Old vs. New Ways of Thinking (While in Religion & After Leaving)
Updated: Sep 12
In high demand religion (in this case, Christianity), we're taught to think specific ways about ourselves and the world around us. We hold certain beliefs that are hard to shake after leaving. They're rooted deep into our subconscious, dictating our behaviors and thoughts. These beliefs, or unspoken rules, have become so engrained in how we live our lives that we might still find ourselves thinking these thoughts long after we've left our high control religious group.
One of the many aspects of healing from religious trauma is learning how to replace our old thought patterns with healthy, true thought patterns that encompass the complexity of being a human. Let's take a look at a few common thoughts in religion and what we can actually start thinking instead.
Thanks to the work of Happy Whole Way, life coaches in the religious deconstruction space, who have created a road map for old ways of thinking vs. new ways of thinking.
Thought 1: "My worth only comes from God."
In high demand religious control groups, followers are taught they are nothing without God. They have no worth or inherent value apart from him. Everything they have that they consider to be good, they attribute to God. They believe that without God in their life, they don't have any meaning, any purpose, or any worth.
After leaving religion, many people feel confused about their worth. If they don't believe in or follow God anymore, and they've been told their entire lives that the only thing that makes them worthy is God, then how could they ever view themselves as a human that has worth and value? Even this belief while still in religion is incredibly harmful because it teaches people that just being a human being, with experiences and complexities, will never be enough. They, as a person, are not enough. It also teaches them to view others outside their religion as unworthy.
New way of thinking: "I am worthy, just as I am."
Just for simply being YOU.
Just for existing.
You have value and worth.
There's no belief system, experience, or character trait that will make you more worthy than you already are. It's not possible to earn worth. You already have it.
Thought 2: "My body is full of sin and must be tamed."
If you grew up in high demand religious control groups, how often have you heard someone talk about your body being sinful? That women are responsible for the lust of men, implying that women's bodies are inherently sinful? It's one of the most discussed (and most toxic) beliefs in Christianity. One of the most common things I see in Christianity is a massive disconnect between people's bodies and their experiences. They aren't able to trust what they're experiencing because they aren't in tune with what's happening in their body. This thought also causes people to believe that their bodies cannot be trusted, their bodies aren't beautiful and good, they cannot listen to their bodies, and their bodies are responsible for other people's bad behavior.
New way of thinking: "My body is full of so much wisdom."
You can trust your body. Your body is not lying to you, is not possessed by demons, and is not being attacked by Satan.
Your body has experienced trauma, and it's trying to talk to you. It wants to heal.
Sit with yourself and ask yourself where you're feeling what emotion in your body, and what that feeling is saying to you.
Thought 3: "I cannot trust my heart or myself."
High demand religious control groups teach you that because your heart is deceitful, you can't trust it and you can't trust yourself. Even if you feel in your gut you need to make a certain decision, you have to clear it with God first to make sure it's right because you can't be trusted. This belief destroys any idea of individual autonomy. Decisions have to be cleared through someone who holds some type of spiritual authority, not because they've been told that's what needs to happen, but because subconsciously, they believe they cannot trust themselves.
New way of thinking: There is nothing wrong with me.
You're a complex human being, and your life is filled with a myriad of experiences that are proof of that complexity. Complexity doesn't mean you're wrong. You deserve to a live a life where you can make your own decisions and trust yourself.
Thought 4: "My desires are sinful and can't be trusted."
Anything a human desires, you're taught to deny that in high demand religious control groups. All desires you have must be laid before God, and He'll be the one who sorts out what to give you and what to withhold. If He withholds something from you, it's because "His ways are higher than ours" and He knows it's not what's best for you. This also includes sexual desires. Men and women are taught to withhold all sexual desires until marriage. Anything sexual outside of marriage is sinful. Masturbation is also considered sinful, even though masturbating has been proven to be healthy and a normal component to human sexuality. It also helps with self-exploration, especially for women, and assists them in knowing what feels comfortable and right once they have sex.
This belief, once again, prevents people from obtaining any sort of autonomy (are we starting to see a pattern here?) People believe that they can't trust themselves because inherently, they're sinful human beings, and their desires, if not aligned with what they believe God wants, are naturally sinful.
New way of thinking: My human desires are 100% normal.
The desires we have as humans are completely normal. We desire community, relationships, sex, love, freedom, autonomy, health, wellness, success, relaxation, friendships, food. These are not desires that should be shamed because they are a natural part of our existence on this earth. What you desire actually can be trusted, because maybe it's your body or your inner child trying to tell you what it needs in order to heal.
At Root Counseling, Abi works with clients who have experienced religious trauma by providing them a safe, nonjudgemental space to process their experiences. To schedule an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.