Guilt, because we are not good enough to get that healing.

This is Part 3 of a series of posts by Sharon, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.
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I grew up in a home filled with pictures—not of Jesus Christ—but of Mary Baker Eddy. Pictures of her on our walls: pictures of where she lived, her living room, her study, her rocking chair, and of her standing on her balcony at this house and that house.

I have a copy of the first edition of Science & Health, which is almost unreadable it is written so badly. Until Mary Baker Eddy had it rewritten, edited, and re-edited by someone else, it was obviously written by a person with some kind of thought disorder. And yet, this person was deified in my house. How much more cult-like could it be?

When I read about how Mrs. Eddy’s writings elevate her above Jesus and the Bible, I feel a split in my brain. Most of my brain finds it unbelievably delusional, and yet part of my brain accepts it as natural after hearing it throughout my first thirty-three years of life. I do think Christian Science has a brainwashing effect. It is very hard to get this junk out of your head.

I have read all the biographies of Mary Baker Eddy with histories of the Christian Science church, authorized and unauthorized, and I know from personal experience that it does not work and that it really is not Christian nor is it a science. Yet after a time, the old programming reasserts itself and I find myself thinking, “Oh well, Christian Science isn’t for me, but it’s fine for some people.” Then when I start reading again like I am now, I’m blown away by how cultish it is, and how damaging.

I think guilt is a big part of Christian Science’s mental hold on its followers. Guilt, because we are not good enough to get that healing. Guilt, because if our thinking was right we wouldn’t have had the problem in the first place. Guilt, about having to turn to medicine. Any bad luck, illness, injury or accident was a result of my own screwed up thinking. And I was taught to look at everyone else that way too. The result is difficulty in having any acknowledgment of or empathy towards anyone’s illness, including my own.

Having been raised in a ‘radical reliance’ household, I do believe that either there is something about Christian Science that appeals to unstable people (that is not saying every Christian Scientist is unstable, but many of us were raised by unstable Christian Scientist mothers or fathers) or that maybe the years of not being able to make Christian Science work makes one become unstable. I’m sure I don’t know the answers. I wish I did.

It’s weird how the mind can be trained to dismiss even the most clear evidence if it conflicts with the conditioning—to ignore what’s right in front of your eyes, to distrust and negate everything you sense and perceive. It’s amazing we’re all not in straitjackets, when you really think about that.

I think many ex-Christian Scientists have extreme fear of illness. We catastrophize mentally any time we have a symptom. Do you think this is because many of us don’t really understand symptoms and our bodies because we never took a health class or biology? I personally was exempted from all of that and I find that I have a terrible ignorance of illness and symptoms and where my different organs are.

I don’t tell if I am worried and I don’t tell if I feel sick, because I am sure I am terminally ill whenever I have some pain somewhere. I know that comes from having it shoved down my throat: “know the truth,” and “you are God’s perfect child”. We were never to acknowledge anything that we were scared or worried about because that would make it real. I think that I will die from whatever symptom I’m having, and then I think I will die because I thought it in the first place. It’s the circular logic mess we were taught. If you think it or fear it, it will happen. It’s ridiculous.

When I was a child, I was not just shut in a room if I was ill, I was totally ignored. Consequently, I find myself getting angry at anyone who is ill, including myself. It is a tough thing to get over the voices in your head as they instruct you to look the other way when someone is ill or injured. As to the refusal to allow grief, I also struggle with that. I can cry when someone I love dies, but then I expect myself to just get over it. Somehow, I seem to equate the expression of these emotions with weakness, or I guess the acknowledgement that something bad can actually happen.

These things hang on, and even though many of us can acknowledge the long-term psychological effects, acknowledging and changing are two different things.

I joined the first online discussion group of former Christian Scientists that I could find. So much resonates with me. It’s a way to kind of touch base with other former Christian Scientists. Knowing there are many other folks out there that have the same struggles as I do helps. I can share my experiences freely here; they sound crazy to other folks, because they are.

I have gone through therapy but I don’t know that it helped with my spiritual struggle. We do carry this baggage, but I believe that with self-awareness and some help from other folks here who have overcome the life of denial, we can do it.

I came out of Christian Science with a somewhat skeptical attitude toward religion in general. Because I had Christian Science shoved down my throat my whole life, and because I spent fruitless time trying to ‘heal’ myself—reading Science & Health trying to find that ‘magic bullet’ thought that would heal my illnesses—it gave me an attitude of ‘it’s all a bunch of lies.’

But I came to feel that maybe the skepticism or atheism, for me, is sort of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I have tried to figure it out for myself. I joined a mainline church after many years of being unchurched, and most recently I joined a Presbyterian church, although I am not currently attending. I attended a Bible study regularly there and I am sure the ladies grew tired of me talking about how screwed up I was from my past religious training and how hard it was for me to buy into some of the stuff they find so easy to believe. One of them asked me about what I was taught about being a sinner. I just looked at her and said, ‘well, I’m not… I’m perfect!’

