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telling a person who has been diagnosed with bipolar that RTS, a disorder not even recognised, mimics bipolar is a very dangerous thing to do. I'd love to be told 'oh, you don't have bipolar, you have this other condition that you just require some counselling with me for'. I was dumb enough to fall for that once, back in 2009, and the end result was chucking out my medication, which, I assure you, was not a good idea, and only served to confirm that I did, indeed, have bipolar.

Anxiety sometimes looks like something different -- bipolar disorder. This is a commonplace. By pointing this out, she is not to blame when a diagnosed sufferer of bipolar disorder reacts by throwing out their medication. And based on my understanding of bipolar disorder, it usually doesn't take much to trigger medication non-compliance. Noncompliance is actually one of the symptoms of the disease, and is a major clinical problem in people who have bipolar. It is critical to honestly evaluate why they want to stop taking their medication, because then they can tackle these issues directly and without blaming others.

 

But RTS hasn't even really been properly looked into to begin with! Not only that, but you would be surprised the lack of knowledge on the subject of bipolar that many psychologists do have. It's a very complex illness, and requires more than a textbook to understand. I don't see a psychologist to help me manage with my bipolar. I see a specially trained psych nurse, who's had a shitload more experience.

 

Non-compliance is not a symptom of the condition. Non-compliance arises out of the stigma and stereotype surrounding bipolar disorder. Along with the lack of early intervention and education into the condition.

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I'm sorry that you experienced the concept of Religious Trauma Syndrome as a stumbling block in the process of the diagnosis and treatment of your bipolar disorder.

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Dr. Winnell herself said in one of her conferences that she has published a book 15 years ago and that it's weird that non of her peers wrote a book as an answer to it..not evan to deny it....nothing.

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Dr. Winnell herself said in one of her conferences that she has published a book 15 years ago and that it's weird that non of her peers wrote a book as an answer to it..not evan to deny it....nothing.

 

It would have been more weird if she'd been publishing in journals and no-one answered it. But she hasn't been. And she should know full well that for the idea to be taken seriously, she would need to write more about it. Maybe, though, it's as Positivist said above: no-one is taking it seriously. And if that is so, then I think we need to question why that is so.

 

Winell may be a very nice person. But just because she is a nice person and an ex-c, doesn't mean that we should just let all our questioning and critical thinking walk out the door. We owe it to ourselves to question everything, because clearly, as former christians, we have been fooled before.

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Hello,

I realize it's been a long time since this thread was written but I recently noticed it and want to respond anyway.  I'll paste something I wrote in response to another debate.  There are a lot of confused issues in this one, and I'm not sure where the main writer started with her information and how she arrived at her asumptions.  For example, I was never on any faculty at the University of Queensland and never claimed to be; I worked on a special project there.  The writer also says I have not done any publishing in professional journals and this is not true.  I published a series of 3 articles in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Today, which is based in the UK, (available on my website, journeyfree.org).  But it is true that I have not emphasized publishing; I have been busy with my private practice, health issues, and family responsibilities.  Not every professional takes the same course.  I greatly appreciated the responders in this discussion who objected to making such huge assumptions about me and suggested contacting me to ask questions.  No one did. 

 

In the case of the other group having a debate, someone did write to me and this is what I said:

 

I’m very glad to hear from you and glad to read the discussion on this forum.  It’s exciting to me to find RTS being discussed.  You asked about religion being deferred to in the US and having a protected status.  Absolutely.  Except for extreme “cults,” Americans in general do not want to acknowledge that religion itself can cause damage.  But this is not limited to Americans.  My articles on RTS were published in a British psychotherapy journal and created defensiveness there (CBT Today), as well as being well-received.  I also presented a paper at the Congress of the International Association for the Psychology of Religion in Italy last year and I was the only one to address the harm done by religion.   

