This was originally published on the Living Inquiries web site as “Unraveling the Gods of Childhood”.
I have a story to share.
This story starts with a Facebook post I made after finishing a session with a client.
“When our parents aren’t safe, available, loving gods, we become vigilant and over responsible gods, thinking it’s all up to us, with wounds in our hearts.”
It’s been a long time coming, sharing this publicly. I’d experienced it in myself, and had been seeing it with my clients for years. It has been such a pivotal part of my embodiment journey that I’m currently writing a book about it – yet never blogged about it.
This is my abbreviated story of how I learned of my own religious wounding, and how it set me free.
Our relationship to the world
Religious wounding is not talked a lot about in spiritual circles, and yet I think it is imperative that this territory be explored on our journey of becoming deeply intimate with ourselves, because so much of how we view the world, ourselves, and our place in the world can be impacted by religious belief systems.
From an early age I had been aware of “something wiser” than my own personal self, but I didn’t know what that meant or how to talk about it. Jesus was sometimes part of that, but I didn’t really understand that either. It felt significant and important, and confusing at the same time. Being part of a “do as you’re told household”, I didn’t feel any space to talk about things that confused me, or that were “different” than what the authorities in my life were talking about. My religious upbringing (Lutheran) was linear, practical and doctrine-oriented, and, well, that just didn’t fit in with the rather mystical and supernatural experiences I was having. I suppressed and disconnected from most of those experiences, rendering them meaningless in my mind, forgotten to my heart.
I left Christianity midway through my years at a Lutheran Missouri Synod University (oh, the irony). Being from a white, republican, middle-income family I hadn’t explored racism, classism or entitlement, but from an early age something in me knew that the Christian doctrine I was being taught was deeply unjust. When I discovered that the chapel of the University didn’t allow women pastors at the same time I was starting to learn about the oppression of women (thank you Professor Jody), I was livid. That my church did not allow a female pastor was the last draw. I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent and oppressive rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”
It was a profound and huge step in my personal evolution to step away from the tradition in which I was raised. I didn’t consider what rejecting Christianity meant for me, I just knew that the beliefs of heaven and hell, sin, and rejection of certain people based on geography and gender didn’t make sense to me and never had. It felt too hypercritical for me to do anything else but walk away. I was glad to “get rid of” the label.
“That’s that!” I thought. I assumed that consciously recognizing that I didn’t align with the tenants of Christianity was me working through my religious upbringing. “I’m not that,” was the subtext. Time to move on.
Move on I did. I didn’t have anything to “replace” Christianity until a few years later when I found a spiritual practice that became an intrinsic part of my being. It was a bhakti and heart practice that nurtured the connection with god/awareness/spirit/love, etc that I’d felt when I was young. I moved on with new practices and perspectives, but what I didn’t realize was that I had not cleaned out the old before moving into the new.
Me and god, god and my parents
If I had been paying closer attention I might have slowed down a bit. I might have considered what giving up Christianity meant for me, or what was so infuriating for me. I might have considered that my bitterness for Christianity (and god and my parents) had some rich territory to explore, i.e. that I had some unhealed wounds. I’m in awe of the young people who make it to my door to connect to their wounds, because that was the last thing I would have considered back then.
Instead, lost in unseen self-righteousness and anger, while unable to connect to the extremely painful truth, I shut off from my feeling self and turned towards self-reliance. I thought all the problems existed outside of me “in those people” and in those beliefs, and that all I needed to do was walk away and find better ways of thinking. (This is such a common theme in our culture: we think harder, so as to feel less.)
I didn’t understand the psyche, how belief systems work, how much pain I was in, how strong my use of mind over spirit had become, or how dysfunctional my relationship with the ideas of love had become. As many seemingly invincible teenagers and early 20 year olds feel, I thought I was “just fine.” And even better, thought that I was more in control and safer now that I’d moved further away from my beliefs of my family.
I didn’t realize that underneath my intellectualizing I’d felt rejected by god, and by my parents, and that the pain of that was too much to feel, so I rejected them first.
And, since I’d rejected him, I hadn’t considered for a moment that my relationship with god was anything but “just fine.”
When denial no longer works
I don’t know about you, but I was full-on in pretend mode when I was young. It was a way of life, and it seemingly kept me pretty safe in some crazy situations. As I woke up, lots of that pretending fell away. But then the real journey began – that of embodiment. In my reality tunnel, embodiment cleans one out, until only truth remains. But it’s not an easy process. There can be lots of sacred cows, and for me, my relationship with god was one of them.
It wasn’t until I was in crisis, recovering from an addictive relationship, that I stumbled upon my unhealed relationship with god. I literally collapsed into a sobbing pile of goo as a realization clunked into recognition: I still believed in a punishing god, a god that did not love me, a god that I had failed, 20 years after thinking I had given up that belief system and moved past “all that bullshit”.
It’s not rational, but those hidden beliefs had subtly kept me from feeling truly safe and at home in the world, and it kept me more in my head than in my body. How could I possibly feel safe in the world, and at home in myself, if I believed I was inherently faulty?
This can be earth-shattering territory to journey into, which is why many people never do. After all, if we don’t have to, why would we consciously look foror go into uncomfortable core wounding? Quite to the contrary, we generally hide from it at all costs. Our psyches are constructed to protect us from this wounding. And anyway, where do we even start? It can all be very overwhelming.
Yet there I was. It had became clear that there was something under the hood, as it were, that was not just being explored, but was having a tremendous influence over how I felt about myself and how I felt being in the world. It was my shame and self-loathing, wrapped up with god.
