Bad Habits Developed From Growing Up In An Authoritarian, Christian Household

To start, this post is not bashing Christianity. Many of us could blame Christianity or other religions for what happened to us as a child or why we deal with so much anxiety and pain to this day, but I’m discussing the habits that fuel that anxiety and fear based on our own perception of having Christian parents with authoritarian aspects. This isn’t about the religion itself, but rather, the destructive point of view one can develop if they don’t remember to show themselves compassion and forgiveness. Yes, a Pagan who was once Christian is behind this, but please hear me out. I speak about the following bad habits and my personal experience developing those habits respectfully. I blame no one.

Perfectionism

Although we are most likely told in Christian upbringings that we make mistakes and that we’re imperfect creatures that simply need to repent for our sins, we may believe otherwise. An early introduction to the Christian god and his power can add a type of pressure that appears to demand not just repentance, but performance. Some of us may strive to become sinless by trying to gain validation from our parents; they are the ones who introduced us to God after all. Here’s the truth: as long as you’re human, you’re going to make mistakes and the most important type of validation is from yourself. Inevitably, it’s up to us whether we let our mistakes punish us or help us grow. You may feel inclined to exact a type of judgment on yourself to understanding who God is, but you’re still doing that to yourself. Perfectionism is a ridiculously high ideal. It’s not meant to be reached. Neither is reaching a level of sinlessness at God’s level according to Christian belief. You may sin, repent, be saved, then sin again, repent, repeat…Why not accept that sinning or making mistakes is part of the human experience? It’s wiser to consider your life as a learning curve than placing yourself in a position where you’re starving for acceptance. Accept yourself, flaws and all.

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Judging Prematurely

Here’s the thing about judgment: it’s all projection. Judging someone or something prematurely and rashly is very common in religious circles. If you live in an authoritarian household with a Christian view, the last thing you want is for any type of judgment to fall upon you. In fact, it may pass down from your parents on to you and then you want to relieve yourself of it so badly that you pass on your judgments to your siblings, friends, classmates, coworkers, or whoever. Premature judgment is a projection of fear. It’s a subconscious way of dodging a bullet you think God is itching to point at you on judgment day. If you feel your parents are judging you and using the bible to add on extra weight, it’s not just unhealthy to carry that, but it’s just as bad passing that on to others. Consider being open to other’s life stories and gaining the whole truth before coming to a conclusion about them. If you feel you can’t understand the whole truth or you just flat out don’t want to, then mind your own business. Reflect on what’s happening within you and why judgment from your parents, fellow churchgoers, or God encourages you to apply the same pressure to others in your life. Christian circles often come off as one big family. Toxicity like gossip can tear families apart and damage who you are as well.

(Quick side note: The book above, Running on Empty by Jonice Webb is absolutely EXCELLENT. My first therapist recommended I get it and it woke me up.)

You Believe Your Needs Aren’t As Important As God’s

How quick are you to dismiss whether your needs or desires aren’t as important as someone else’s? If you grew up with authoritarian Christian parents, you were probably often told what held the most importance at the time. I don’t mean being told you need to eat dinner before dessert so your appetite isn’t spoiled. I mean being told if God would want you to do something the way you’re thinking of doing or if God wants you to hang out with the friends you’re wanting to hang out with. God constantly interjects into your life decisions, which is part of the Christian lifestyle. However, your self-reliance and self-trust should NOT deteriorate while you’re living a Christian life or any lifestyle for that matter. According to Christian belief, understanding God completely is near impossible, but with the guidance of the Bible, you should be able to know what you should and should not do, but in the vastness of humanity, the millions of perspectives that exist, we probably don’t all see the Bible the same way. So if your parents are pushing you to see something their way rather than encouraging you to understand God on your own, that can summon a lot of self-doubt as an adult. It is not healthy to diminish your own self-trust and I feel many Christians would agree that God shouldn’t be used in derogatory means anyway. 

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You Have To Fear Everything That Isn’t Christian

I truly hope this one doesn’t offend anyone, but as someone who was once Christian, this was one of the hardest things to break away from. If you combine the three previous points, perfectionism, judgment, and lack of self-trust, you have all the ingredients for pure paranoia. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you have self-acceptance, an open-mind, and a strong ethical stance you trust yourself to follow as a Christian, you won’t feel inclined to be in a state of fear of everything that appears as “secular” or “unholy”. I have friends who are Christian who often have nothing but love to give. They may not understand why I’m Pagan, but they do know me beyond my own belief system, just as I know them and we decide the parameters of our friendship respectfully so we have interconnectivity, a network of understanding founded in compassion. If you grew up in an authoritarian Christian household, you may have thought fear was healthy. I’m not talking about the type of instinctual fear that lets you know when danger is around, but the deep-sinking fear amplified by anxiety, hypothetical punishments, harsh self-judgment, and limited information. The fear that encourages you to fear life even with God being there is not healthy. Period.

Conclusion

I know what it’s like growing up in a Christian household that is practically militant. You don’t want to step out of line and face consequences, you don’t want to accept any type of judgment you don’t fully understand, you don’t want to suffer for being human and so you aim to be otherwise. You may think I’d want to blame my parents for this, but that wouldn’t be fair. They have their lives and I’ll never know wholly how they grew up and what exactly they passed down to me. Ultimately, they love me and what I can do in response to their choices about my upbringing is decide what is or isn’t healthy for me to hold on to.

When it comes to reflecting on my thoughts, emotions, and decisions, even as a child, I still must address my accountability. Yes, all children are impressionable, but we do make certain choices whether our parents try to influence them or not. Even with the parents I had, I snuck a Harry Potter book, I read occult books in the library, I looked up telekinesis and witchcraft online, I found “secular” rock/metal/goth bands that I still listen to today. Yes, there were times the pressure of authoritarian parenting shook me to my core and God in the mix of that amplified my fear, but my ability to choose was never really restrained. Free will and all that, right? To be honest, I feel lucky compared to some other children, and I’m a pastor’s kid. With them and myself in mind, I guess I wrote this as a way of saying it’s not too late to break away from the unhealthy habits you developed during childhood. You don’t have to change your religion. No need to be angry at your parents. You should simply change and be patient with yourself through the transition. Bad habits like these die hard.

Thanks for reading. Referring back to my novel, my protagonist grows up in a theocracy because these are the bad habits I’d like to address. I consider this “research” for the sake of character development and world building.

Also, there’s a second part to the previous book I mentioned before. Check it out if you’re interested.

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