TrueScotsman

Losing Your Faith and Mental Health

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TrueScotsman    249

There are many different kinds of testimonies on this website, some represent a triumph where the person couldn't be more elated to have moved on from what they believe were delusions and constraints from the Christian faith.  I think there is for all Ex-Christians a realization of the chasm that we have now surpassed, namely that the weight of judgment and performance is ended and the threat of hell extinguished.  Everyone can sigh a relief, even though we're doomed to oblivion still.  What I see more and more, and has been my own experience is that a loss of faith precipitated a mental health breakdown, most commonly seen in serious bouts of depression or activation of childhood bullshit previously kept in submission by religion.  

 

What are we to make of this phenomenon?  It is a question that has had major significance for me of course, and I have seen it intimately in other family members even.  How do we bridge the gap from a shift in a belief, to a correlation of mental health problems.  In this thread, I will make several observations about the role of religion is in mental health, and also conclude with some of my personal speculation on why monotheistic religions, such as Christianity or Islam constitute such a major change in cognitive behavior that it can sometimes lead to significant health challenges.  

 

Point #1 | The Genetics of Depression

 

Since the most commonly suffered ailment of those who come out of Christianity is Depression, this is a particularly interesting case to examine.  What we find is that when it comes to heritability, we do see that it is heritable in a different way.  These genes when turned on, are only really activated through childhood trauma or other related stressors which can occur in formative years.  This was true in my case, as I have a nearly perfect score on the Adverse Childhood Experience test, and also true for my siblings who now all deal with similar issues as myself.  This brings the next connection point of trauma and its relationship to the genetic predisposition to mental health problems, but also how trauma can relate to spirituality and religion.

 

Point #2 | Trauma and Meaning

 

This combination of a genetic predisposition and associated trauma is a trap that many people sadly face, as it lays the foundation as well for questioning religion.  Here is an excerpt of an interesting study on this subject which can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3269830/

 

"Religious and spiritual cognitions should be considered in the context of trauma, because religious beliefs comprise a substantial part of many people’s global meaning system and therefore inform their coping responses (Park, 2005), and because they address issues of existential meaning, which may be called into question by trauma (Janoff-Bulman, 1992). Most often, religious meaning systems provide a helpful vehicle for making sense of seemingly random, nonsensical, or tragic events, by seeing them as part of a larger, more benign plan (Frazier et al., 2004; Pargament, 1997). Indeed, religion can be involved in changing the appraised meaning of a stressful situation by (a) providing a means to make more benign reattributions, (b) helping the individual to see the positive aspects of the stressful situation, and (c) facilitating perceptions of stress-related growth (Park, 2005)."

 

This study also points to the fact that religion is used as an aid, albeit archaic one, for managing the stress from trauma as it becomes integrated with your memory by becoming integrated in your meaning system.  The problem can become worse though, when such beliefs become deprogrammed and the integration of those memories is broken up.  Here I will get into what I speculate is the case given my experiences and research on the subject.

 

Speculation 

 

The example of Martin Luther's guilt is an example of mental health surely, but also of how obsessed one can become when one truly considers the reality of a divine judge.  The guilt you feel for having lied, or masturbated, or having sex, or even just not believing enough can be crippling as a Christian.  This guilt management can for many people be a sort of container for what I would consider larger mental health problems, manifested in the obsession with guilt.  However, for even the average Christian it becomes an embedded cognitive habit which is exceedingly difficult for people to break, as some here even have trouble separating the concept of hell from this feeling which creates all sorts of odd cognitive dissonance after the fact.  The thing is, is that those who suffer from major depression also deal with tremendous guilt, or what I would characterize as self-aggression which can be exacerbated by the cognitive patterns given by Christianity, but without the absolution of having that guilt taken away by the mechanisms of forgiveness.  

 

You also have a preponderance of trauma which is generated by the church itself, whether that be through sexual molestation of children by ministers, as has been reported on this site countless times sadly.  The beliefs themselves can be traumatizing, if you as a child are introduced to the concept of eternal torment and the conception that loved ones will be there.  This means that you're setup for all the reasons to doubt your faith, such as it appears to be bullshit (i.e. hell), hypocrisy and harm from supposed believers, and of course the suffering experienced in your own lives which contradicts the idea of a benevolent god.  

 

But for many here, they also have been setup for a trap of mental health but find in many cases a nihilistic conception of the world to hold on to which will feed the despair and anguish.  What I mean is that having always looked outside of oursevles for that which gives us meaning, and that what we are grateful for, I think the challenge each of us faces in the absence of the divine is to truly address our humanity and our own existence.  Yeah I don't believe in god, but what do I believe in now?  What do I stand for, and what gets me up and gives me purpose in the morning?  These are not questions which are made irrelevant or unanswerable by the absence of religion, religion only gave us the illusion that there was only one right choice when really we get to make it up.  There is no ideal blueprint for life, and the acceptance of our past as not the result of cosmic evil but of natural causes which when reflected on should promote compassion and forgiveness independent of some mandate that we do it or we won't be forgiven.  

