Friendships

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In general I believe that friendship is complicated and complex because we are all human and human beings are complicated and complex. But this is an especially difficult topic for me.  And I don’t think it should be. It is kind of embarrassing for me to talk about because I think for most people it is a basic skill that you learn growing up. For me it feels so overwhelming and complicated and like a job. I don’t think I really understand how friendships really work for normal people who don’t grow up in isolation and fundamentalism.

A very embarrassing example of my warped idea of making friends is when I was about 13 or 14 I wrote a letter to some boy I liked at church “offering my friendship”. I don’t even know what to say about that but it is clear that is not the way a 14 year old should be making friends. But when your only human interaction outside of home is at church and when you never see any kind of positive adult interaction or forging of friendships, it is rather difficult to learn how to make friends. I have no memories of seeing my parents interacting with and fostering friendships. And considering they are the only people I saw for most of my entire childhood, that has a huge impact on my friendship making skills.

I have actually talked to my dad quite a bit about this. He straight up asked me one day if I thought he was a good dad and if I felt that he had failed at the social-emotional development part of raising children. Because he finally noticed our struggles. I relish these kinds of talks with my dad. They don’t happen often but they have always shown me that he is actually taking stock of what he did as a father and how it has impacted his children. And then apologizing for all of the things he did or didn’t do that hurt us. That is everything. My mother has not and will not do that. In both my parents cases it was really about absence. They were absent and so I had no one to learn from. And what I did learn was that they would rather be doing something else than spending time with me.

In fundamentalism we also have this ridiculous amount of pressure on young people to marry, as if that is the ultimate goal in life and the only thing you’re truly meant to do. “Get married and start having babies.” I am not talking about crushes. And I am not talking about hormones and attraction and interest that are normal for any teenager. I am talking about the kind of pressure put on a 14 year old girl that any boy that she even speaks to could possibly be her future husband. Do you know how incredibly stressful and intimidating that is? And how awkward that makes you as a teenager constantly thinking about whether or not that boy is going to be your husband. Teenagers are not supposed to be thinking about marriage and possible future spouses. They should be making friends and learning how to get along with their peers.

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The fact that I did not get married right out of college like almost every single other person I know (this is within fundamentalist and homeschooling circles, which was my entire world) means that that whole marriage thing has made me feel  like I failed at life. I no longer feel that way. But I also have no single friends. I really have no one. It’s like starting life all over again. Except I’m already an adult. And I feel stupid asking people how to make friends.

I’ve never really had a best friend. I don’t have a childhood friend that I will always be friends with forever. I have a few people in my life right now that I would consider my best friend but I am not sure if the feeling is mutual. And in that case, if the feeling isn’t mutual,  are they really my best friend? I have never once in my life gone up to someone and introduced myself. Meeting new people causes me severe anxiety and it is crippling.  I am an adult but I feel like a child stumbling around.

I guess one of my biggest problems is understanding that there are different levels of friendship. It’s a concept I have such an incredibly hard time with because I look at friendship as all-or-nothing. And I’m not sure why that is. It may very well be because of the isolation but I have a feeling there is more to it than that. For me, my friends are people that I am there for for anything and everything. And if I can’t do that I feel like we aren’t friends at all. I know that sounds extreme. I think it is. That’s why it is so difficult for me. But I have observed-especially outgoing people who have a wide circle of friends-that there are the kinds of friends who are much more casual and don’t take up as much time in your life and that is ok. They are still your friend.

Doubts: Knowledge vs. Faith

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I think some people are going to be shocked at how much I have changed. I am quite shocked myself at how much I’ve changed in the past year or so. But I have also never felt so free in my entire life. I am ashamed to say that at 28 years old, this is the first time that I am actually asking questions. I see my doubts as a blessing. It has not always been that way.

I honestly grew up in my fundamentalist homeschooling Christian home with constant doubts. You want to know how many times I “got saved”? At least 5 or 6 times between the ages of 4 and 19. Why did I spend 26 years living in utter fear of asking any kind of question that might lead me away from faith in a book and a God that I have never seen any evidence of? Fear. Complete and utter terrifying fear. Because somehow having doubts and asking questions means that you are in a bad place, backsliding, rebellious, aren’t trusting God enough, or Satan and his demons are taking control of your mind. How about I’m just a normal human being who has questions about how the world actually works. I sometimes think that that is exactly what fundamentalist Christians want. For their children, and everyone really, to be in constant fear. How is that a way to live.

