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What we trade to belong

4 minute read

The need to belong is so human and primal. Evolutionarily speaking, it meant life or death, we were interdependent, we needed each other for survival, food, warmth, protection.

The need doesn’t go away because we live in a modern society, it’s a powerful driver of behaviour and can cause us to go against our values at times, to align ourselves with beliefs and frameworks for living that harm us and those around us.

If we’ve had difficult or painful relationships with our caregivers and families of origin, we go through life looking for attachment and belonging, often hustling for our own worthiness. This is often unconscious and can be painful and confusing.

We see the search for belonging in all sorts of groups and group identities. In healthy spaces, people connect and are welcomed in, accepted for who they are, valued and invited to contribute to the functioning of the whole. Disagreement, questions and diversity are allowed and welcomed. There is a common goal or interest, meaning is found in being part of something larger than ourselves.

I’ve seen a few churches create this. Not many, but the handful I’ve witnessed are generative places where humility and inclusion are key values. Sadly, they are an outlier.

I did not experience this sort of belonging as part of the faith community I grew up in. At the time I would have told you I did, but healing, unravelling, ‘deconstructing’ from church and faith as I’d known it, meant feeling the pain of the ways I ignored my own truth for the sake of having an anchor. I wasn’t aware this was what I had done, hindsight is a powerful lens. But over time I couldn’t ignore the niggle, the way things didn’t sit right.

What I was willing to ignore for my place in the group included:

  • My discomfort and later trauma over belief in a literal hell
  • How deeply uncomfortable I felt about the god I was presented with, conditional, tame, punitive, transactional, at odds with the message of grace and love
  • The lack of belonging (at best) available for LGBTQ+ people
  • The lack of diversity and inclusion
  • Myopic and rigid beliefs that at times looked a lot like nationalism
  • Inability to question leadership
  • Lack of critical thinking.

I could go on.

I still feel sadness looking at this list. But I have learnt to practice self-compassion. I can forgive myself for doing what I needed to do to feel secure, to have a cause worthy of my energy and devotion. It was my whole world. I hope anyone hurt by my fervour has found healing.

I can’t know how different life may have been for me had I chosen a different path as a 13 year old. It doesn’t matter now, it’s not what happened. I have learnt to love the life I have and let go of the need for a different past. But it’s taken years to form a new was of seeing and even now, old habits and ways of thinking catch me by surprise.

Maturity and life experience have allowed me to form my identity in different ways, to know what it is to belong to myself first, explore new and beautiful ways to be spiritual, be clear about my values and what I will no longer trade.

It is possible to heal from this pain, shake off the shame and harmful messages, the judgements and prescribed ways of being acceptable.

You are good. Your heart is good. You don’t have to hustle for your worthiness or earn acceptance. You are beloved and valuable exactly as you are. No caveats.

If you’d like to read my story you can download it here. Or message me here and I’ll flick it to you if money is tight. No questions asked.

Last week I encouraged you to write about your pain points, the things that make you crazy. Maybe there’s a connection between those and the things you were willing to trade for belonging.

Go gently.

*Box breathing helps with the knot in your stomach you may be feeling. Get comfortable. Breathe in for 4. Hold it for 4. Release for 4. Hold for 4. Repeat for up to 5 minutes. This calms your nervous system and tells your body you’re safe. Do it as often as needed.

BOOKMARK: In the coming months, there will be an online course available for those who have experienced religious trauma. It’s called ‘Freedom from Religious Trauma: Coming Home to Yourself’. It’s packed full of learning activities, videos, storytelling, research findings, and ways to find your centre.

I’m really enjoying putting it together, I know it will help so many of you. It’s the course I would have dearly loved when the ground started to give way beneath me.

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