 

What I am saying is that even though losing your faith may precipitate a mental health episode in your life, don't forget that reality has far more tools to help you in these battles than superstition ever did.  Just make sure you don't lose community with others, as the reality is we are all social beings who need relatively healthy doses of human contact to maintain stability.  Understanding your biological and psychological nature gives you the freedom to explore answers based in science, rather than having to grasp in agony waiting on god.

 

These are my thoughts and speculations on this subject matter, what are your thoughts about the relationship between losing your faith and mental health, and what has worked for you after the fact in order to move forward if you did have these challenges?

 

Thanks for reading,

TS

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MOHO    446

Wow, @TrueScotsman,

 

You obviously put a lot of effort into that. I clicked on the links to validate them but did not go into each very far. (Lazy!)

 

I went through, and am experiencing some lingering affects of, something similar to what you described. in fact I think I could describe it as an amalgamation of all of your points or concepts.

 

    1. I"m screwed because I'm not feeling Jesus.

    2. Wait! This stuff (xtian doctrine) sounds more and more like b.S. the more I dig into it.

    3. This stuff IS B.S.

    4. Cool! There's no Hell!

    5. Crap! No afterlife either.

    6. I'm a bad person for looking at naked ladies on the Interwebs AND there is no one to forgive me for it.

   

Fortunately for me I never allowed xianity to be my purpose in life so I was able to get up and get to work each day and not need to dwell on this too much. A good day at work, a  quick 40 minutes on the stair stepper, then a glass of grape juice with Mrs. MOHO seems to be enough.

 

Anyway You summed  up the short comings of religion, and how leaving it can be painful, well and finished off with the general solution of science, psychology, and reality.

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Lost    33
 

These are my thoughts and speculations on this subject matter, what are your thoughts about the relationship between losing your faith and mental health, and what has worked for you after the fact in order to move forward if you did have these challenges?

 

 

After losing faith or actually in a moment when I was hit in a brain with sentence "what if there is no god and he is like a policeman who controls our thoughts and actions" I experienced depersonalization episode, kind of panic attack. I didn't know what is happening with my brain. I thought that I will loose my consciousness, stop talking or forget who I am?

 

This felt so real and i felt like some sort of curtain was put on my brain.

 

So, I was ignoring this strange states of mind, focusing on daily duties to kind of come back to previous good feelings in brain.

 

In my case it was stupid, cause I started having doubts about Christianity before baptism in Evangelical Church and was afraid to tell the church that I don't have conviction. As a result I go to church for 6 years and pretend to be a believer or sometimes feel like a believer.

 

As most people in Poland where I live I was baptized in Catholic Church and when I was 8 years old after my mum's death I started enjoying religion classes at school, praying to God, listen some stories that nun was telling us. I treated God as a protector, who will take care of me while my dad was working and I was home alone. Other kids with full families didn't understand what I go through.

 

Because of lack of mum and grandmothers in my life I am kind of emotionally unstable and look weird and envy at other girls who do everything with their mums. I thought that God and church will be a part of my entire world till I die. I was saying myself "Well even if the rest members of my family will die I will have God and church wherever I will go".

 

TrueScotsman  Definitely and unfortunately I went crazy and insane and I became a shopaholic after losing faith. I also collect lots of things in my room like a sick hoarder. Goimg for shopping makes me not to think about my strange life that no one around me understands.

 

I have a friend who was under psychiatric health care since age 7 and she said to me that she would kill herself if Jesus wouldn't rescue her. Imagine her, starting having doubts about Christianity (well one day I guess she will start having doubts if I ever admit to her that I don't have faith anymore).

 

Question is...how really secular world can help someone who's whole life is based on psychiatric health care, medications? Secular world offers only therapists, psychiatrics, mental hospitals, medications. For many people it's a hell and I am not surprised that these people start to pray to God to get them out from this meaningless world. But what will happen if an ex-mentally ill person starts to having doubts about faith that gave her or him the last hope for a normal life?

 

I watched lots of Atheists debates on You Tube, but I don't know any Atheist who battle with mental illness, cancer or was growing up in an orphange, lost parents or a child. 

 

You know in churches we all the time hear about suffering, but Atheists kind of don't focus on a tough aspects of life or rarely.

 

 

Thank You TrueScotsman for this wonderful topic :)

 

 

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TrueScotsman    249
 

 

After losing faith or actually in a moment when I was hit in a brain with sentence "what if there is no god and he is like a policeman who controls our thoughts and actions" I experienced depersonalization episode, kind of panic attack. I didn't know what is happening with my brain. I thought that I will loose my consciousness, stop talking or forget who I am?

 

This felt so real and i felt like some sort of curtain was put on my brain.

 

So, I was ignoring this strange states of mind, focusing on daily duties to kind of come back to previous good feelings in brain.

