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Marie Kondo-ing My Christianity

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

I recently came across a post on Facebook that spoke to me and some things I have been experiencing with my faith and relationship with the church. The post was titled “Religious Beliefs to Unlearn” by The Happy Whole Way. Here are the beliefs we need to unlearn because of spiritual abuse or religious trauma:

I cannot trust myself.

I am nothing without God.

My desires are sinful.

My spiritual self is all that matters.

I am responsible for saving others.

There is only one right way to live.

I’m broken and need to be saved.

These are many of the things I have believed in the past. My current journey is unlearning these toxic beliefs and deciding for myself what my faith looks like. One process I’ve figured out is akin to the Marie Kondo method for decluttering our stuff. So, I guess I’m decluttering my faith beliefs. Taking out what no longer fits me or what I simply don’t want. Here are the steps I’ve developed for this spiritual process:

1. Choosing what sparks joy and what you want to keep. I don’t attend church regularly anymore, but I visit occasionally. On one occasion, I was listening to a sermon by a very progressive pastor who I felt was a safe person. But even listening to them I could say, “Yep I agree with that part of what they are saying” and “Nope, I don’t agree with that.” No longer does the person who stands behind a pulpit have all the answers. I get to decide what I believe in the words spoken to me. I can trust myself and don’t need to accept everything a pastor says is the truth for me.

2. Understanding that this ‘unlearning’ or ‘decluttering’ is a process, and it cannot happen in a set time. Processes are frustrating. We want to be done so we can move on. But unlearning toxic religious beliefs takes time. This process is also painful. It’s natural to want to experience pleasure rather than pain. But this journey is a process, and we will get to a different and better place. I don’t say we will get to a destination or solution, because I believe this is something that will continue to grow and change in us. Saying there is one right way and one destination we all need to be at is part of the toxic culture in many churches.

3. Recognizing you have learned patterns of beliefs that are abusive and neglectful or simply don’t fit who you are today. This may be a difficult thing to do. Because these are learned patterns, we may not even be aware of them. To start, we need to look at our feelings. If something makes us feel uncomfortable and/or shameful, it most likely is a toxic belief that we need to unlearn. An abusive system will try to make you believe you are wrong and only by trusting the system will you be okay. But this is a way for the system to gain power and control in your life.

4. Trust yourself and what you believe. As in point number three, the abusive system will try to gain control and power by telling you that you can only trust them. The journey of trusting yourself will not be easy. This may be the most difficult lie to unlearn.

Be gentle with yourself. This means giving care and compassion not just to others but to ourselves. Taking care of ourselves is a belief that is often shunned in religious systems. But the Bible actually tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to love ourselves. This is a teaching we can hold on to.

5. Seek people who are safe and supportive. Leaving an abusive religious group is often very lonely and isolating. We need to work at seeking people we can trust and with whom we can be ourselves. That doesn’t mean we trust everyone or that we don’t trust anyone. We need to trust ourselves first to decide who is now a safe person. Again, this is a process, and we won’t get it right every time. So be gentle with yourself.

6. Often, we need professional help to recover from the pain and trauma caused by being a part of an unhealthy belief system. Frequently the wounds that we get from an abusive religious system are severe. They can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. This is nothing to be ashamed of. You are not broken. Rather, you have been harmed by a system that you trusted and that was supposed to be there for you. You are not to blame, but it is your job to

get the help you need to recover.

7. Often trauma can cause us to think in black and white terms. We may believe we need to throw out everything we experienced in the church. However, there are good things to keep - we don’t need to throw it all away. One of the unhealthy beliefs the system taught us is that we could not decide for ourselves. Now is the time to trust yourself. There are many parts of faith that can be very good. Don’t allow an abusive system to take the good things away from you. Going back to the Marie Kondo method: if a belief is helpful to you, if it sparks joy and is something you want to keep, then keep it. Faith and a spiritual connection can provide many good things in our life. You deserve to have those good things.

Recovering from an abusive religious community can be one of the most difficult things a person may experience in their life. Our faith affects so many areas of our life. It can be a slow and painful process. But recovery is possible. If you or someone you love is struggling with the trauma of spiritual abuse, you are not alone. If you would like help on this journey, please reach out to me at I’m here to listen and support.

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