The Get Wise webinar sponsored by the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists in collaboration with the Ex-Christian Scientist is now up on YouTube! We welcome back cult recovery experts Bob and Judy Pardon and consider ways Christian Science continues to influence our sense of identity even years after leaving. The Pardons explain how this worldview is psychologically damaging along with providing tools for recovery.
In Christian Science there was no room for personality. We strove to be “God’s Perfect Child” to the point of denying our very humanity. As a result, after leaving Christian Science we wonder where to begin in rebuilding our lives. Understanding how we are uniquely wired is a great starting point. The Pardons will introduce and discuss the Myers-Briggs personality assessment which is a helpful tool for someone with a background in Christian Science in their recovery journey.
How can a non-Christian Scientist, or former-Christian Scientist help someone who is leaving or has left Christian Science? We don’t have all the answers, but we do have a few suggestions.
For starters, be empathetic.
Leaving Christian Science can feel like you’re going into exile. Kindness, concern, and “being there” for your friend can make all the difference. For tips on what it means to express empathy, watch Brené Brown on Empathy.
Be aware of issues we tend to have. The short list:
Feeling that we are the only ones who have ever left Christian Science or who failed at practicing it.
Nope and nope. Online communities and support groups of former Christian Scientists are available that can be very helpful. People have written memoirs about their experiences, there are blogs and this site!
Feeling stupid, manipulated, and ashamed for having believed in or attempted to believe in Christian Science for so long.
Reassure your friend that there is no shame in having been influenced by group belief. To trust your own understanding and experience in a way that sets you apart from a group or family can be scary and challenging. This is especially true if you were raised as a Christian Scientist.We are social creatures, we need each other, and we can’t always see that there are other avenues to take. Christian Science in particular is constructed to keep alternative thinking out of reach.
Common destructive emotional attitudes
Inability to feel honest emotions
Inability to name basic emotions, needs & desires
Inability to identify pain or injury in the body
Feelings of guilt at being hurt or becoming ill
Dealing with the lack of parental responsibility and compassion
Loss of Relationships
People who leave Christian Science often suffer the loss of relationships and the disapproval of family and friends still in Christian Science.
Healthcare is a huge issue for those who leave Christian Science.
We were often raised with very limited knowledge of the human body, and we tend to be stoic ignorers of health problems. These issues tend to be interrelated
Fear/terror of doctors/dentists and all things related to it. Recommend your doctor and dentist, or offer to help your friend find one. Share positive experiences you’ve had with people in the medical profession. Help calm their fears.
Procrastinating on making appointments for routine visits.This is often related to not having a primary care physician in the first place and an underlying fear of the medical environment in general. Recommend that they schedule their next annual (or twice-yearly) appointment while they are at the office. (Some offices will send a reminder card or make a courtesy call a month or two out to schedule an appointment. Dental offices regularly schedule twice-yearly cleanings six months in advance.)
Ignoring or downplaying symptoms.Ask how they’re doing, and if the answer seems a little evasive ask again and show your genuine concern. How long as the problem been going on? Are you being good to yourself? (Use your best judgment, don’t interrogate.)
Putting off having problems checked out.Offer to accompany or drive your friend to the doctor or dentist’s office. Encourage them to be forthcoming when asked questions about their health history.
Not knowing the basics of self-care.Christian Scientists are taught to guard their thoughts but ignore their body. Consequently, they often don’t know the basics of maintaining a healthy body, beyond simple hygiene. Feel free to direct them to resources that are available in book form or online, some specific to the needs of women or men.
Discomfort and unfamiliarity with typical medical terminology. Asking simple questions about symptoms can evoke answers the CSist may not understand. Because they may feel many emotions about medical care, it may be hard for them to ask for more details about those answers. Be willing to explain (without laughter or judgement) simple medical terms the CSist might be unfamiliar with. Offer resources with definitions and examples.
Struggling to find the balance between the ‘hard science’ and ‘alternative’ options of non-Christian Science care. The Christian Scientist may gravitate toward fringe practices that may not have much science proving their effectiveness. They may find web sites or videos covering topics that are put forth by sources with limited credibility. This is honestly no different than non-Christian Scientist folks in our world. Be willing to discuss (again, without laughter and judgement) the theories and sources your Christian Scientist friend is considering. Help them learn what counts as a credible online source and what doesn’t. Help them learn how to research medical issues online, when they are likely incredibly overwhelmed by the process.