 

In my case it was stupid, cause I started having doubts about Christianity before baptism in Evangelical Church and was afraid to tell the church that I don't have conviction. As a result I go to church for 6 years and pretend to be a believer or sometimes feel like a believer.

 

As most people in Poland where I live I was baptized in Catholic Church and when I was 8 years old after my mum's death I started enjoying religion classes at school, praying to God, listen some stories that nun was telling us. I treated God as a protector, who will take care of me while my dad was working and I was home alone. Other kids with full families didn't understand what I go through.

 

Because of lack of mum and grandmothers in my life I am kind of emotionally unstable and look weird and envy at other girls who do everything with their mums. I thought that God and church will be a part of my entire world till I die. I was saying myself "Well even if the rest members of my family will die I will have God and church wherever I will go".

 

TrueScotsman  Definitely and unfortunately I went crazy and insane and I became a shopaholic after losing faith. I also collect lots of things in my room like a sick hoarder. Goimg for shopping makes me not to think about my strange life that no one around me understands.

 

I have a friend who was under psychiatric health care since age 7 and she said to me that she would kill herself if Jesus wouldn't rescue her. Imagine her, starting having doubts about Christianity (well one day I guess she will start having doubts if I ever admit to her that I don't have faith anymore).

 

Question is...how really secular world can help someone who's whole life is based on psychiatric health care, medications? Secular world offers only therapists, psychiatrics, mental hospitals, medications. For many people it's a hell and I am not surprised that these people start to pray to God to get them out from this meaningless world. But what will happen if an ex-mentally ill person starts to having doubts about faith that gave her or him the last hope for a normal life?

 

I watched lots of Atheists debates on You Tube, but I don't know any Atheist who battle with mental illness, cancer or was growing up in an orphange, lost parents or a child. 

 

You know in churches we all the time hear about suffering, but Atheists kind of don't focus on a tough aspects of life or rarely.

 

 

Thank You TrueScotsman for this wonderful topic :)

 

 

Great thoughts, thanks for sharing!  I will respond to this when I get back.

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Daffodil    1,162

Well I don't follow the track you described of childhood trauma.  My father had depression and panic attacks, so I must have inherited that.  However, I was raised in a loving two-parent home within a mainline denominational mindset (so no crazy talk of going to hell and such), and suffered no abuse or neglect of any kind.  I was painfully shy and awkward and introverted and developed symptoms of depression including suicidal ideation as an early teenager.  Had no idea I was depressed until having my first panic attacks in my early thirties.  When the doctor said I was depressed, it all made sense.  I was an evangelical by that time, though, and struggled with the faith issues of it.  If I had more faith, would it go away?  If I prayed more/harder/better would it go away?  Why would god let this happen to me?  Is this my "thorn in the flesh"?  If I take medication, am I showing a lack of faith in god?  After going on meds, then feeling guilty and going off again, then struggling  and going back on again, then going off again in an attempt to "cleanse" my body of all unnatural things (including birth control pills, sugar, gluten, etc.), and being ok for about a year and a half, I crashed hard mentally (I wouldn't exactly call it a breakdown, but it was very bad).  Scared the crap out of myself and made the decision that regardless of faith and god, my kids needed me and I couldn't keep up this on-again/off-again game anymore.  I got on a different antidepressant with fewer side effects and started the process of justifying my decision within a faith mindset.  Not easy, and I don't recommend it to anyone!  

 

Now as a deconvert, I am much happier and at ease with myself.  Instead of trying to justify my depression or my use of meds for it, I can just relax in the knowledge that I'm just one of the unfortunate mental health lottery winners - it is just another disability like being blind or missing a limb or being diabetic.  I'd certainly rather not have it, but I don't beat myself up about it either.  

 

I understand how being raised with the threat of hell and the promise of heaven would make it difficult to adjust to a future of oblivion after death.  For me, I was never in a church that focused on hell, and for whatever reason, I was never much interested in heaven.  It was too nebulous a concept for a concrete-rational thinker such as myself.  I was only ever interested in the here and now.  That may also be why I don't dwell much on what happens after I die now.  And on top of all that, my deconversion happened slowly over many years.  I tried hard to make the Bible make sense, and only slowly shed pieces of it and my faith as I went along.  I think the slowness of it helped me to make adjustments as I went instead of a sudden loss of everything I had been relying on.

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Rounin    58

I can relate to this issue a great deal.

 

When I was a believer, I believed in a liberal, almost watered-down version of Christianity quite different form the biblical narrative. I had my fair share of worries in life, but I was fairly convinced that I believed in the right faith, and that in the long run, everything was thereby taken care of for me.

 

Now, not only do I have a great deal of anxiety about my former faith, but all of the worries that a supernatural being was going to eliminate for me, I have to deal with myself.

 

I still prefer my present life by a wide margin. Anxiety and worry is a natural part of life, and pushing it away by using a loosely-held religious belief as a crutch is only going to get one so far. However, living a life true to oneself takes more effort. It just also feels a lot more like being alive.

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