Leaving a religious community is a personal and challenging journey. The decision to step away from beliefs you've held on to for a large portion of your life can be a liberating and transformative experience, but it also comes with its own set of challenges, specifically when it comes to navigating relationships with family and friends.
In this post, we're going to explore the complexities of maintaining meaningful connections after leaving religion, while also offering ideas on how to create understanding and acceptance on both sides. This post is for those who have left the religious community and those who are still in the religious community but have someone they love who has left.
The Emotional Landscape
Leaving a religious community can trigger a range of emotions, including guilt, loneliness, fear, anger, liberation, peace, and happiness. It's important to recognize and validate these emotions as part of the individual journey, unique to that person. On the other hand, those within the religious community might experience confusion, concern, frustration, or disappointment for the person who has chosen to leave. Both parties need to acknowledge and respect the emotional landscapes of each other in order to create open communication. The goal isn't to change each other's minds. It's simply to acknowledge and respect.
When navigating relationships after leaving religion, having honest and respectful conversations can help bridge gaps and promote understanding. People who have left religion should express their reasons thoughtfully, emphasizing personal growth and pursuit of authenticity, vulnerability, and autonomy. Sharing experiences rather than attacking beliefs can help others understand the decision as part of the person's individual journey.
For people who remain in the religious community, it's important to approach these conversations with empathy and an open mind. Avoiding judgment and seeking to understand the other person's perspective fosters an environment where both parties can express themselves without fear of condemnation.
After leaving religion, there will be people who remain in the religious community who might be unsafe for you to talk about your journey with. Setting clear boundaries is essential for maintaining healthy relationships, and people who have left religion may need to establish new boundaries to protect themselves. It's crucial to communicate these boundaries with respect and understanding, emphasizing that the intention is not to push others away, but to create space for authenticity and personal growth.
People who remain in their religious communities should be open to understanding and respecting the boundaries set by their loved ones. This may involve refraining from attempting to reconvert or imposing religious practices on the person who has left.
Finding Common Ground
Even when religious beliefs differ, it's still possible to find common ground outside of faith. Shared interests, values, of familial bonds can give a foundation for connection beyond religion. Focusing on these shared aspects gives space for both parties to appreciate each other for who they are as individuals, which, in turn, creates a sense of unity despite differing beliefs.
In general, empathy is a powerful tool. It gives us the ability to sit with people on their individual journeys, holding space for their emotions and letting others know we're with them. Likewise, empathy is a powerful tool in navigating relationships after leaving religion. People from both sides should strive to understand the other's perspective without necessarily agreeing with it. We don't have to agree to acknowledge and respect. Recognizing the courage it takes to embark on a journey of self-discovery and authenticity can bridge the gap between differing beliefs.
For those remaining in the religious community, empathy involves acknowledging that the person who left may still be the same person they've always known and loved, even if their beliefs have evolved. Compassion and understanding can pave the way for maintaining a connection based on shared history and experiences.
Leaving a religious community can be one of the most isolating experiences someone will go through. Seeking support is crucial for people who have left and those who remain in the religious community. Support groups or therapy can provide a safe space for people to express their thoughts and emotions without judgment. Having a support system outside of the religious context can help with the challenges that exist during this transitional period.
For people who are in the religious community, seeking guidance from spiritual leaders or support within the community can be helpful. Understanding that your loved choosing to leave doesn't diminish the importance of community support, and it's an essential part of maintaining a sense of connection and belonging.
Creating Respectful Coexistence
The goal is to ultimately create respectful coexistence between people who have different religious beliefs. Both parties must recognize and accept that diversity of thought is a natural part of the human experience. Embracing the idea that people can live harmoniously, regardless of their beliefs, helps us create a society that is more tolerant and understanding.
People who have left religion definitely need to maintain a level of awareness to not belittle or demean the beliefs of those who choose to remain in their religious communities. People in the religious community should refrain from judgment or attempts to convert the person who's chosen a different path. In order to respectfully coexist, it requires an acceptance of diversity and a commitment to nurture connections between religious beliefs.
Because humans are complex, navigating relationships after leaving religion is also complex. It's an ongoing process that requires patience, understanding, respect, boundaries, and open communication. By creating empathy, setting boundaries, seeking support, and focusing on shared values outside of religion, it's possible to navigate this journey with grace and have relationships with people that transcend religious differences.
At Root Counseling, we create a safe space for people to process their beliefs and navigate their religious and/or spiritual journey with empathy, respect, and love. To schedule an appointment with one of our therapists, you can visit us here.