Due to potential consequences, it’s just too scary to verbalize a decision or confess one’s truth, and seeing no easy choice, it’s common to go on pretending like nothing’s changed.
However, to remain in our religious organization, we must justify complacency and rationalize religious practices we no longer condone. Although this may seem inconsequential at the time, there’s an unavoidable cost for hiding in the “religious closet.” By denying our truth and betraying our true selves, we’re forced to live inauthentic lives, and the longer we pretend to be someone we’re not, the more pain and suffering we experience.
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Whether months, years or decades, when freedom of expression is stifled, growth and wellbeing are equally stunted, and, over time, the practice of self-suppression is a formula for chronic depression.
Although the choice to leave religion may be clear, it’s also incomprehensible. We must either betray those we love or continue to betray ourselves.
Clearly, to make such an important decision, we must be able to trust ourselves. Unfortunately, if we depended on religious leaders for guidance and religious doctrine for standards of behavior, self-trust is likely a foreign concept. Moreover, if we cannot confidentially trust ourselves, how can we be responsible for our own lives?
With our hearts trapped in turmoil and our heads buried in the sand, the choice to leave religion often invokes an internal battle where we’re torn in two. As denial and doubt pair up against truth and self-trust, we’re only fighting ourselves.
However, even when have the upper hand, we cannot escape the fact that we are suffocating, and deep inside, we know that we are only prolonging the inevitable. Although the idea of taking action is still overwhelming, we cannot move forward on the path to freedom until we accept our truth and trust ourselves to make the right choice. The next stage is letting go….
Stage 4 – The Stage of Letting Go
As we move out of denial and into Stage 4, we begin to unravel our religious roots.
Even though we might be ready to embrace a whole new paradigm, separating our lives from religion is a complex process that entails an in-depth evaluation of identity, roles, beliefs, and everything we once considered fact.
After a thorough self-evaluation, the next step is disentangling from the past.
As you go through the process of letting go, you may discover deeper levels within yourself, and the deeper you go, the more buried “stuff” you uncover, and, consequently, the more there is to let go.
Oftentimes, old beliefs are the hardest things to release. Even when you know they are untrue, it can be painful to permanently abdicate beliefs that have formed your entire life, and, in fact, when core beliefs are discarded, the foundation of life disintegrates accordingly. If this is the only foundation you have ever known, you may feel empty, lost, and not knowing what to believe, and, oftentimes, intense emotional turmoil can turn into an identity crisis.
However, by the end of Stage 4, once you finally accept your own truth, it’s no longer possible to live under the pretense of religion. As if awakening from a deep spell, you’re no longer hypnotized by promises and fears, and, maybe for the first time, you have the ability to think for yourself. However, to claim victory over doubt and denial, you must voice your choice through an official resignation.
Now entering Stage 5, it’s time to come out of the “religious closet.”
Stage 5 – The “Coming Out” Stage!
Coming out of the “religious closest” can be one of the toughest things to do, especially when your entire life has revolved around religion, and the lives of family and friends still do.
Even if you plan and practice what you’re going to say, when religion rules your family, the moment of disclosure likely comes with anxiety and dread. However, if your family assumes you’re going through a temporary fad, they might not take you seriously at first, but once you make your choice perfectly clear, you can expect reactions to run rampant. In fact, if your family believes that religious doctrine supersedes (your) personal boundaries, they’ll likely give themselves permission to judge or even resort to coercive strategies.
For instance, to get you to change your mind, your family might try to manipulate you through guilt and shame, accuse you of being selfish, or over-emphasis various scare tactics, such as the threat of eternal damnation or permanent separation from your family in the afterlife. Although they might sound irrational, if your family believes their threats, and you once believed too, be warned, scare tactics could invoke serious doubts in you.
With utmost certainty, to successfully come out of the “religious closet,” you must choose yourself over and above all else, and if you’ve never done this before, it can feel selfish and wrong. Moreover, if your new behavior contradicts old beliefs, and these are the same beliefs your family and friends still hold dear, you might be shaky in your choice and easy to re-enroll or manipulate.
