I’m Okay, You’re Not Okay:  Adult (Atheist) Children of Christian Narcissists

boudov003

Guest blogger: Deanna M. Boudov

[This is part two of Deanna's wildly popular guest post entitled "It's Not Me, It's You."]

In my last post I wrote about my experiences being raised in a narcissistic family system by my devoutly religious mother.  In this blog, I’m going to tackle what it is like to be an atheist in a Christian family that also operates in the codependent world of character impaired people.

When an adult child of Christian narcissists “outs” herself as an atheist she becomes “the other” and sets herself up for being misunderstood, judged, and condemned by her family.  Our Christian family puts us on the defensive, sometimes without even trying to understand us. We defend ourselves because we deeply desire their love and understanding, but as with many situations, once you are on the defensive you are already losing.  We feel like our parents just have a need to be right about how wrong our life choices are, when all we really want from them is for them to let it go and accept us.

In these relationships, the empathy is one-sided.  We empathize with our families because we once believed what they still believe.  Of course we understand how they feel because they have conditioned us to live up to their expectations and be responsible for their emotions.  Often they refuse to empathize with us, because we have now exposed them to their worst fear: abandoning their faith.  Most of all, they are filled with shame.  Shame destroys lives.  Shame destroys relationships.  After we “come out” to them, when our loving family thinks of us, their main emotion will now be shame.  If you have never had this experience with your family, it is so hard to explain how bad they make us feel.

Empathy is a skill that can be practiced and developed.  For some of us, our parents will never develop that skill toward us.   Their thinking is so black-and-white that they are unable to put themselves in our shoes.  We are not who they wanted us to be; that is why it is so easy for them to shame, condemn and invalidate us. I believe these responses are reactive and not much thought is put into why they are responding to us in the manner in which they do.

Incidentally, if you have a Christian parent who actually does demonstrate real empathy toward you, and you feel that sense of understanding from them—the lack of projecting their fears, shame, and emotions onto you—please understand this is not the kind of parent I am writing about.

I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING

If you are a child of a character impaired parent you know exactly what they are going to say before they say it.  One time, I was preparing to have a family party at my home.  As my mother walked down the driveway, I turned to my husband and said, “As soon as my mother walks in she is going to say A, then B, then C.” I can’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but I imagine it was something along the lines of:  Your windows are dirty, you need to clean them; you look beautiful but you should wear more make-up; oh my god, I am so exhausted, I have been killing myself working, me, me, me, MMEEEEEEE!”  And sure enough, it went down exactly like I predicted.  He whispered to me in the kitchen, “Holy crap, honey, I can’t believe she said exactly what you said she would.”  He looked at me with pride, like I was a part of the Psychic Friends Network, and we laughed.

Now if we can do this with minor, day-to-day stuff, do you suppose we are incapable of understanding what our parents think about the big things like religion and morality?  Character impaired parents never bothered to get to know who we really are, or they denigrated the things we love and are good at, because they aren’t things they love or value.  Or maybe they have been conditioned to think our abilities are somehow immoral, and dirty, or sinful.  My mother is always offended by my sometimes bawdy sense of humor, and would blame that talent on my dead father who didn’t even get the chance to raise me (Although after writing that I think I like the idea of blaming my filthy mouth on genetics and not taking any responsibility for it!).

They would prefer we just continue to play-act the role they assigned to us at birth, and not make them have to confront our real selves. See, they do not need to know anything about us or our personal experience to make the proper diagnosis about what pathology we must have that made us abandon their religious beliefs.  In Christian narcissism what matters is whatever is going on in the head of the Christian who is talking at you.  What matters is instilling fear, invalidating our experiences, attacking our character, and wishing bad upon us through magic.  Those of us who have come out to our Christian friends and family see that they have already decided for us why we became atheist, our thoughts, experiences and feelings are of no value to them.

LOVE IS CONTROL, LOVE IS FEAR, LOVE IS CRITICISM

My ex-Christian friends have helped me put together a list of the reactive comments we endure in the name of Christian love from our friends and family:

invalidation denial

Character Assassination

Controlling

Fear Condemnation

This is just a small sampling of things our parents are allowed to say to us without any reflection that what they are saying at best invalidates our feelings, and at worst is emotionally abusive.  Their delusional belief system is so much more important to them than the health and well-being of their children that they may actually wish for bad things to happen to us, in what I think of as some sort of pre-schadenfreude.  There is not any response we can make that will not then cause them to contradict their own earlier comment.  The bar is always continually pushed farther and these arguments can never end.  The hilarious part is, often we hear this crap before we can even tell our story. Sometimes they pretend to listen to us just to wait until they can talk at us some more. If you are the child of a Christian narcissist, they don’t really care about any choices you make for your life and happiness that do not correlate to their limited world-view.