God, the thorn in my side
This stuff doesn’t have a road map so, using somatic inquiry, somatic therapy and a few other tools, I just kept on **slowly and gently** exploring deep into my being. Trauma has its own timeline, and said simply, we are not in charge of how it works itself through. Loving support from others and myself was vital.
Almost always tendrils would lead to wounds connected with an early childhood medical event (which also involved my parents) that were still integrating. I had been exploring this territory on and off for years, but something was different this time. As I kept exploring, something deeper finally started to emerge that didn’t seem to be about my parents. I then deeply recognized that my wounds with god, as I knew god, had hidden behind, and were often interwoven with, the wounding I’d experienced with my parents.
What had initially been experienced as feeling rejected by my parents revealed a belief that I had been rejected by god. Where as previously it felt like my parents had abandoned me, it now felt like I’d been abandoned by god. What that left me feeling was not just rejected and abandoned, but bad and wrong to be someonewho would be rejected and abandoned.
Oh the shame! And self-loathing. And creation of self-reliance and an inflated sense of responsibility to cover it all up.
Me and god, god and my parents: deeper in
Some of you may be asking, “How was it that god came into all of this? How was this all made about god?”
Recall back to where I referred to God as a father:
I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”
In my innocence I thought all I had to do “see the truth” and walk away. This is a common mistake amongst those who have spiritual awakenings as well. We see something, clarity comes, and we think we are “finished.” And then comes the process of embodiment, where we find the energies of those beliefs. My system had “taken in” all those beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong, sin and salvation. My body, mind and spirit had been infused with linking love and god the father. If god rejected me, I’d be unloved. There is nothing more shameful to a human being than being unlovable. These early teachings, as simple as they were, had woven into my system, and were desperately looking for reconciliation.
But it’s richer than that.
What I’ve discovered in my own journey but also with hundreds of clients is that our parents often act as our first gods. Obviously this isn’t conscious, but it’s in the subconscious stratosphere of the psyche. My friend explained it well: “My parents were gods to me. I depended on them to live.”
Our parents give us life and we are at their mercy for safety, love, food, and nurturance – on every level. They also reprimand and punish us. And so they become synonymous with how our culture often portrays god – the life-giver, the disciplinary, the mother, and the father. My friend continues,“From that I learned that god was loving, and joyous, and terrifying, and confusing. God was everything. God also dies.”
This isn’t rational, and quite frankly is too much for our child self to make sense of, but our beings pick up this information and makemake conscious and subconscious beliefs based upon these ideas. It is only later in life that we can journey back through the layers of our conditioning to see the formation of deficiency stories that have influenced our whole life.
As I felt safe to journey into the medical trauma and prior traumas, and the imagined roles god (and my parents) played in those traumas, I was able to connect to various debilitating belief systems. I had believed that I was bad, and that I had been abandoned and rejected by my god (and my parents) because I was bad. Said another way, and more from the perspective of a child: god had let me down, I wasn’t good enough for god, and so ultimately I wasn’t good enough or worthy of god’s love. That meant I had to become my own god, so to speak. It was up to me to keep myself safe, because god and my parents had failed due to my badness.
The level of shame, self-loathing, and self-reliance (what we commonly see as a false sense of responsibility) that was under all of that was immense and had been following me around for… my whole life. Although I was not consciously aware of it, a sense of shame that seemed synonymous with my being was living under the surface and was wreaking havoc in my life.
Although my life was basically “fine”, I was making unhealthy and debilitating choices in intimate relationships. As I courageously worked through my self-reliance patterning, I innocently made a wrong turn: I trusted others unworthy of that trust instead of trusting that which was worthy. I did this because ultimately I didn’t have a safe and loving relationship with myself, or a healthy relationship with Love. This pattern dramatically revealed itself when I found myself in a narcissistically abusive relationship. The creation of a perfect storm destroyed my sails and crashed me into rocky territory I had been trying to avoid all my life. It literally took me to the darkest and most hidden places within myself that I had never felt safe enough to explore.
Eventually it took me to my unfinished business with god. After that torturous terrain was faced, I found myself experiencing a level of safety I didn’t know was possible, and a Love I had never known. My world had changed.
The rest of the story
There is more to say. Healing religious, parental and attachment wounding takes commitment, time, love, compassion and support. The rest of the story includes sharing practices I have developed with myself and others that help us let go of old beliefs, and in their absence fall into the experience of a safe body (and life) to reside in.
Life fundamentally changed for me as I cleaned up my past but it wasn’t an overnight change – it has been slow, steady, and eventually sustainable. Not having to be a vigilant and over-responsible god has relieved me of a burden that was not mine to carry. Groking the benevolence of Love has altered my way of being in a world that I do not have the power to control, but feel safe residing in nevertheless.
I have shared only parts of my journey here, and look forward to sharing more. I’d love to hear from you. What was particularly helpful? What was confusing? What do you want to know to know more of? I look forward to journeying together.
See my Deepening Course starting in February, “Discovering the Embodiment of Love,” to learn more about that!
After working with hundreds of clients, I now see that one’s relationship with “god”, however that is perceived/experienced/named, is most sacred (this goes for atheists too, although the language is going to be quite different)- even more sacred then that of one’s parents. And, it is also often very hidden within the psyche. For various reasons it can be one of the last places one “wants to go” when inwardly journeying.There is good reason for this, which I explore in my book.