Ex Church of Christ support group

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Why do I feel so guilty?

One of the problems when leaving a sect is the irrational guilt:

  1. You have studied the subject. You clearly disagree enough to leave the hardline church. Now you are ready to move on.

  2. But you feel guilty:
    a. Afraid they might be right, or
    b. Worry about hurting your family's feelings.

    A. Afraid they might be right:

    Even if the hardline Churches of Christ might be right, that does not mean you will be lost if you disagree, and go somewhere else. There is only one perfect Person in the Bible. All the others were very imperfect, but they are held up for us to imitate their faith. As we imitate their imperfect faith we are encouraged by the fact that God accepted their faith. Perfect faith was never a requirement for salvation in the Bible stories.

    B. Worry about hurting your family's feelings:

    One of the defenses that helped us survive as children in a dysfunctional environment was to feel guilty whenever we became angry at our parents. First of all, that guilt helped us to rein in our anger and helped us to sustain a survivable relationship as children. Secondly that guilt was based on the fantasy that our parents were always right, and the reason we were unhappy was because we had not measured up to their requirements to be loved by them. As long as we hold onto this fantasy we have the hope that we can one day be healed by measuring up to their requirements and finally receiving the love we need.

    If we give up this fantasy of their perfection, then we have to face the fact that the amount of love we have received is all they were capable of delivering, and to wait for more is futile. We will have to find it elsewhere in others. And it will be difficult to have the trust in others to deliver more love, when our first models did not deliver.

    This is especially obvious in adults who still live with their parents on into their thirties. They feel morally obligated to take care of the needs of their parents, be their parents' best friend, emotionally uphold their parents, and even sometimes mediate their parents' spats. They worry if they move out they will disappoint their parents, and that they will somehow be morally wrong for doing so. Almost anyone can see the folly in this story.

    But when it comes to leaving the family church, the same issues apply. We cannot bear to disappoint our parents because we are afraid we will lose out on the last shreds of love they have to offer us. And having grown up in a sectarian household, there wasn't enough love to go around. So we are all the more dependent on them to dole out the meager rations of love. Guilt, in this instance, is a hanging on to the fantasy that they are perfect, and we are shmucks for not being lovable enough. The alternative is to believe that they are very limited parents and we are bereft.

    How they get you to come back to the fight:

    Once you realize it is of no use to argue any longer, it takes great effort to stop repeating the useless interactions with family and friends. Once you extricate yourself they have almost foolproof methods of drawing you back in:

    1. The gift: How can you stay away when they have given you such a nice gift?

    2. The half-truth: Someone from your family tells a half-truth about what you said, and the story gets back to you. How can you resist correcting them, just this once?

    3. The insult that you just have to reply to, or at least correct their wrong understanding of who you are.

    4. The nice visit that lures you into thinking the next visit will be just as nice.

    Goal: Build a loving group of friends that:

    1. Respects your emotions: mad, sad, glad and scared.

    2. Respects your boundaries: knocks before they enter your room, calls before they come over, doesn't read your mail, lets you make your own decisions, doesn't touch you inappropriately.

    3. Respects your faith journey: you have the right to ask questions and to explore and examine your own heart, the same way all the great people of faith did in the Bible.

    4. Doesn't make fun of you. Doesn't sneer at you. Doesn't ridicule you. Doesn't lose their temper at you.

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