to suppress and deny my feelings, I would not even become cognizant about how I felt about something until I consciously put it into words. My feelings would come spilling out in a conversation with someone I trusted or just on paper.

    Could the trauma you experienced have come from the oppressive requirement to hide and deny your true feelings? I know that has caused a lot of my anger.

  4. Wow. Great blog and great comments. I really like Hard Headed's comment. Awesome.

  5. A lot of what Hard Headed said relates to my relationship with the church. I can cite moments involving my life in that church that were abusive. And I've been dealing with the trauma as a result ever since.

  6. Becca: Thank you! I do love my self. But, sometimes but sometimes my self takes a little vacation without me.

    Hard Headed: Thank you for sharing. I've read a bit of your blog. I am so sorry for all that you've been through in addition to being raised in the LDS church. Your courage amazes me.

    I feel much more validated in believing that growing up in the church was a trauma for me because you also consider your relationship with the church your most abusive relationship. I wouldn't have thought that would be the case given all that you've been through. You just helped me to realize that just because others have been through more, or worse, doesn't mean that what I experienced wasn't traumatic.

    Cognitive Dissenter: Writing on this blog and reading other blog has been very helpful. I think the last few months doing so have caused me to face my anger and bitterness and look deeper into it to determine WHY I am still so bitter and angry after 10 years out of it. Therapy has also helped. Now I think I know. Now I feel entitled to my anger and I will continue to feel entitled as long as these self-issues haunt me. And, I feel more entitled speaking against the church.

    I don't feel that I was expected to hide my feelings generally. My family expressed emotion well so home was a great outlet. I think that helped counter the culture of denying true feelings that exists in the church.

    What was more difficult for me was the malignment of doubt while blind faith was seen as a virtue. I didn't feel comfortable expressing doubt about the beliefs and dogmas around other LDS people at all. At home, I was able to do so to an extent but I held back a lot of doubts because I didn't want to hurt my parents. I responded to the inability to out myself as a doubter by trying really, really hard to push them to the back of my mind and dearly hoping that faith would come. Clearly I couldn't maintain that my whole life.

  7. TGD: I agree. I was simply thinking of my LDS upbringing as a trauma I've experienced. But, when Hard Headed referred to a relationship with the church as an abusive relationship, I realized that this fuzzy idea that my experiences growing up LDS might have summed to a sort of trauma becomes much clearer when I think of these experiences as a type of abuse.

    It should have occurred to me that this was abuse I recently linked to an article on facebook about the rise of the Stay at Home Daughters (SAHD - pronounce that) movement among fundamentalist christian communities. My comment about the article was something like: "I hate that I live in a society where we are too politically correct to call a fundamentalist religious indoctrination what it is - abuse." I don't know why I didn't connect this to myself at the time.

    Here is that link:

  8. Amy, Thank you! I got all excited (in a sick and twisted way that only someone who has been through a ton of therapy could ever experience) as you talked about the trauma. And that you have experienced trauma even though its not the same as mine or anyone else's. That's a big and important step.