I think that knowledge is infinitely more important than faith. Why should I believe everything in a supposedly infallible, inspired “word of God” book? Why should I believe that fundamentalist Baptists are the only people who are correct and every single other religion and belief on the face of the planet is wrong? Because someone told me to!? No. I want to say I believe something because I have searched it out and found proof and because I know and understand it. Not because someone said it is the only right way. Not because if “feels” right. And certainly not because that’s what my parents believed. Knowledge is power. The more you know about anything the better off you are.

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I have never understood why fundamentalist Christian’s are so threatened by knowledge. Pensacola Christian College did not even offer any psychology courses except in the nursing program. Why? Because it’s “of the world” and “evil.” Why are they so afraid for their college students to learn about psychology? In fact, in my freshman English class my final project/paper was titled “Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology” And the only reason I actually chose that topic is because I was the last to get the list and it was the last topic left on the list. It is the only paper I have ever written that I got a terrible grade on.

I believe that I have been put at a great disadvantage in my education. If there is anything in my life that I continue to regret and cannot let go of it is my sub-par education. And no I do not call it sub-par because it wasn’t vigorous or challenging enough. I call it that because it is biased. I did not learn about evolution. I did not learn about other religions. I did not learn about philosophy, and psychology and a host of other important things. It is unfortunate because I actually find psychology incredibly fascinating. If I could go back in time I probably would have gone to school for that and become a counselor or therapist. The way our brains work is so fascinating and complicated and I eat up the information. Why is it a threat to Christians for their children to learn about these things and then go and decide for themselves what they believe based on what they know. Instead it is “this is what mom and dad and pastor and the bible say is right and it is the only way so you better believe it or else…”

If the God of the KJV bible is real then what I see is an incredibly arrogant and cruel God. Why would God create human beings who he knew (because God knows everything) were going to go and do and be things that he would then want to send them to eternal torture and damnation for? Why would he even create them? Why? Why would he dare to give people “free will” and then go and throw them into hellfire for using that free will and not believing in him and the Holy Spirit? Why? Why should I believe that God created the earth? Because the Bible says so!? Who wrote the Bible? A whole lot of people over a whole lot of time. Who’s to say that Moses didn’t have a mental illness. Why should I base my entire life’s existence on that? I am no longer afraid to ask questions.

I love to read. I love to read anything and everything. And I am thankful that I have that. If I could I would spend the rest of my life going to school.

Listen

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I am an excellent listener. It’s not  because I’m not a big talker but rather that I have spent my whole life listening. When you feel invisible, the only thing there is to do is listen. To everything. I will admit people have told me things I wish they hadn’t. And yet no matter how awful it was I still could not bring myself to tell anyone. I was sworn to secrecy. I suppose listening well is a good skill to have and yet it has been something that people have used to take advantage of me. Like someone telling me about something they were doing that was illegal. And what a crushing burden that is.

I am a very loyal person to the people that are part of my life. And I also have a very strong sense of justice. If someone is being unjust or someone is being treated unjustly I react very strongly. But I couldn’t go back on my word either. I have been “accused” of being honest to a fault or too honest. And though those terms were not used as compliments it is true. When I speak, I will always say what’s true. As you can probably imagine that combination of loyalty and justice and being truthful and needing to keep my word made my head feel like it was going to explode. And really I was not being true to myself. I stayed in a situation that brought me great pain because I did not have the guts to remove myself from it.

I don’t believe in saying things to intentionally and maliciously hurt someone. But I also don’t believe that you can be “too honest.” Saying something that hurts someone is unkind and often not necessary. But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that telling the truth is unkind. If you think that what you have to say to someone is unkind and hurtful and yet you think it is also true then you probably need to examine your own heart and see why it is that you feel that way. More often then not it is something coming from you and not a truthful statement about the other person. But sometimes the truth does hurt. And in those cases you need to consider whether or not saying something is going to help or hinder. Sometimes the best way to tell the truth and be honest is to just not say anything at all. Sometimes being honest is about listening.

