Ask A Therapist: Part 2
Updated: 3 days ago
Welcome to Part 2 of "Ask A Therapist"! After seeing the response of the first "Ask A Therapist" blog post, which you can access here if you're curious, I decided to make this a series I'll be doing every couple of months to answer any questions you might have about therapy-related things, mental health, or curiosity about my life.
As always, questions from people were submitted anonymously. I hope you're able to take what's applicable to you, leave what's not, and continue to create more self-awareness, introspection, and intentionality in your own life.
Also, say hello to our 2 year old Golden Retriever, Nittany! Named after our alma mater mascot, the Penn State Nittany Lions, Nittany is the sweetest girl in the world. Definitely some attachment issues there, as she has a difficult time when we're away from her and constantly demands all affection and attention, but then again...who doesn't have anxious attachment every now and then? We're all a work in progress over here!
"I have the utmost respect and love for my parents, but they have conventional expectations and not fulfilling them is going to make them unhappy. As a kid, they tried their best to fulfill my wishes, but now I can't return the favor when it's my turn. How do I deal with this fact?"
Relationships with our parents when we become adults can be incredibly challenging. It sounds like you're placing a lot of pressure on yourself to fulfill expectations from your parents that you're not going to be able to meet. First off, I want to encourage you to remember that you're your own person, separate from you parents. It's not your responsibility to meet their needs, wishes, or expectations, and it never was, even when you were a kid.
I'm curious as to what happens when they're unhappy with you. How do they respond to you? How do they treat you? Do they withhold love from you? Has their response and treatment towards you when you make them unhappy been a common theme for you in life?
Can you allow them to be unhappy? Are you able to let them sit in their own emotions without feeling like you're responsible for how they feel?
How you choose to live your life will surely cause different feelings for people, even for those we love. We have to learn how to let others take responsibility for their own feelings. We are not responsible for them. Including the feelings of our parents.
I'd encourage you to explore your thoughts about feeling like you have to return the favor of fulfilling their wishes because they fulfilled yours when you were a child. As parents, that's their job towards their children; to care for them, nurture them, help guide them through life, help them grow, learn, and evolve, provide for them physically, emotionally, and mentally. It's never our job, even when we become adults, to fulfill the wishes of our parents.
"Do you still believe in Jesus?"
I believe that Jesus was a real person who walked this earth and came with a divine message that inspired and called people to live differently and love radically in the face of Roman oppression. I don't believe Jesus "died for our sins" as a ransom, and the reason is twofold: 1. It doesn't historically make sense. Jesus was put to death not "for our sins" but because he was committing a crime when he went up against the Roman Empire. He was a massive political threat to Rome. Jesus's death was political. 2. That belief is psychologically harmful (it promotes that idea that without the death of Jesus, we are inherently worthless, sinful, evil, and bad and would spend eternity in hell...just for existing as complex human beings if we don't believe in the "right" religion) and is at the root of religious trauma. I don't believe that God or any higher power would want us to believe in theology that's psychologically harmful.
So, as far as "believing in" Jesus, I've come to believe Jesus was a human that came with a message from the divine, the same as I believe other religious figures from different religions came with a message from the divine.
"What is the most common thing you encounter in people who are deconstructing or moving away from the church?"
Initially, I encounter a lot of anger and fear. People who are deconstructing or moving away from the church are angry at the systems that they were once promised would protect people and be a safe haven for all, only to realize it wasn't true. People are also terrified to leave behind their beliefs or their religious community because they've been told that without these things, they're nothing and their life will be miserable.
As they continue on in their deconstruction journey, I'll usually see people hold on to beliefs that make them feel safe and let go of beliefs that don't. They learn to make their faith their own, or abandon it all together. Some people are able to find a new church that accepts them and/or accepts marginalized communities, and some people decide not to go back to church but still cultivate their own relationship with God. Everyone's journey looks so different, but the outcome, from what I've noticed, seems to be similar: peace in uncertainty.
As people travel along in their deconstruction journey, they start to make peace with not knowing everything. Growing up in Christianity, these people were taught that they have to know and be certain of the truth, and that Christianity is the only truth. Letting go of that truth and accepting uncertainty is terrifying for these people, because they were taught their salvation would be at risk. But as they grow and evolve, they find more peace in the uncertainty than they ever had in "the truth".
"What are some things to look for when searching for a non-cultish church?"
I absolutely love this question! Sometimes, people tend to think that deconstruction means never going to church again, and for some, that road leads them there, but it doesn't mean that for everyone! There are churches that exist that are doing church in ways that are healthy and safe.
Here are some of my top green flags for churches:
- They accept and include all peoples, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, age, or gender
- Women are preaching, leading, and speaking
- Diversity and inclusion on their staff and in the congregation
- Transparency about finances
- They welcome conversations that question doctrine and theology
- Mental health and spiritual warfare are not being discussed as being the same thing; congregants are encouraged to seek help from a licensed therapist for their mental health
- No dress code
- Adults who work with youth have cleared background checks
- It's not a mega church
Thanks again for participating in Ask A Therapist, Part 2! I had a blast answering your questions, and I hope you found this helpful as you continue to heal and move forward on your journey. If you're interested in scheduling a session with me or one of our therapists, you can learn more about us here.