Last week, I discussed deconstruction & complementarianism. I acknowledged how being immersed in a subculture that dictates to us how we should view and think of ourselves can have a devastating impact on one’s mental health.
While my focus in that post was on complementarianism, this is true of all toxic theology. Religious beliefs can deeply affect our worldviews, our mental and emotional health, and even our physical health (for better or for worse). When we identify religious doctrines that have been particularly abusive or harmful, we enter into a process of deconstruction that involves grieving, anger, stress.
It is imperative that we find ways to cope that lead to healing.
Here are some helpful tools to equip yourself with on this journey.
If you are like me, writing helps you process. It can be extremely therapeutic to just let all of those thoughts that are circling around in your brain spill out onto the notebook in front of you, or laptop if you prefer. There are many free journaling apps you can download on your phone so that you can write whenever the need strikes you. Overtime, you can go back to your journal entries and see for yourself how far you’ve come.
This may be one of those things that you have to also deconstruct on before you are able to entrust your emotional and mental health to the care of a licensed therapist. So many of us have been taught to distrust psychology and psychiatry. We’ve been taught that they can’t possibly help anyone, because all problems have a spiritual root. This is something that cannot fully be discussed in this post, but I promise you that we were lied to.
A good licensed therapist’s job is to help you make sense of the fog you might find yourself in. They can act as a neutral sounding board as you vent your frustration and as you attempt to make sense of all of the confusion. They can offer you a neutral perspective that you will not get from your friends, family, or spiritual mentors/leaders. They can also help you find healthy coping skills to deal with the stress that comes with a monumental shift in worldview.
This is another one that may put people at unease. Many of us have been taught that this is a tool of the New Age Movement and that we’re opening ourselves up to demonic activity in practicing it. I can promise you that what I am advocating for today is not that thing you’ve been taught to avoid. Meditation is simply about being present in the moment, letting all concerns and stressors fall into the background. It’s like a reset button for your nervous system.
There are many different ways you can practice meditation.
There is body scan meditation, where you seat yourself on a chair or cushion (you can also do this laying down), and let your mind slowly scan your body from the top of your head to the bottom of your toes and back up again. I find it easier to envision a light or a hand slowly moving across my body.
You can also do breath meditation: breathe in slowly to the count of 4, breathe out to the count of 5.
You can also go for a mindful walk. The entails focusing on your body and its relation to your immediate environment. Concentrate on how your feet and legs feel with each step. Concentrate on the weather around you: Is it sunny? Raining? Cloudy? Windy? Cold? Hot? What can you hear around you? What can you smell? Can you taste the air? Can you reach down and feel the firmness of the ground below you? What is the texture of the earth?
You will likely find your mind drifting away from the here and now. This is normal. When you notice it, watch how you speak to yourself: don’t chastise. Don’t judge. Just make a note of your mind drifting and then call your attention back to your body scan, breath, or walk. Your only goal here is to move your mind from the weighty things in your life and focus on the present moment.
Pay Attention To How You Speak To Yourself
This is going to be a huge part of how you make it through the deconstruction process. For those of us who grew up in environments that were centred on shame and/or sin, we may find that our inner voice automatically responds to our choices and actions with harsh judgments.
You need to be your own best friend through this process.
Think of how you would speak to a friend who is venturing out into unfamiliar territory, learning new things, and unlearning old harmful things. You would have compassion for them. You would encourage them to keep going even when its hard. You would encourage them to rest when they’re overwhelmed. You would never judge them for ever being in a bad belief system. You would never judge them for waiting so long to get out. You wouldn’t judge them, period. You would be their friend.
Be that person to yourself now.
Learn To Set & Enforce Boundaries
You will find that the more you begin to venture outside of your permitted theological boundaries, the more pushback you will get from those in your community. They will always believe that they are speaking to you in love, but it will often not feel that way. You will feel judged. You will feel alienated. You will feel manipulated. It will feel like others are trying to control the questions you ask and the thoughts you think.
Know that you really do not have to put up with any of this. You can tell them, “I appreciate your concern, but this is not up for discussion.” You can tell them that you desire to have a relationship with them, but that you need to know that you have a foundation that goes beyond having to agree on specific ideology.
If it comes to that point, know that you are also allowed to end relationships that are no longer healthy for you.
Learn A New Hobby (Or Pick Up An Old One Again)
It can be exhausting, particularly if you are one of those Christians whose whole life revolves around church and faith. Its relaxing to get a break from all of that and just focus on something completely separate. It’s also good for your mental health to have something creative/playful that’s just for you.
Go work on your house or car, if that’s how you unwind. Learn a new craft. Learn a new language. Take a dance class. Whatever catches your attention and makes your brain happy: pursue that.
Get out of your comfort zone, and try something different and discover a new passion you may not have known was there. Pursuing interests can also be a path to new relationships and community. Which leads us to…
Lean On Community
This is a hard one for many of us. I’ve heard so many stories where a shift in beliefs meant the loss of relationships. Sometimes, this meant the loss of entire communities. This is where it’s important to reach out to people around you.
This may mean branching out and finding a new community for yourself, and there are many ways to do this: find a new faith community. It doesn’t have to be a new church (but do try that too if – AND ONLY IF – you’re ready). Meetup often has different faith groups who like to get together for social events or book/Bible study. Take classes. Pick up a “fun” part-time job that will give you extra money and socializing opportunities. Reach out to people in your extended network: acquaintances, relatives, anyone you might want the chance to get to know better.
The important part here is do not allow yourself to become isolated. We all need people in our lives.
Know Your Limits
This one can go hand in hand with learning to enforce boundaries with others. But this is more about self-parenting and setting boundaries for yourself by learning to listen to your body and identifying emotions and physical sensations within your body that are trying to communicate with you.
This is a big part of self-care.
We can often become burnt out or even legitimately triggered if we are not self-aware enough to understand our own limitations. For those who have been trained that their self-worth comes from serving others, they may struggle with knowing when it’s time to stop and allow others to care for them. For those who have been traumatized by fundamentalist teaching, its important to know when to shut down a conversation or to walk out of a room to manage trauma triggers.
Some people may not even be able to step foot in any form of church community for a long time after deconstruction, and that is okay.
This is all hard stuff, friends. Its okay and healthy to acknowledge that none of this comes easy. After years of indoctrination into a way of thinking, we have to accept that it will take time and work to find ourselves in a new way of thinking.
We all just need to remember to have compassion and love for ourselves as we work through it all.
We’re only human.