Breaking free from emotional confines of organized religion

The Channels Opinion Pages | EDITOR COLUMN

LANDON HUNT, Associate Editor

Organized religion can bring people joy and change lives for the better, but in some cases it can do just the opposite.

Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant who has written about what she has called, ‘religious trauma syndrome.’ She says that it comes from being in a controlling religion and the impact of leaving an organized religion.

I grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday, attended church activities during the week and had family prayers every night. It wasn’t just something that we believed in; it was what we centered our lives around.

It didn’t bother me how controlling my church was, but leaving it was terrifying. My beliefs were such a big part of my life that it was scary to think what they weren’t true, or at least not for me. They influenced how I looked at everything.

You see your family and friends find a special joy through their faith and all you want is to find that same thing. When you can’t, you feel inadequate.

What comes next is the fear of how of those people are going to react to the news of you leaving the thing that makes them so happy.

When your entire family centers their lives on a religion and openly believes it to be the one true religion, you can’t help but feel pressure to do the same. How would they handle it?

My last couple of years of high school I struggled with anxiety. Part of that time I was fearful of telling my parents how I felt about our church and struggled leaving it.

My family knew I didn’t like to talk about religion during that difficult time in my life, but every now and then it would get brought up. Looking back, I can see how they could have thought that the things they were saying were helpful, but it really just built up my anxiety.

I still struggled with the feeling that they wanted me to be different. Even though I knew they didn’t think any less of me, I couldn’t help but feel like they wished I were different.

It was difficult to feel like a disappointment.

Although it usually isn’t intended this way, in some homes, the border between teaching religion and forcing it is crossed.

Recently, my parents told me that leaving our church was comparable to not going to college. Meaning they would have liked me to stay apart of the church but its okay if I don’t.

But the truth is, it wasn’t like that, it felt much bigger. In some religious homes, faith isn’t just a belief; it’s the answer to everything. When that’s the case, it can create an overwhelming amount of pressure.

I have seen my friends and family find a special joy in a religion that they dedicate their lives to, but I’ve also felt firsthand the trauma that religion can bring.