 

On the other hand, people who can personally relate to this description of religious trauma syndrome have been hugely grateful to have a name for it.  There is a difference between the academic world and the world of ordinary people suffering from something real and needing help.  The fact that RTS is not in the DSM Manual says absolutely nothing about the reality of the suffering or the etiology, which is religious authoritarianism.  It does say something about the stage of development of our society and the mental health profession.  As anyone familiar with the field knows, (and the critics of RTS should know better), the DSM is always a work in progress.  Exactly when did eating disorders get recognized?  Imagine the progress when “anorexia” became a word.  Sufferers could be less self-loathing, family and friends less blaming, training and treatment available, and research in progress. 

 

I believe something like that is happening with treating religious trauma.  More and more people are leaving rigid religions.  More are looking for help and turning to therapists, most of whom do not recognize or know how to deal with the issues.  I have written about this, and I encourage people to read carefully my articles referenced above, including “Why RTS is Invisible” in Part III.  I can tell you that people contact me constantly and ask if I know a therapist in their area who can understand. 

 

The writers on the forum make a number of assumptions about me which would be amusing if they were not destructive.  I have no interest in making a name for myself.  Or selling books.  Or building an empire around RTS.  I already have a modest income and I am not ambitious.  Nor am I young.  My book was originally an effort to understand my own experience and then grew as I found out that many others could relate and referrals were made to me.  I tried to move on to other things, the book went out of print, and I was even living in Australia.  But I came back to the US, a new publisher asked to bring the book back, and I could see the need as people kept asking for help.  I left academia many years ago so I never did any formal research.  My interest has been to understand these issues, and find effective ways to help.  To be honest, I’ve been overwhelmed.  This is not a money-maker.  People who have lost their faith are often down and out, not rich.  I’ve wanted to spread the word because I would like other professionals to help.  I am moving toward teaching and training as a result. 

 

I have no doubt that religious trauma syndrome is real, chiefly because I have been immersed in learning about it and treating it for almost twenty years now.  The supportive data is clinical, qualitative, case study data, and as in the legal profession, a build-up of cases provides validity.  Giving it a name has a purpose, and that is to recognize it properly and develop treatment.  (It is not about my career, so give that a rest).   When giving it a name, I surveyed people who have experienced it as well as mental health professionals who had some understanding.  The goal was not to get it into the DSM necessarily or charge insurance.  Most people with it don’t have insurance anyway.  As far as it being yet another trivial label, I understand the concern, but in this case, I believe RTS is serious and unique enough to warrant its own name. 

 

All that said, I am a former academic and I have not only done empirical research but I once taught research methods.  I also have respect for the peer review process, the mental health profession, and the DSM.  However, these things take time and collective effort.  I have been getting inquiries from people wanting to do research, such as doctoral students, and that is very exciting.  I am happy to support these efforts. 

 

Back to your question about the DSM.  How interesting that the forum writers got so worked up, as if it is some kind of bible.  Even begbear52 points out that homosexuality was once a disorder and now is not, while now we have homophobia.  (He also says concepts from practitioners in the field can be valid.  But then he discounts my 20 years of experience with his own opinion of “face validity.”  Interesting that I am the one called arrogant.)   These writers don’t seem to understand the purpose of the DSM, which is primarily to regulate the business of the mental health system.  Differential diagnosis is not an exact science.  Diagnosis in general is controversial when it comes to treatment.  The DSM is hotly debated and changes.  Right now it includes PTSD but not C-PTSD.  Yet in the field, it would be the rare practitioner that would deny the existence of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder!  After all, this includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic abuse, torture, emotional abuse, combat, prisoners-of-war – all repeated traumas.   Training programs for therapists to treat traumas like these are abundant – probably more available than any other kind of professional training.  I would venture to say most of the trainees are not aware or do not care that C-PTSD is not in the DSM.  They are quite aware that their clients are suffering. 

 

Thank-you for pointing out similar points about C-PTSD in your remarks on the forum, and for noticing the responses to my book.   You were also right to include the Jesus Camp clip, which most of my clients find unwatchable because it is too triggering. 

 

You also noted Judith Herman, who has been an influence on my work.  I hope to talk with her one day about RTS.  I believe RTS is in part a special form of C-PTSD.  One reason it deserves its own name is etiology.  Just as in medicine, when the origins of a problem are properly understood, the treatment more clearly follows.  I have yet to write about case studies in detail, but I can report that clients experience huge relief in understanding the origins of their anxiety.  My book is a self-help book, and that is the kind of feedback I have received.  Readers are able to connect the dots and thereby approach things differently.  The book is not about blame; it is about new awareness and taking charge of one’s life.