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The absolute biggest problem I have with dishonesty is when people tell you what they think you might want to hear. They don’t care whether or not it is actually true, they simply want to appease you. I do not want to be appeased. Say it like it is or don’t say it to me at all. That appeasing will eventually come to light and you only end up hurting someone more. It is really a kind of manipulation. You say something that you think will make someone happy or make them feel better or convince them that you want the same things that they do but in the end you are ultimately concerned with yourself and what you get out of it. I think being a person of integrity means being true to your convictions and telling the truth. Why would you want to convince someone that you want something that you don’t actually want? Be true. Say it like it is. Don’t manipulate people’s emotions by pretending that you are someone that you are not.

I cry every single time I hear this song.  I think it is incredible. In my opinion, the whole idea of a superhero is not to say “look at me and how amazing and great I am.” A superhero is sacrificial, honest and just. He/She is concerned with doing the right thing for the most people. The myth of a superhero is fun to think about and be entertained by but YOU may very well be a superhero to someone in your life. People with integrity are superheroes.

I want to make it clear that I am not writing this blog to try to get people to feel sorry for me. I’m taking control. Taking control of MY STORY instead of letting my past and other people control me. I’m not gong to waste my pain. And I’m not going to let anyone else try to tell me what my story is. No one can rewrite your history unless you let them.

 

When no one ever asks “how do you feel?” or “what do you think?”

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I think the first time I was asked my opinion about something was in high school in government class. I don’t remember what it was I was being asked about but what I do remember is being completely terrified that I had to actually say what I thought out loud.  “What do I think? I have no idea what I think!” This feeling of terror and paralyzing fear continued all throughout high school and college. No one had ever asked what I thought before so why should they suddenly care what I think now.

A child’s development includes cognitive and social-emotional development as well as physical. I do not understand why but there is a common opinion in Christian homeschooling circles that socialization is some kind of joke, as if it isn’t really all that necessary. It’s a question that homeschooling parents get all the time. “Well what about socialization?” “Oh they get socialization at church on Sunday.”  Social and emotional development are vital to a child being able to grow up into a functioning, contributing member of society. Socialization is really just learning from other people. But if a child spends very limited amounts of time with people in general or significant amounts of time with socially dysfunctional people that socialization is lost.  It is not about “being in touch with your feelings.” Well, actually it is. But not in the way that I think  a lot of people take that phrase to mean.  You do need to be in touch with your feelings. You need to and should learn as a child what emotions are, to be able to recognize emotions in yourself, and to be able to regulate and manage those emotions. Then when a difficult situation arises you are able to recognize how you are feeling and regulate so that you don’t have a mental breakdown.  Or have to spend years and years as an adult in therapy.

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I have no memories from my childhood of seeing my parents interacting with other adults or fostering friendships. I really never learned how to interact with people and make friends. I have recently been a little shocked thinking about my childhood and how isolated and alone I was. Neglected is the appropriate term here. My earliest memory is of myself climbing up on a dresser and getting a bottle of fluoride vitamins from the doctor off the shelf and then sitting down in a circle with my brother and sister and feeding them and myself the entire bottle. Where was my mother? I have no idea. But we ended up in the hospital getting our stomachs pumped. And that is how I remember my childhood. I never knew where my mother was. Sometimes she was sleeping. Sometimes she was off doing “errands” or “spending time alone.” I mostly just remember solitude. I took care of my siblings the best I could but I was alone.

For years I felt that there was no possible way that anyone would want to know what I thought or how I felt about things. My parents rarely if ever asked how or what I was feeling as a child. And in fact my mother not only didn’t ask but she actually indicated through her responses and actions that any emotions I was feeling were not something she wanted to deal with. I do not remember one single conversation with my mother about how I was feeling about a situation. And there were lots of situations that I had feelings about. The problem is I learned that what I felt and thought was unimportant and even an annoyance in my home. So I hid. And I listened. I am a very good listener. But I was invisible.

