Hi Will and R.J.!
So I have recently come to terms with my identity as a bisexual female. The problem with this is that I come from a Catholic family, and attend Catholic school, as well as go to Mass regularly. Even though I don’t really consider myself to be Catholic anymore for various reasons, I still find myself worrying that all the nasty things people have taught me throughout my life may be true, and would like to know if you have any tips for dealing with this. Thanks!
Wishing you lots of love and happiness,
Hi Lily! I figured that, since I’m the only former Catholic of the two of us, that I might field this particular question.
Now, admittedly, I have yet to set foot inside of a Catholic church for years. Even so, the last time I did, it was to watch my cousin get married. But decades of Catholic upbringing is not something you just shake off. And even years after leaving the Church, I still have my moments where I relive those old episodes of Catholic guilt and shame. As much as we may try to rationalize all of it away, it still has a way of sticking to us, since we’ve been conditioned at such a young age to think and feel certain ways.
Part of dealing with this means recognizing that this conditioning is as much emotional as it is mental. As much as you can try to change your logical thought patterns, your emotions can be a bit trickier, since they are not rational at all. This can be made doubly difficult by the fact that you’re still in that environment. No matter what, your brain has certain associations related to that place. So no matter what your thought process is, chances are that you’re going to experience certain emotions every time you step into that building. I’m obviously not an expert, but I imagine that this might be part of what’s going on with you. If you associate going to church with feelings like doubt, Catholic guilt, anxiety, and shame, then chances are that you’ll experience one or more of those emotions any time you’re there.
So I suppose one solution would be to remove yourself from that environment, but judging from your email, I’m guessing that that’s not a viable option for now. Not to mention that Catholic guilt is something that tends to follow you everywhere, since we’re conditioned that “God is always watching you, wherever you are”. I was one of those kids who was taught that human beings are innately sinful, that we were meant to feel shame about the fact that we’re sinful, and that the only way for us to turn away from that nature is through God and the church. Tl;dr: you’re a terrible person unless you follow us and do what we say. That’s powerful stuff, and it doesn’t just go away just because we want it to. Instead, it’s necessary to try and counteract those thought patterns, and one way to do that is through affirmations, which are positive thoughts specifically designed to counter the bad ones.
So I would say that, to help get yourself out of this negative thought pattern, try and see if you can pinpoint the precise negative thoughts underneath your feeling of worry. Is it because you’re convinced that you’re sinful? Is it because you fear the unknown and/or your mortality? Is it because you’re not sure how morality can exist without God? The next time you feel that worry, sit with it, ask yourself some of those questions, and just listen to yourself. See if you can pinpoint those precise thoughts in your head: “I’m a bad person.” “I’m selfish for wanting to leave.” “I’m a disappointment.” Once you’ve gotten to the bottom of these negative thoughts, you can try to counteract them. “I’m a good person.” “I’m a generous person.” “I’m proud of who I am.” It sounds kind of silly at first, since we only really see outrageous characters do this when they “go to their happy place”. But there’s truth to it. And if you use affirmations right, they can be your safeguard against negative thought spirals. With practice, you can catch yourself in one of those negative thoughts and automatically say “No, that’s wrong, I’m actually a great person.”
This is also not something you have to do alone. There are all sorts of support resources out there that can help you with this. Like I said, my therapists have helped me a great deal, as have many of my close family and friends. Depending on your beliefs, there are even religious organizations out there to help LGBT Christians shake the harmful conditioning they’ve received from other Churches and help find positive affirmations via their faith. My good friend Eliel Cruz works with one called Faithfully LGBT. Mind you, I’m no longer religious, but I do think that LGBT people should be able to still practice a faith if they want to, which is why I always point faith-based LGBT questions in their direction.
But all in all, part of getting yourself out of bad thought patterns involves surrounding yourself with people who love and support you and distancing yourself from people who don’t. That’s something that holds true regardless of whether you’re religious or not. And even if you’re stuck in a bad environment for now doesn’t mean you still can’t seek out people to support you. Hopefully starting there will help put you on a good path!
Best of luck <3