 

As I said, I am pleased that this forum had a discussion about religious trauma syndrome.  Casheyesblond even did a lot of homework on me, which I respect.  I wish I could clone myself and do all the things she mentions that would help raise awareness.  And perhaps if I were more ambitious I would drive myself harder.  I do intend to do some of the things she mentions like publish in U.S. journals. And as it turns out, one of my best friends knows someone who is involved with developing the DSM and is interested in religious and spiritual issues.  But this will be a journey.  There are a number of obstacles, some of which I discuss in my articles. 

 

One of them I will mention here because you might be posting this on the forum.  Recovering from religious trauma is different from other traumas in the respect that it does not sound bad.  If you have had no experience of it, it is very difficult to understand how it would be different from simply finding out there is no Santa Claus.  Being forced to go to church hardly compares to sexual abuse or combat.  The movie Jesus Camp provided a glimpse, but there is much more.  Survivors have been under the radar and silent  because if their experience is minimized, they are retraumatized.  “So what, move on,” is common.  Or like in this forum:  “This is a tempest in a teapot.”  Begbear1952 completely trivializes it, and represents exactly the reason it has been so hard for people to be heard safely.  In my group support guidelines, one of them is “no trivializing.”  It is simply devastating.  Whereas, having one’s experience acknowledged can be immediately healing. 

 

For some people, the trauma is not so great, and the move to being a secular person is more of an adjustment disorder or even a simple life transition.  Restrictive religion is not traumatizing to the same degree to everyone.  It does tend to create serious limits on normal human development however.  Leaving the sheltered environment can therefore be liberating as well as fearful and difficult.  I am developing a life coaching program for “recovery coaches” to help others catch up on developmental tasks and move forward with personal growth.  “Reclaimers” are people who have let go of a toxic religion and are reclaiming their lives, their right to think for themselves, pleasure in this life, and much more.

 

However, it is still true that religious trauma needs to be recognized and mental health professionals need more expertise.  Those of us who are trying to make headway with learning more about RTS and develop a network of services could use some help.  If the forum writers want to pitch in and not just criticize, let me know. 

 

Kind regards,

Marlene Winell

 

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Without downplaying individual counseling, I would have to say that Ex-C has been a most helpful therapy for me. I imagine it would be very difficult to find a therapist who could possibly do for me what this community has.

 

As for Dr. Winell's book, I guess my opinion is that "every little bit helps." And with Dr. Valerie Tarico's work so readily available, does it really matter if Dr. Winell has not contributed more than just the one book?

 

TBH, I had never heard of her until I read this post. I don't know if you are worried that she is something of a charlatan or what but I'm not aware that she is raking in the dough at our expense like religious leaders do.

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If Winell's ideas help even one person recognize, understand, and deal with their problems and traumas, then why shouldn't her ideas be accepted as a possible analysis and solution? As a therapist, would you deny that one person effective relief to their problems simply because of a bunch of words in a journal that was published more than likely just to keep a bunch of paychecks flowing? Isn't insisting that each patient, regardless of individual circumstances, follow a proscribed, socially accepted and well-worn path rather dogmatic and stultifying?

 

What about the flip side- all the people being potentially harmed by Winell's theory? You don't think it's a rather bold statement to make, that RTS mimics a condition such as bipolar, and put that up on your website, for all the world to see, without any verification of that claim? How is that any different to the churches telling someone with a mental illness that they are demon possessed and just need the demons cast out of them, or that god can heal them?

 

While she may be helping some people, is this not a rather irresponsible claim to make, and a potentially dangerous one, and one that should be looked into?

 

 

Hm. I hadn't considered this. I think you make a valid point.

 

That said, in mental health circles are things as cut-and-dry as all that? Aren't there many conditions that have many similar symptoms to other conditions? Is misdiagnosis a common occurrence in other areas of mental health therapy?

