Things I Learned While Growing Up in the Church that Therapy is Helping Me to Unlearn:
- Self-sacrifice life trap: When I expend all my time and energy taking care of the needs of others, I end up sacrificing my own needs. While growing up as a girl in the Church taught me that my purpose was to meet, serve, satisfy, dote on the needs of others, no one ever taught me how to take care of myself. And no one ever told me that my life would be at risk if I spent years focusing on the problems of everyone but myself. Like with the oxygen masks on an airplane, I can only help other people once I know that I have met my own needs. I’ve been spending all my time running around, trying to put oxygen masks on other people’s faces, but killing myself in the process by not making sure my mask was secured first. When I focus all my time and effort on other people, my needs are not met. I convince myself that someone will love me enough to come and secure my mask, not realizing that I need to be the person who loves me enough to make sure my mask is secure. Securing my own mask should be my number one priority.
- “I’m fine”/pretend to be okay: I am not fine. I am very, very far from fine. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting that. In fact, the healthiest response to not being fine is to say, “Okay, I am not fine. I am freaking out. And that is okay. I get to freak out.” There is no reason for me to feel ashamed of not being okay right this second. Admitting that, and being okay with that, helps me to continue toward becoming healthy. When other people ask me if I am all right, it is okay to tell the truth. Other people may shame me for not being okay. This is unacceptable behavior, but all I can do about that is tell people that their shaming is not helping, and not direct that shame inward. I need to reach out to the people in my life and let them know that I am not okay, and they need to let me be not okay. I don’t need people to fix me. I just need people to support me in whatever it is I am going through. I should not be afraid of being honest with the people in my support system about what I’m going through.
- Food is the same as support: Food is not a miracle drug. Eating does not make my problems go away. When I gather with the people I love to eat a meal, the comfort I feel is not coming from the food, but from being surrounded by people I love and who love me. Eating may be an excuse people use to gather people together and interact and support one another, but don’t confuse eating with emotional support. The emotional support does not come from the food. It comes from the people with whom I am eating. There are instances when people I know, or when I, may be in need of a meal, and people may bring me one. This meal is still not emotional support. The emotional support is the act of kindness that someone is doing for me, or that I am doing for someone else. Food meets physical needs. People are needed to meet emotional ones.
- God never gives me more than I can handle/I signed up for this in the pre-existence: I can drive myself crazy speculating about who signed my name next to These Specific Trials in the pre-existence, because no “me” in my right mind would have done so. I can spend days/months/years being angry with God for thinking that I am stronger than I feel that I am. Continually reminding myself that I am stronger than I think I am is not helpful. In fact, I am more likely to hurt myself or exacerbate my current situation if I continue to take on more than I know I can handle, because I think that God thinks I can handle more. It is okay to feel weak. It is okay to feel overwhelmed. Instead of trying to bury or push aside those feelings and keep going, I can stop. I need to recognize when I am feeling weak or overwhelmed, and validate myself in feeling those things. I need to look at what is on my plate, and decide what I NEED to keep on it (not to be confused with what I SHOULD keep on it). I can move slowly. I can cut what’s on my plate into smaller, bite-sized pieces. I can take as much time as I need to recover enough energy to tackle more things. It doesn’t matter what God or anyone else thinks I SHOULD be able to handle. All that matters is what I KNOW I can handle. And that’s all I need to do.
- Guilt is good: Guilt can be good. Guilt is what I feel when I know I have done something wrong. Guilt is temporary. Guilt is momentary. Guilt is what happens when I promise I will do something and I don’t fulfill that promise. Most of the “guilt” that I have felt in my lifetime is not actually guilt, but shame. Shame is never good. Shame is long-lasting. Shame is what happens when I continually beat myself up for something. Shame is how my thoughts become toxic. If I am in a relationship where I am constantly being made to feel shameful, then that relationship is toxic. No one “deserves” shame. It is okay to feel guilt for not fulfilling a promise. It is not okay to continue to shame myself, or for others to shame me, for not fulfilling that promise. It is okay for me to only be able to do what I am able, and no more.
Growing up in the Church has taught me a lot about being a kind, helpful human being. It has also taught me to put my focus on the person I can become, instead of the person I am. While this thought initially sounds like a good way to live life, it has the potential to create a lot of problems. All through my teenage years, I was inundated with messages from my Church leaders about how I can be better, and should expect nothing less than perfection from myself. Indeed, I was taught that striving for anything less than perfection is sinful. This may not be everyone’s experience, but I am sure that I am not the only person who received these messages as a kid growing up in the Church. Though it took a serious breakdown to get to this point, I have (very) recently learned about the concept of radical self acceptance, and started to implement it in my life. Radical self acceptance is accepting where and who you are at the moment, what you are feeling, and validating yourself. I have the right to feel what I am feeling right now. I am not perfect, and that is completely okay. I need not take on more than I can handle.
The idea of accepting who I am and what I am feeling right now, rather than focusing on where I SHOULD be or how I SHOULD feel, truly is radical. The idea that it is not okay to be anything other than okay doesn’t just come from the Church. As I have learned more about radical self acceptance, and have taken steps to implement it in my life, I have noticed how this act is analogous to spitting in Patriarchy’s face. I do not have to be anything other than what I am. Who I am now deserves to be validated, even though it may not fit into the Church’s or the Patriarchy’s or someone else’s idea of who I should be. And I deserve to take care of myself, instead of spending my life sacrificing for everyone else and neglecting me. I deserve to like who I am, and to be who I am now, or whoever I want to be–independent of anyone else’s opinions on the matter.
I deserve to accept me. I deserve to not continue perpetuating beliefs that, though possibly grounded in good intentions, have become toxic. I deserve to be; to have a self to accept.