Am I Safe? Am I Unsafe? Am I Worthy? Am I Unworthy? – The Mental/Emotional Minefield That Is Religion

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**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not  intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer

Being trapped in a pattern of mental illness like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is absolute hell. I have described what this “hell” looks and feels like in some detail in other blog posts here at BreakAway MHE. For this reason, I will never again do things that (for me) tend to induce experiences that have played such a destructive and demoralizing role in my life. I have reached the point where I no longer care what religious cultural forces suggest or attempt to dictate to me, no matter what material or existential consequences (they warn) I may face for my lack of adherence, conformity, allegiance, and obedience, etc. In other words, I am done giving religious cultural authority (of any kind) any benefit of the doubt whatsoever as pertains to any part of my health and well-being. Done.

Let this be the official record I make and notice I give – my personal “declaration of independence.” I will not live my life in a perpetual state of false fear (that is, to be afraid when there is no evidence that I am actually in any danger) for any reason, for anybody, and no matter what!

But why would a person who has suffered from BPD make such a fierce and stubborn boundary between himself and religious cultural authorities? The first part of the answer is that something extremely relevant and important was learned about what it means to be mentally/emotionally healthy in a human body, at least for some of us. The second part of the answer is that something extremely relevant and important was learned about what is required to remain mentally/emotionally healthy in a human body, at least for some of us.

Perhaps you could infer by the title of the article, but I willingly surrendered parts of my thinking and consciousness to a Christian religious organization (one that will not be named) for many years. It doesn’t matter what religious organization it might have been since I now realize any such organization would have influenced my thoughts and emotions (my pattern of mental illness) in a similar way. Furthermore, and to prevent any potential confusion in the reader regarding my intentions and attitude, I am not blaming my mental illness on religion, but rather being completely honest about how religion can play a definitive role in mental illness and even function to prevent a person from figuring out how to get well.

Potential mental illness aggravating factors as relates to religion will never be explained to you by people who cling to their faith, since doing so may put their faith in a bad light, plus most of them probably know very little (and very often nothing) about links between mental illness and religion. Indeed, the devoted are more likely to only speak of the potential benefits of their faith, just as people attending a multi-level marketing business meeting would only ever speak in ways that promote their business model and attract new members. My observations of the devoted furthermore informs me that they live with an underlying fear of being struck down (maybe by lightning?) for any spoken criticisms about their faith. Not me. No fear. Here I am, still writing…

The mental illness aggravating factors that I have realized can be linked to religious participation involve remaining constantly unsure (and therefore anxious) about two things: 1. When am I safe? and 2. When am I worthy? In other words, how can I know when am I safe from damnation and God’s punishments, and how can I know when I am acceptable to God as I am?

**To remain seriously concerned about these matters induces underlying anxiety. To be caught in a cycle of intermittent anxiousness is a mental illness aggravating factor for BPD that I have clearly outlined in my book 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).**

This lack of certainty regarding the above-noted matters never really ends as you participate in the Christian religion because of the way you are promised certain rewards and blessings, but then simultaneously informed you could lose access to these rewards and blessings at any moment should your behaviour disqualify you. To be fair, you are also informed that you may be eligible for grace through a higher power because of your expected mistakes, although the “grace thing” may not work out for you depending on how the judgment goes. Since no one really can say how the judgment will go for you, and you can never really know either, you are stuck wondering if your efforts (your obedience, etc.) will ever be enough to secure heavenly qualification.

In order to relieve the anxiety of never knowing the answers to the above-noted questions, a religious person is instructed to invest time and energy into acts of religious obedience, such as reading scriptures, attending church meetings, finding new members, praying, tithing, and doing service to others. Since the devotee believes his acts of obedience mean he is at least temporarily cleared from being unsafe and unworthy in the eyes of God, he then gives himself permission to relax and the anxiety goes down.

But after some time passes, he starts to again wonder if he is still safe and worthy. Since he never really knows how long he is safe and worthy, he starts having anxiety again, and so more acts of religious obedience are needed to get anxiety relief. In reality, the anxiety issue is never truly addressed because the steps being taken only produce short-lived “results” that are probably related to the placebo effect. In other words, there is no real learning how to manage thoughts and emotions skillfully when participating in religion. This pattern of temporary relief from anxiety and emotions is much like drug abuse, but good luck trying to get a devotee to look at this way!

For some religions, to rebel against this process is to risk losing connections with family and friends in the afterlife, as well as other highly valued rewards. This only means that the sense of impending loss (and therefore anxiety) is just that much more intense, and hence the individual needs to do more acts of obedience to calm the fear of losing everything he holds dear. Adding this level of threat to the religion perhaps could be compared to needing crack cocaine instead of just regular cocaine to ease the anxiety. In other words, you need a stronger high to relieve the stronger fear when the stakes are so high, meaning you need to take extra precautions (more acts of obedience) to ensure safety and worth.

When you look at a religious system from a purely biological/psychological perspective, you can see that the fight/flight/freeze mechanism is being “high-jacked” to gain compliance. This is very bad news for people with BPD since this is the very mechanism that needs to be understood and settled in order for the person to function normally. Not to mention, key BPD emotional sensitivities are being tapped over and over in a religious system, including GUILT (e.g., “I didn’t follow all the rules”), SHAME (e.g., “I am such a bad person for not following all the rules”), WORTHLESSNESS (e.g., “I am not good enough to be saved”), REJECTION (“God will not accept me as I am”), and FEAR OF ABANDONMENT (e.g., “I am going to lose all my connections because of my failures”). If you haven’t got the skills to manage all these emotions as they are repeatedly tapped, then of course, you will eventually break down or give in to get relief.

This fight/flight/freeze “high-jacking” in religion is the same thing that many companies do to market their products and ensure that they get buyers, meaning that the buyers need to believe they will reap many unwanted consequences if they don’t make the purchase. Seriously consider the similarities between systems of religion and economic systems as they appear here, then perhaps you will be as saddened and amused as I am about what people seem to be doing to each other in both contexts – creating dependency, and being destructive and abusive, without even knowing it.

The truth of the matter is that you have always been a worthy human being and you are perfectly acceptable just as you are. When you learn how to take care of your mental health, you eventually realize for yourself that nothing could ever change this – no person, no media, no marketing, no message, no cultural force, and no cultural system. You are already all that is needed to be alive and live in this world, without question. You are already part of everything that exists in the universe, without question. You are not separated from the whole. You are connected to the whole. You are safe as you are. You are worthy as you are.







photo credit: Luke Peterson Photography Church Door and Steps via photopin (license)


Thank you for reading! Please share to help us raise mental health awareness.