 

I'm not very familiar with the field so I confess my ignorance. I appreciate your input and insights.

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I realize it's been a long time since this thread was written but I recently noticed it and want to respond anyway...

 

 Hi Dr. Winell - Thanks for the comprehensive post. Mental health is not my forte, not by a long shot, but I am very interested in this OP and your responses. 

 

May I ask how your sessions with people with "RTS" have fared in general and what you recommend for those who are dealing with it?

 

The whole deconversion process was, for me, excruciating and even though I am content at this point of my journey, I wonder how much professional therapy would have helped through that process. I tend to shy away from counseling partly because I'm a guy but mainly because I don't really understand it.

 

I have found a great deal of support by this community and I think I've reached a point of mental health through that support coupled with the many things I have learned here. Do you have any suggestions for those of us who may not ever go to a therapist or who will access therapy but might have a hard time finding a professional who will take our RTS seriously?

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thank you marlene for caring, in whatever way you do it. it is all to easy for some people to slip into the same arrogance of the religious structures they have left behind. thank you for explaining to the naysayers that you just want to help, not make a big deal of yourself.

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Marlene:  Thank you for your post.  I appreciate the interest, time and effort you have put into the issue of religious trauma. It isn't something that the general public is aware of.  The insidious effects of early indoctrination in a religious cult effects the rest of a person's life. If you can help even one person deal with the problems created by this indoctrination (most people aren't even aware there are problems!) then you have a worthwhile career.

 

This forum has been of tremendous help to me over the years.  Just seeing that I am not alone in this struggle is a huge help.

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Hello,

I realize it's been a long time since this thread was written but I recently noticed it and want to respond anyway.  I'll paste something I wrote in response to another debate.  There are a lot of confused issues in this one, and I'm not sure where the main writer started with her information and how she arrived at her asumptions.  For example, I was never on any faculty at the University of Queensland and never claimed to be; I worked on a special project there.  The writer also says I have not done any publishing in professional journals and this is not true.  I published a series of 3 articles in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Today, which is based in the UK, (available on my website, journeyfree.org).  But it is true that I have not emphasized publishing; I have been busy with my private practice, health issues, and family responsibilities.  Not every professional takes the same course.  I greatly appreciated the responders in this discussion who objected to making such huge assumptions about me and suggested contacting me to ask questions.  No one did. 

 

In the case of the other group having a debate, someone did write to me and this is what I said:

 

I’m very glad to hear from you and glad to read the discussion on this forum.  It’s exciting to me to find RTS being discussed.  You asked about religion being deferred to in the US and having a protected status.  Absolutely.  Except for extreme “cults,” Americans in general do not want to acknowledge that religion itself can cause damage.  But this is not limited to Americans.  My articles on RTS were published in a British psychotherapy journal and created defensiveness there (CBT Today), as well as being well-received.  I also presented a paper at the Congress of the International Association for the Psychology of Religion in Italy last year and I was the only one to address the harm done by religion.   

 

On the other hand, people who can personally relate to this description of religious trauma syndrome have been hugely grateful to have a name for it.  There is a difference between the academic world and the world of ordinary people suffering from something real and needing help.  The fact that RTS is not in the DSM Manual says absolutely nothing about the reality of the suffering or the etiology, which is religious authoritarianism.  It does say something about the stage of development of our society and the mental health profession.  As anyone familiar with the field knows, (and the critics of RTS should know better), the DSM is always a work in progress.  Exactly when did eating disorders get recognized?  Imagine the progress when “anorexia” became a word.  Sufferers could be less self-loathing, family and friends less blaming, training and treatment available, and research in progress. 

 

I believe something like that is happening with treating religious trauma.  More and more people are leaving rigid religions.  More are looking for help and turning to therapists, most of whom do not recognize or know how to deal with the issues.  I have written about this, and I encourage people to read carefully my articles referenced above, including “Why RTS is Invisible” in Part III.  I can tell you that people contact me constantly and ask if I know a therapist in their area who can understand. 