Therefore, to deter the effects of judgment, avoid manipulation, and ignore scare tactics, it’s important to process confusing emotions, smooth out split energy, and be grounded in your choice before coming out of the closet. However, don’t confuse being “grounded in your choice” with trying to convince anyone of your new beliefs – the latter is a formula for disaster.
Through sharing the same set of beliefs, most religions inter-connect followers into a tight-knit community. So, when we no longer agree on the same beliefs and we’re no longer willing to pretend, we lose the one thing we had in common, and because the loss of commonality creates disconnection, we may become, at least temporarily, estranged from the people we love most. Since it’s quite common to experience relationship rifts, if you haven’t yet developed meaningful relationships outside your religious community, Stage 5 can be marked by loneliness. But, remember, it’s just a stage.
No matter the initial reaction, your family and friends will likely go through their own period of denial, and, therefore, during this stage, it’s important to be patient. After all, you had time to process your decision, and it’s only fair that your family and friends have time to catch up, but this doesn’t mean that you should accept their judgment or coercion. Rather than defending yourself or trying to convince anyone of anything, it’s best to set and enforce boundaries that stop unwanted opinions.
For instance, you might say something like. “I’m sorry that my decision is causing you pain and that’s not my intention. However, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy making my choice and I know what’s right for me. You don’t have to approve or accept my beliefs, and we certainly don’t need to agree, but, I’m one hundred percent clear and committed and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind.”
While enforcing new boundaries, it’s important to be diligent and consistent without being defensive. So, rather than arguing with others, it’s usually best to temporarily separate or disengage from a state of love.
Stage 6 – The Stage of Self-Discovery and Exploration
Rather than being the end of an arduous journey, leaving organized religion is the beginning of a new adventure! Although there is life after religion, it all depends on what you do and why you do it. Whether you hibernate into stagnation or awaken as your True Self is completely up to you!
As you free yourself from religious constraints, it’s time to embark on a journey of inner discovery and outer exploration. Although some people embrace this opportunity by taking a walk on the wild-side and exploring uncharted waters, it’s more the exception than the rule.
Even after you officially leave religion, deeply ingrained beliefs can create a gap between the desire for new experiences and the courage to take action, and, consequently, religious roots can continue to inhibit exploration, thereby affecting the quality of your new life.
So, even though you’ve formally said good-bye to organized religion, you’re not really free until you identify and release any remaining beliefs that no longer serve. In fact, in order to escape energetic bondage, you must specifically disentangle your worth from religion.
Until we consciously disentangle our worth from religion, we unconsciously suppress expression.
Once untied from religious constraints, you are free to explore unlimited choices. Because you’re trying to figure out how to live your life, this period of exploration could entail trying on different perspectives, embracing new attributes, testing familiar values, or even adopting a whole new personality.
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Whether the process of self-discovery encompasses a series of one-time experiences or an intensive exploration becomes a new way of life, sooner or later, authentic self-expression becomes second nature and your life begins to flow. Although it might take time and intention, by the end of Stage 6, you’ll be living on our own terms.
Stage 7 – The Stage of Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Since we cannot fully embrace our new lives while holding onto the past, forgiveness is key. To forgive others, we must process feelings of betrayal and release blame, and to forgive ourselves, we must process feelings of guilt, regret, shame, and powerlessness.
As you make peace with the past and reconcile “lost time,” remember that no one can see the forest through the trees until they’re out of the woods. So, rather than focusing on anything lost, you might want to celebrate everything gained!
Through the journey of self-discovery, we eventually become grounded in our chosen lives, but even though we have developed new relationships, we might still yearn to reconnect with family and old friends. However, despite the fact that we have forgiven their judgment and rejection, they might still need time to accept our lifestyle choices, and this could result in an extended separation period.