Although I struggle to know what to believe, I do know that I want God in my life.

4 comments

  • Molly

    Thank you for giving words to this oppressive past I’m trying to shake. I’m reminded I’m not alone in this recovery process, and that it will probably take awareness for the rest of my life.

  • Chrystal

    Thank you so much for writing this, Sharon. And Molly. I relate to almost all of this, too. I look forward to the new serieses (plural for series?) on this blog in 2017 – of all the people leaving CS. We all have so much in common. I wish it was good stuff. But it is such layers of trauma and CPTSD that few can really grasp – except those of us who have been there.

  • Kathryn

    Hi Sharon, thank you for sharing. I’d like to contribute to this conversation (24yr old female) as well and hope others will add to it here in 2017. I, too, was raised in Christian Science and my experience seems to be two-fold.

    On one hand, it was beneficial in terms to regulating fear. It was also great in terms of creating a philosophical perspective on life.

    On the other hand, there is an innate challenge when children can’t understand what they are being taught. The lack of clarity and over-explanation left me “floating”. I have a distinct memory in Sunday school at around 12 staring blankly outside questioning to myself whether or not the trees were real. This sort of mentality may not be terribly healthy for a child who has yet to develop the proper mechanisms to interact with our reality. At around the age of 21, I also had to start addressing my personal feelings and emotions instead of existing as this person who lacked any concrete desires and accepted everything that came her way. I was also coming to terms with the suppressed reality of my sexuality that wasn’t ever necessarily shunned in church but I contributed it to a lack of higher thinking.

    Here was my biggest issue with CS. it does not properly prepare children for the realities being a human in this world today. Some people do tremendously being raised in CS but in my experience, it has been a challenge integrating into society and paying proper attention to my health. It’s quite scary when you know something is wrong yet a parent or mentor is saying that the issue is in your mind. This is conducive to mental health issues. Which leads me to the fact that I am now struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder and other emotional regulation issues. My mental issues could be contributed to the constant uprooting I experienced as a child but most arrows point to CS. I’ve realized it may be deeply related to a wish-washy mentality that was created by the “its all in your head even though you feel awful” mentality. It’s unfortunate that CS isn’t as wonderful as I once believed. All it has created for me and my family is an impeccable ability to be in denial and therefore deny all wants and needs of not only oneself but of others.

    It is damaging to place all importance on spirituality and pay zero attention to the signals of the physical world. My suspicion is that it was the best religion a Christian woman at the time could create as it allowed her to deny the realities of her unhappiness inside of Christianity. I often call CS the Christian Buddhism. It tries its best to be Buddhist while remaining within the tight confines of the Bible.

    That’s not to say I don’t believe in the power of positive thinking but the logic in CS takes you on a rollercoaster.

  • Todd

    “I think many ex-Christian Scientists have extreme fear of illness. We catastrophize mentally any time we have a symptom. Do you think this is because many of us don’t really understand symptoms and our bodies because we never took a health class or biology? I personally was exempted from all of that and I find that I have a terrible ignorance of illness and symptoms and where my different organs are.

    I don’t tell if I am worried and I don’t tell if I feel sick, because I am sure I am terminally ill whenever I have some pain somewhere.”

    Wow! That really speaks to me. I was raised CS, but never felt a connection to God and always felt helpless when I wasn’t well. I called practitioners, but I think what I really wanted was for them to tell me I would be OK in a way that I believed. Ironically, the calls were helpful except for all of the God talk.

    I left CS gradually in my late twenties, but wasn’t really “practicing” much in college or as an adult. Now 20+ years later, I am struggling to finally come to grips with my overwhelming fear and anxiety around illness. I’ve been seeing doctors for years and get regular check-ups. And while I no longer worry about needles and blood work, I still catastrophize over body symptoms. This caused a lot of stress in my marriage where my wife would see her perfectly healthy husband completely self-absorbed in fear about symptoms that were always nothing (whereas I was sure each symptom was a sure sign of a terrible autoimmune disease or terminal illness).

    I still struggle with this, but now rarely share my fears with my wife as doing so is not fair to her, me or our marriage. Psychotherapy has been helpful to a point – until the next new symptoms start to appear – always different and alarming enough to make it easy for me to toss out the lessons of the prior non-illness because these new symptoms are obviously much worse and must be real. This feedback loop has been a living hell and I am trying to dig down deep to root it out.

    I have long dismissed my loving upbringing and CS background as being trauma-free and unrelated to my adult anxiety, but I am beginning to see how my feelings of complete helplessness in childhood sickness is probably at the root of my current state. I also now have a distressing lack of spirituality in my life. I believe in a higher power, but feel no connection with that in any way – and no organized religion has rung true to me.

    I would love any thoughts on how others are dealing with this.

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