 

The writers on the forum make a number of assumptions about me which would be amusing if they were not destructive.  I have no interest in making a name for myself.  Or selling books.  Or building an empire around RTS.  I already have a modest income and I am not ambitious.  Nor am I young.  My book was originally an effort to understand my own experience and then grew as I found out that many others could relate and referrals were made to me.  I tried to move on to other things, the book went out of print, and I was even living in Australia.  But I came back to the US, a new publisher asked to bring the book back, and I could see the need as people kept asking for help.  I left academia many years ago so I never did any formal research.  My interest has been to understand these issues, and find effective ways to help.  To be honest, I’ve been overwhelmed.  This is not a money-maker.  People who have lost their faith are often down and out, not rich.  I’ve wanted to spread the word because I would like other professionals to help.  I am moving toward teaching and training as a result. 

 

I have no doubt that religious trauma syndrome is real, chiefly because I have been immersed in learning about it and treating it for almost twenty years now.  The supportive data is clinical, qualitative, case study data, and as in the legal profession, a build-up of cases provides validity.  Giving it a name has a purpose, and that is to recognize it properly and develop treatment.  (It is not about my career, so give that a rest).   When giving it a name, I surveyed people who have experienced it as well as mental health professionals who had some understanding.  The goal was not to get it into the DSM necessarily or charge insurance.  Most people with it don’t have insurance anyway.  As far as it being yet another trivial label, I understand the concern, but in this case, I believe RTS is serious and unique enough to warrant its own name. 

 

All that said, I am a former academic and I have not only done empirical research but I once taught research methods.  I also have respect for the peer review process, the mental health profession, and the DSM.  However, these things take time and collective effort.  I have been getting inquiries from people wanting to do research, such as doctoral students, and that is very exciting.  I am happy to support these efforts. 

 

Back to your question about the DSM.  How interesting that the forum writers got so worked up, as if it is some kind of bible.  Even begbear52 points out that homosexuality was once a disorder and now is not, while now we have homophobia.  (He also says concepts from practitioners in the field can be valid.  But then he discounts my 20 years of experience with his own opinion of “face validity.”  Interesting that I am the one called arrogant.)   These writers don’t seem to understand the purpose of the DSM, which is primarily to regulate the business of the mental health system.  Differential diagnosis is not an exact science.  Diagnosis in general is controversial when it comes to treatment.  The DSM is hotly debated and changes.  Right now it includes PTSD but not C-PTSD.  Yet in the field, it would be the rare practitioner that would deny the existence of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder!  After all, this includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic abuse, torture, emotional abuse, combat, prisoners-of-war – all repeated traumas.   Training programs for therapists to treat traumas like these are abundant – probably more available than any other kind of professional training.  I would venture to say most of the trainees are not aware or do not care that C-PTSD is not in the DSM.  They are quite aware that their clients are suffering. 

 

Thank-you for pointing out similar points about C-PTSD in your remarks on the forum, and for noticing the responses to my book.   You were also right to include the Jesus Camp clip, which most of my clients find unwatchable because it is too triggering. 

 

You also noted Judith Herman, who has been an influence on my work.  I hope to talk with her one day about RTS.  I believe RTS is in part a special form of C-PTSD.  One reason it deserves its own name is etiology.  Just as in medicine, when the origins of a problem are properly understood, the treatment more clearly follows.  I have yet to write about case studies in detail, but I can report that clients experience huge relief in understanding the origins of their anxiety.  My book is a self-help book, and that is the kind of feedback I have received.  Readers are able to connect the dots and thereby approach things differently.  The book is not about blame; it is about new awareness and taking charge of one’s life.

 

As I said, I am pleased that this forum had a discussion about religious trauma syndrome.  Casheyesblond even did a lot of homework on me, which I respect.  I wish I could clone myself and do all the things she mentions that would help raise awareness.  And perhaps if I were more ambitious I would drive myself harder.  I do intend to do some of the things she mentions like publish in U.S. journals. And as it turns out, one of my best friends knows someone who is involved with developing the DSM and is interested in religious and spiritual issues.  But this will be a journey.  There are a number of obstacles, some of which I discuss in my articles. 

