March 28, 2017
advice articles
Catholic Guilt
How do we get rid of Catholic Guilt, even when we want it to go away?

Catholic Guilt

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,

Lily

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.

one does not

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.

Shame-Bell-Lady-From-Game-Thrones

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.”

love

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

About RJ

RJ is a blogger/vlogger/writer and the other half of the NotAdamandSteve duo. When he's not making videos or writing stuff online he's usually working out, traveling, telling you factoids you never asked for, working out, or spending quality time with his new husband and German Shepherd.

10 comments

  1. I’m a straight, middle-aged woman dealing with the Evangelical version. I cannot believe how much power this conditioning still has over me even though I consider myself agnostic now. Doesn’t help that family that made me (as opposed to the family I made) is quietly and politely losing their shit about my supposed backslidden state.

    Hugs to everyone who is going through this. You’re in good company.

  2. Ronald Conception

    Agree 100% When my Catholic guilt hits me, I know God isn’t about shame but love. And Love wins always.

  3. I completely agree. I also want to recommend a book by Matthew Vines called “God and the Gay Christian”. He is also the founder of the Reformation Project which is a bible-based organization “that seeks to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity”. And remember, that there are LGBT-affirming churches out there who will embrace you and accept you as you are.

  4. I’m also a former catholic who attended catholic schools but now I’m an agnostic atheist. However, ditching the faith is something I don’t force to everyone including the LGBT. But if there’s a remnant of the former faith that still latched on to me is “guilt”. However, instead of being a negative force to control me, I’m using it to become more scrupulous and conscientious to be a better person.

  5. Morality can exist without God or Religion: It’s called the Golden Rule: Do not do to others what you do not like others to do to YOU..

  6. Thank you so, so much for replying! This has helped more than I can even begin to describe. I have been trying to be more positive with myself, but I hadn’t thought of trying to pinpoint the exact thoughts attached to the guilt. This was such a lovely, and insightful post. I especially loved the “You are worthy of love” picture. Thanks so much, again, and congrats on the wedding! It was absolutely beautiful, and I again wish you all the love and joy you both deserve ☺️❤️

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