WHAT IS LEFT UNSAID

Our society has largely given consent to their beliefs, so their religious delusions are protected by a bizarre social contract.  It is the sacred cow we cannot tip over.  Therefore we are not allowed to say anything back because then they would feel persecuted.  What we are not allowed to say is the evidence you have provided for God, Jesus, Heaven and Hell is hearsay, subjective, rhetorical, and invalid.  We are not allowed to say things like:

If you truly believe that Satan and demons are out to get you, and that a realm called hell actually exists, then you are having a profound delusion and you need serious mental health counseling.  And by “counseling” I don’t mean by your pastor or someone in your church; I mean by an actual mental health professional.  It only makes sense to believe in heaven and hell if you have been indoctrinated to believe in these things.  You never would have come up with these beliefs on your own by observing the universe.  You were sold a story which you learned to believe, most likely when you were too young to listen critically.

We are not allowed to say:

Please stop trying to manipulate me into believing something for which there is no convincing evidence.  You were allowed to do this when I was a vulnerable child, but I am a strong adult now and your lack of boundaries in this area is completely inappropriate.  You cannot give us our childhoods back.  Instead of being ashamed of us for being true to ourselves, think about the precious childhoods you stole.  I am not asking for your religious counsel, nor do I need your unsolicited advice. Can you not see that I am healthy and happy now? Shouldn’t this be more important to you than whichever fantasy realm you think I may end up in?  Why can’t we live here on this earth together now, and just agree to disagree? Threatening us with hell does not work anymore because it sounds like a terrific reprieve from your character impairment.  Your constant criticism makes it hard for us to like you.  When you cannot separate the person from the Christianity, it is really hard for us to love the person but hate the religion <<< see what I did there?

If we could speak to them as freely as they speak to us, we would say:

Have you ever noticed how the Lord’s voice sounds exactly like your own?  That is because it is you.  When you pray or get a word from the Lord, you are only petitioning yourself, and answering yourself.  The Lord is a figment of our cultural imagination that you have made real for yourself.  He is only real when you believe in him, just like Santa Claus. When you pray for me, you do nothing to help us have a better relationship because you are praying for your desires not my needs.  All you are doing is trying to control me via magic to make yourself feel better about your delusions.  Mental healthcare is not your daily prayer session; that is just more of you talking to yourself.  You need someone to talk back to you that does not actually live in your own head or agree with all your confirmation biases.  Take a look at yourself in the mirror and see what we see:  Jesus never fixed you, you are still as broken as the day you were ‘on your knees’.  Our relationships can never be repaired as long as you keep trying to change me.  We don’t need you to tell us you love us, we need you to act like you do.

BOUNDARIES SCHMOUNDARIES

When your parents are character impaired, they do not have a healthy respect for your boundaries.  We can ask them to respect us as adults, and accept that we are still the same people, but we know that we cannot trust them to do this.  We know we need to accept them, but we also know they will not accept us.  A Christian parent with a character impairment cannot just agree to disagree.  When the master of the universe is personally telling you on a daily basis that all your opinions are correct, then you don’t try to get along, you just continue your pattern of domination.

We cannot trust that if we leave our children alone with them that they will not try to indoctrinate our kids, and/or discredit our parenting.  My own mother baptized my child at her house when he was a baby.  I had casually mentioned that a family friend told me I need to schedule a baptism, and she said, “That is all right, I already did it.”  This did not surprise me in the least.  She also makes it a point to discuss Christianity whenever she is with them, and has even told them to lie to me about videos she has shown them (Which frankly she does not even need to do, because I discuss her children’s Christian indoctrination videos with my children in the same way I would discuss any other cartoon mythology.  But seriously, why force my kids to watch videos they think are boring anyway, can’t you just put on something they actually like?).  When I call her out on this behavior, she tells me that I cannot tell her what to do in her own house.  She glosses over the moral error of telling them to lie by defending herself, saying this is who she is and she can’t change it—as if the need to tell others of her belief in the truth of Christianity is the central core of her personality.  And she is right about that—if I cannot get her to respect my boundaries even in my own home, there is no way she would ever respect my parental boundaries in her home.  So my kids don’t go there anymore.  Getting to know my children as the individual human beings that they are is not as important to her as coercing them into her religion . . . and then teaching them to lie to me about it.