 

One of them I will mention here because you might be posting this on the forum.  Recovering from religious trauma is different from other traumas in the respect that it does not sound bad.  If you have had no experience of it, it is very difficult to understand how it would be different from simply finding out there is no Santa Claus.  Being forced to go to church hardly compares to sexual abuse or combat.  The movie Jesus Camp provided a glimpse, but there is much more.  Survivors have been under the radar and silent  because if their experience is minimized, they are retraumatized.  “So what, move on,” is common.  Or like in this forum:  “This is a tempest in a teapot.”  Begbear1952 completely trivializes it, and represents exactly the reason it has been so hard for people to be heard safely.  In my group support guidelines, one of them is “no trivializing.”  It is simply devastating.  Whereas, having one’s experience acknowledged can be immediately healing. 

 

For some people, the trauma is not so great, and the move to being a secular person is more of an adjustment disorder or even a simple life transition.  Restrictive religion is not traumatizing to the same degree to everyone.  It does tend to create serious limits on normal human development however.  Leaving the sheltered environment can therefore be liberating as well as fearful and difficult.  I am developing a life coaching program for “recovery coaches” to help others catch up on developmental tasks and move forward with personal growth.  “Reclaimers” are people who have let go of a toxic religion and are reclaiming their lives, their right to think for themselves, pleasure in this life, and much more.

 

However, it is still true that religious trauma needs to be recognized and mental health professionals need more expertise.  Those of us who are trying to make headway with learning more about RTS and develop a network of services could use some help.  If the forum writers want to pitch in and not just criticize, let me know. 

 

Kind regards,

Marlene Winell

 

 

Hi Dr. Winell,

 

Thank you for taking the time to respond to this old topic. I'm no longer very active (well, not active at all) on the forum, but a little birdy told me about your response.

 

I would like to apologise for any remarks I made that you have found personally hurtful or offensive. I have moved a long way in my thoughts on the issue since I first wrote this post. My thoughts on any mental health diagnosis, recognised or not, these days is, "well, if it helps the person, and helps them get well, then I have no problem with it". 

 

My perspective changed a lot when I helped a friend. She was consumed by a fear of hell, and it was interfering with her life and her relationship.I had never seen anything like it. She went and saw a therapist, and was diagnosed with anxiety, which is true, to an extent, but she wasn't improving. I just could not work it out. Finally one night I started researching in frustration. I was at it for hours, until I stumbled across Scrupulosity, which falls on the obsessive side of the OCD spectrum. I sent some links to my friend, and she said, "omg, that's me!" She went and saw her therapist and told her about it, and her therapist confirmed that it was a good fit for what her issues were. Her doctor's response was that because it wasn't in his computer, it didn't exist (yes, the irony is not lost on me). But she got a script for anti-depressants. And she has recovered really well since then. As a medical professional herself, the turning point for her was the knowledge that she had some chemicals out of whack in her brain. That was something she could deal with. 

 

So I have got a very different perspective these days. And you were very right in saying that I jumped to conclusions. After I wrote this topic, later in 2012, I commenced a course in critical thinking. It was one of the best things I ever did. I think it was later. I can't quite remember if it was just afterwards or not... I was in a lot of pain when this topic was written. I had just decided to get a hysterectomy done; I was 26. I was angry, and in denial of my anger. And I couldn't afford to express any of that, lest the operation I needed so much was denied to me. I ended up having to fight for it, anyway. You may be wondering why I am telling you all of this. I guess I'd just like you to know that I was angry in general when this post was written, and in pain, and looking for things to be angry about. That I am genuinely sorry for the assumptions and pot shots I took at you because of that anger and pain. And that I hope you continue to help others heal with your work. 

 

Pudd

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Thanks, Marlene! I had to do a double take when I saw that post in the thread, lol!!  Glad you decided to explain some things that were puzzling.  I suffered from Scrupulosity for a very long time and was happy to be rid of it!  For what it's worth, at the university's psych department they went through, a couple of the questions did ask if you focused on religion on a lot (pray the same thing over and over and worry excessively about pleasing God) so maybe more progress is being made than we realize.  

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