I shut up the inner tyrant who was prosecuting me
A. was part of the first session of the online course “Healing Your Spiritual Life”. She spontaneously offered to share a testimony on the benefits that she received from it and the way in which she lived this experience. She preferred to remain anonymous, as well as the religious group in which she participates.
Dear A. can you explain to us what was your motivation to enter this process:
A: I had for some time felt that there was something toxic in the way I engaged in my faith, and when I heard you speak of toxic spirituality, it put words on a feeling still diffuse. A while ago an image came to me: I saw my spirituality as something pure, but for a few years there had been like a snake which came to surround it and strangle it. What you said on your journey gave me the piece of the puzzle that I was missing: all the work I had done in recent years in therapy had made me realize various injuries and problems. And now I realized how they crystallized around spirituality. As long as I was inside, fully engaged in activities related to my religious commitment, I had no perspective to see it. But at some point I had to decide to take a step back, because I felt exhausted and my health was in danger. It is this hindsight that allowed me to open up to the approach you are proposing. I was also very touched by your story and the authenticity with which you share it, and this allowed me to make connections with my own story.
What was toxic in your way of living spirituality?
A: I had to sacrifice myself, a bit like a martyr, to redeem an entire past that was not only mine. There was guilt, shame, and it was linked to secrets heavily held in my family. I felt like I had a mission. I had to play the role of the savior or the rescuer. And all this with the enormous pressure that whatever I do, whatever I give, it would never be enough.
How did spirituality encourage you in this trend?
A: It was strongly linked to a deep aspiration towards an ideal of the absolute. In itself, it can be very beautiful and noble, but when you relate it to the above (injuries from the past), it reinforces this sense of extreme mission and this feeling of always having to do more and never being enough. There was also, in the group I was part of, this important principle of cultivating humility and not flattering the ego. Again, in itself it is rather commendable. But this has too often been reflected in the fact that there was little or no recognition for the work accomplished, under the pretext of humility and self-denial. It further confirmed my impression that I was not doing enough and that I had to do more, always more. The basic need for proper recognition was not met for me. It added to the exhaustion I was feeling more and more.
What has been liberating from these observations?
A: The first thing is the way in which, through your course, you created a very safe, secure space, from the first module. It made me feel safe opening the door, daring to look at what was wrong, and opening up to a healing process. There were a lot of taboos for me around these questions, a lot of things that should remain untold. And suddenly, your course gave me the authorization and the space to put words on all this. No more need to be silent, no more need to protect secrets, I was able to "get the shit out", and see it face to face. This was fundamental. There are also all the elements of knowledge that you give on religions, and that freed me from a lot of guilt. I could understand that I was not alone in living what I was experiencing, that it was part of human history, and a lot of shame was removed thanks to this. It was very important to me. The guided meditations you offer also helped me a lot to access what was inside of me. The fact that it was very progressive, one step after another, at my own pace. I never needed to force myself: some modules took me a lot longer than others, because I needed to gradually access what I had to deal with.
Can you say more about the elements that were very important to you on this journey?
A: In the 3rd module, you talk about connecting with the child I was when I have been affected by toxic spirituality: these moments when something in me froze and had to be repressed. This moment was so strong that I had to take the time to come and come back to it little by little. This is where I felt the most resistance and suffering, I saw these moments of my life when I had to paralyze and prevent myself from feeling the suffering, including in my spiritual commitment, and become like a robot. I felt the violence that I had imposed on myself. I saw how I was totally disconnected from what I was feeling.
What do you see as effects and changes since you took the course?
A: Before I always had a kind of tightness in my throat, a feeling of judgment and criticism that came from inside. Well, that has disappeared, and in everyday life it makes an incredible difference. I feel a lightness, I feel much less affected by what surrounds me, I have the impression of having a new freedom to take distance. I no longer need to merge with the pain of others. I can set healthy boundaries much more easily and freely, whereas before it was for me an extreme difficulty. I take better care of myself, I sleep more. I have stayed away from a lot of people. This inner judge who persecuted me for so many years has finally shut up, this process has shut him off.
What has changed in your spirituality?
A: I rediscover a much sweeter relationship with God. I feel in a new state of receptivity, of openness to love instead of duty (all the time asking me what I should do). I am more gentle with me in my way of practicing spirituality. It is more a rediscovery of the authentic flame than a fundamental questioning. I no longer feel that I have to save the world or being perfect.
Have you distanced yourself from certain practices, activities, teachings from your original religious background?
A: In fact I decided to take a break, not to participate in anything organized for a while. I stayed in touch with a few people, but not all. I remain very attached to the teachings I have received, but I am much less extremist in the way I live and interpret them. I need distance for a while, to strengthen my ability to take care of myself.
To conclude, I feel that there is the hand of the divine, of grace, in the fact that I was able to hear about this process and enter into it. I think there are a lot of people who could benefit from it. Much more than one might think.
To go deeper into this subject, watch these two ressources:
- My book about toxic spirituality: ‘Toxic Jesus, my journey from holy shit to spiritual healing'
- My online course: ‘Heal Your Spiritual Life'