So ask. Ask your children what they are feeling. If they don’t know or understand what they are feeling help them figure it out so they can label their emotions. And as they learn to label and recognize their feelings in all situations they will also learn how to regulate and appropriately express themselves. This is something I currently still struggle with so much and am getting help with. I tend to either completely shut down and not say or express anything or I basically have miniature mental breakdowns because I honestly do not know how to regulate and manage my emotions very well. That makes for a very difficult time trying as an adult to be normal (and by normal I mean functioning and contributing not absence of weirdness).

I am currently reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and I am excited to review it. I also just finished reading Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman with a forward by the aforementioned Goleman. I highly highly recommend it not only for parents but for anyone who cares for children. Do not read To Train Up A Child. Read this.

 

Where Is the Happiness?

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This being my first post I would like to preface it by saying that these things are incredibly hard to write about. As in I am sometimes literally shaking as I type out the words. It is going to be very raw. But it is time to tell my story. And it is just that, MY STORY.

I just recently read through my journal from high school and I laughed and cried. I did not laugh because I was particularly funny but because of the naiveté and obvious pain there on the pages. It’s more a painful laugh than a joyful laugh. Of course almost all teenagers are naive. But I was living in a home school, fundamentalist Christian home and therefore extremely sheltered, and therefore especially naive. The lines read as very optimistic and hopeful even though the entries are quite inconsistent throughout the years. It’s funny because my life was actually hell. But I was in too much distress to even write about all of the bad things. In fact a lot of things I didn’t even begin to remember until just recently. In some of the entries you can see little bits and pieces of confusion as to why horrible things were happening to me even though I was doing what everyone said I should be doing. Doing the “right” things. Being the good little Christian girl.

I have a hard time explaining what it was I was trying to say in those journal entries. Because while it is hopeful it is also incredibly fearful and confused. The desperate searching for some kind of direction and answers, and the praying to God to stop the screaming and yelling of my parents, and to save me from depression that I did not know at the time was really depression and from thoughts of suicide. At that time it wasn’t anything dramatic or drastic. I simply wished more often than not that I didn’t exist. I was quite certain that everyone’s lives would be much better if I wasn’t there. I couldn’t do enough to make things better. And guess what… the praying, and praying, and praying, and reading my bible, and praying, and praying, and praying… it didn’t work. Not only did it not work, but things continuously got worse as the years went by. So much so that I eventually did have a plan as to how I would kill myself (I have never told anyone but my therapist about this, but I feel now that it is important to say as I am reflecting on how and why I got to that place.)

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I’ve talked to my therapist a little bit recently about how I perceived my relationship towards God growing up. I couldn’t answer right away. It honestly took me a while to sit down and really think about that. I came to the conclusion that it was always one of fear and mistrust. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have heard the whole line about how Christians are the only ones who can know and understand and experience real joy and happiness in their lives. And yet I never witnessed that in my home. My parents were some of the most miserable people I’ve ever known. Absolutely no sign of this “Christian” joy or happiness. So yes my relationship towards God was one of fear that one wrong move on my part would destroy my entire future. And one of mistrust because what my Christian, fundamentalist, homeschooling home was supposed to be is not what it actually was.

I have not attended a Baptist church (or any church) since December because I was literally having anxiety attacks and because I really don’t know that I believe what they believe anymore. What I have found to be so interesting though in the year or so that I have been living away from the home that I lived in for 26 years is that some of the kindest, happiest people I know now don’t attend church at all or even believe in God. That’s right! I know an atheist who is completely kind, compassionate, honest, sweet, sincere, understanding and most of all a genuine and real person. This person is more pleasant to be around than most of the Christians I have ever known. So where is this supposed joy and happiness that is exclusive to Christians? Why are some of the nastiest, most hateful people professing Christians? And why am I not seeing complete and utter misery in the lives of those who are not Christians? Because that is what I was told and that is not what I see. I am seeing quite the opposite. And I saw the complete and utter misery in my “Christian” home every single day.

What was your relationship towards God and/or religion growing up? What was/is your perspective on happiness in the lives of Christians and non-Christians?