I personally find that when you’ve been around toxic people long enough, either in a family environment or as part of a cult or a highly controlling church, (or worse, BOTH!), you tend to get a very twisted view of your own identity and also human nature in general.
In a religious context, you may end up feeling that you are a “lowly worm” and that in general, people can’t be trusted. Since all you’ve known of relationships has been painful, complex and tiresome, it can give you the impression that this is the norm and that’s all you can expect
Neuroscience has proven that when we’re chronically tired, stressed and/or emotionally depleted, our ability to make wise decisions is severely impaired. We’ll generally just resort to what feels comfortable, familiar or safe. The problem is: if we aren’t used to being in a truly safe environment, we may find ourselves surrounded by yet more toxic people, because that’s what feels normal to us.
On the other hand, if we meet people who are genuinely kind, sincere and loving, we may get scared and run away, because they just feel so unfamiliar and foreign to us. Or, we may be terrified of opening up and being vulnerable, because we’ve been hurt so many times in the past and fear we just can’t risk it again…
Maybe we don’t believe we actually “deserve” love or are worthy of someone else’s affection, so we distance ourselves from them…
This is also the reason why toxic churches and cults can be so damaging to our ability to form healthy friendships and relationships. There is a constant environment of criticism, blame, and gossip, and they don’t teach that we are beloved or saved by grace, but that we must strive after perfection in order to earn God’s love.
However, once we begin to stand in our true identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Most High, we can move towards healthy relationships that are not dictated by fear, manipulation or selfishness.
I truly believe that once we can accept that God is good and that he loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, we can really flourish and start to form healthy relationships. When we receive His love in our hearts and it starts to irradiate through our being to others because it will be Christ’s love that is flowing through our veins, not our own. Our whole self will be founded on the rock of Christ’s love for us, rather than on the slippery sinking sands of fear, self-loathing or insecurity.
This transition to self-compassion and the deep knowledge of our belovedness can take time and isn’t usually immediate. We have acquired many toxic thought patterns in our brains that tell us that we “aren’t enough” and can constantly slip back into anxiety, self-doubt, and envy… Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to make a conscious effort to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:12) so we can finally understand with our heart and mind that we are beloved and not cursed. This can be a long process, and we will need the encouragement of others on the way and great patience and grace towards ourselves. If you’re currently going through this process and are looking for a safe place to share, I invite you to email me at [email protected] or to join our Faith after Deception Fellowship group if you’re not a member already. I’d love to hear from you and to pray for you.
Love in Christ,
The Prodigal Son