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Religious Oppression, Healing, and My Journey to Self-Love

By Danae ~

Self-love is a journey that cannot begin until you dig into your past and try to figure out just when, where and why you ever learned self-hate to begin with. It’s taken me years to learn that my own hatred of myself was not a result of my innate unworthiness, impurity or evilness. So what was it that pushed me to write desperate journal entries such as this one at the age of 17?

“I feel so filthy, I’m selfish, I’m gross, I’m fat, I hate myself. I don’t do anything for others. I’m such a loser. Help me if you want to. I don’t know what else I can do.”

Wow. There’s a lot to try to uncover in an entry like this. I must try to understand how a 17-year-old who didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex or bully her classmates could feel so desperately sinful beyond the hope of forgiveness. And to understand it as well as possible, I have to face the fact that it was a specific brand of fundamentalist Christianity that poisoned me and pushed me to the point of such intense helplessness, that I often found myself on my bedroom floor, writing these desperate pleas to God.

For those who are confused when I reference this type of indoctrination, let me try to give you an overview. Christianity is a form of brainwashing that presents you with a list of beliefs that not only contradict each other, but leave you feeling bad enough to want out, but loved enough to stay. The parallels to the cycle of abuse are incredible. In a nutshell, the message is as follows:

We are all innately sinful because of Adam and Eve. Christ died for you to save you from your sins. But it’s not really a freebee; you have to say a magic prayer in order for the transaction of said gift to go through. Also, I know you’re only 10 years old, but save your friends or else they will burn in hell. But God is still loving and all-knowing and all-powerful, yet the burden has been placed on your 10-year-old shoulders to bring them to the “truth.” Also, you’ve sinned, haven’t you? You’re dirty, aren’t you? Of course you are. Are you experiencing lust? That is not the result of your natural growth as a human. It’s the devil trying to keep you from walking with Christ. Oh, and since you were born with a vagina, there’s an extra set of rules for what your life should look like. And don’t forget, you’ll never be as worthy as your male counterparts. But remember…God loves you!

Ah, but the kicker is I didn’t know that this was being done to me. All I knew was that if I thought I was dirty and wrong, I must have been dirty and wrong. And the worst part is that even after I let go of the belief in a God like the one I just described, the feelings of worthlessness stuck around. And now I must find a way to navigate this world while still paralyzed by the belief that I’m inherently less than because of my gender and overall lack of value.

It can be difficult explaining to family and friends why my experiences with religion have left me feeling this way. The negative effects of physical and sexual abuse are generally understood. But religious abuse has yet to be fully recognized as not only real, but extremely harmful.

Additionally, when something is triggering my past experiences, it’s hard to recognize it as a trigger and not just me being overly sensitive. A sexist remark that may not have been intended as such can push me over the edge. I get angry. To the rest of the world it appears to be an overreaction. I’ve become that angry feminist who should calm the fuck down. On top of all the chaos, I can’t even explain to myself why something has bothered me so intensely. It makes dating the opposite sex not only challenging, but also borderline impossible.

Most of my postings have focused on the media’s contributions to feelings of inadequacy, and I stand by my argument that those influence have no doubt contributed. However, all women are exposed to these forces. All women see magazines and movies and advertisements that tell them they aren’t good enough. But not all women find themselves in a situation where they are so broken they cannot make the kinds of connections with others that they so long for and deserve. It makes it clear that there’s an underlying issue…that self-hate was not only taught to me from society, but also from exposure to a toxic form of religion.

I hope someone will read this and know that they are not alone. No matter what you feel, there is someone else out there going through the same thing. The journey to self-love is not one you have to travel alone. I am here.