I can’t stop thinking about David’s comment:
Guilt and inadequacy are, I think, a natural consequence of growing up evangelical. I’ve noticed that there are very few socially acceptable ways for evangelicals to say something *nice* about themselves, but dozens and dozens to talk about how bad they are. Your average evangelical could cure cancer *while* building an orphanage and still be convinced she was a terrible sinner unworthy of praise.
Isn’t that so true?
I wonder where the guilt and inadequacy started. The Protestant notion of sinfulness? Calvinism? An obsession with heaven and hell? The urgency of making a decision for Christ? The emphasis on our faith, our decision? The fear of works-based salvation? Fear in general?
Or is it not the doctrines, per se, but rather the people hearing those doctrines — i.e., Christian millennials growing up in Christian households, hearing that they’re going to hell for all their childhood disobedience and crushes and mistakes — that fall into a cycle of self-criticism? It always seems to be Christian kids with good hearts and high hopes who burn out and quit, suicidal and psychologically strained.
Is it legalism? I don’t think that is the answer. I ditched the legalistic rules a long time ago, and that doesn’t stop the guilt and inadequacy.
There’s something more self-sustaining than a legalistic community’s rules — something that keeps us coming back to communities or doctrines or lifestyles that burn us out. I don’t know where it started, but I do know it looks exactly as David described — an impossible search for virtue, where no good deed goes recognized or unquestioned to death.
I do to myself what others have done to me, a particular kind of shame tactic that always keeps you down and never allows yourself to have succeeded or accomplished anything good. When I was first coming out of the stay-at-home daughter lifestyle, I worked hard to get good PSAT scores, land a National Merit scholarship, and get accepted to Hillsdale College. It was the start of a new life for me.
But that wasn’t enough for the anti-fundies. “A National Merit scholarship doesn’t mean much, anyway.” “Hillsdale College isn’t that impressive.” “She’s still stuck in conservative world.”
Nothing, nothing was good enough for them.
Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
This sort of manipulation turns virtue into vice, and leaves you feeling inadequate and guilty all the stinkin’ time, even if you are building an orphanage. But with religious guilt, it’s a self-manipulation. It’s something you carry with you even if you block the manipulators from speaking into your life. It’s a mindset that poisons how you see yourself.
Poisons everything, really.
As I was driving home from holiday festivities, I realized that my problem wasn’t knowing who I was. I know very much who I am — my talents, my dreams, my beliefs, my faults. I’m a self-aware person, generally. But that self-awareness was no match for the guilt and inadequacy. I wasn’t confident being who I was, doing the things I loved to do, speaking the things I believed. Who I was wasn’t good enough, wasn’t right, wasn’t blameless, wasn’t like this or like that, wasn’t…well, there must be something horribly wrong with me.
Of course, there was no going back to the person I once was or the beliefs I once held, but there didn’t seem to be anything going forward, either.
Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
That’s what I’d like to work on this year — finding the source of the guilt and the inadequacy, putting it in a little box, and smashing it to pieces so it never finds me again. I took the big leap of paying for therapy, so we’ll see if that gets me anywhere. I’ll let you know.
Did you ever find the source of the guilt and the inadequacy? How did you smash it?