REFRIED APOLOGETICS:  BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, THREW OUT THE BOOK

My mother blames my atheism on my reading atheist books. Even though I have a graduate degree in Biblical Studies from an Evangelical divinity school.  She tells me I do not really understand the Bible, because of course you cannot use your brain to understand the Bible—the Holy Spirit has to give you the revelation.  It is confusing to understand how this works.  If this is the case, then what is the point of study or of even having a brain?  It’s incredibly frustrating when a person understands something from hearing a story or reading a book but then tells you their spirit gave them the understanding.  You’re not using your spirit, you are using your reasoning, as limited as that skill may be.  You may be able to tell a regular atheist they do not understand your religion, although even then it is debatable without knowing the person.  But we ex-Christians completely understand it.  We understand the brand we were raised in, plus we also understand a lot of the other brands.  Stop suffering under the pretense that we do not; it is insulting and arrogant.

She gives me books on apologetics that are nothing more than rhetorical word salad or poor re-workings of Aquinas or Augustine.  It doesn’t matter that I have already studied better theologians and philosophers in my apologetics classes in grad school.  She gives them to me in hopes that by reading them I will be convinced and return to the fold.  She doesn’t want to discuss them with me, or hear any points I could possibly make about these books.  She already agreed with the books before she read them, because the authors are Evangelical, the books have the pseudo-intellectual mask of intelligence, she bought them at the Christian bookstore, and the titles already told her atheists are wrong about everything.  Confirmation bias is a very profitable publishing industry in the Christian world, but I trust Neil will tell you all about that.

I constantly prayed for understanding when I was in grad school.  My biblical studies professors, who were remarkably intellectually honest, taught us not to come to the text with preconceived notions.  They taught us not to infuse our studies with what we wanted the Bible to say, but rather to go to the text with an open mind in order to find out what it actually does say—on its own terms.  I learned from this that theology is incredibly fluid, and that a person’s knowledge of God represents whatever she desires to believe about him.  When people argue about theology on the internet, they are ultimately attempting to convince you to validate their identity.

BADSmeme

My mother is deeply entrenched in her personality and refuses to accept that the only reason I am an atheist is because I went to seminary and I studied the Bible like a serious person, not an automaton.  Sometimes I think the entire purpose of “being in the world and not of it” is to create drones to do the work of the church and to fund it. Plus we would not want anyone to be in the world, enjoy it and actually learn something.  Clutch your pearls Pearl, she’s become an ATHEIST!  It’s almost as if the goal of Christian indoctrination is to turn us into avatars of humans: perfect, smiling, living, factory-produced, cardboard cut-outs.

I worked so hard to remain a Christian too, even a liberal one. Like most ex-Christians, I did not want to be different from my entire family or turn my back on my whole culture and traditions.  I did not want to be judged and maligned by people that I like and love. But I could no longer accept the misinformation that gets passed on as fact or tolerate cognitive dissonance in my life.  There is no need to hold two competing ideas when the obvious answer is far simpler than the mysterious baffle gab used to confuse people back into believing.  A Christian narcissist wants for us ex-Christians to apologize to them for no longer wanting to eat their sh** and call it chocolate pudding. That is why they are so vocal about such a small and disorganized minority (e.g. atheists, gays) and pretend that criticizing a man-made rhetorical religion is the same thing as persecuting a person.

My seminary studies gave me the answers no parent, pastor, or priest could ever honestly answer, and none of it was mysterious. It is an absolute travesty that the things scholars have known about the history of the Bible for hundreds of years have not been passed down to lay people (that alone could have saved me four years of higher ed), but that is a story for another day.  Almost nothing Christians complicate with their baffle gab has to be so complicated.

I did not read any atheist literature until I already was one.  I got there on my own, honestly and with integrity, and dammit it was f***ing BRAVE.  So when she cannot accept my reasonable answers then she continues to push the bar and blame my atheist professors.  My atheist professors at my conservative Evangelical div school, riiiiiighhht??!! It always has to be something on the outside of the family system that needs the blame.  Trying to reason with a Christian narcissist has the same results as bashing your head against a brick wall.

WHERE DO WE GO?

How do you have impossible conversations with impossible people?  If I knew the answer to that I’d be as rich as Tony Robbins.  One time I was complaining to my Uncle Jim about how concerned I was for a family member’s medical state and their inability to make safe, reasonable choices.  This was probably the best advice I have ever been given in my life, because I thought they were the problem.  He said to me, “Deanna, the mistake you are making is you are trying to use reason and logic with people who do not use reason and logic.”  Long pause . . . BAM!  Mind blown. This produced a major paradigm shift in my thinking from that point on in my life.

My family of origin issues are not rooted in their Christianity or my atheism; that’s just one more reason among many for them to purposely misunderstand me.  These dysfunctional problems were here long before, maybe even generations, and they can only be fixed by the persons who actually see them as issues. Which unfortunately means, some of my loved ones will continue the pattern of emotional abuse because they have allowed themselves to believe what they are doing is love.

Here is what I have learned:  I can’t make people like me, not even the ones who are supposed to, like my Mom and my brother.  I deserved my mother’s unconditional love as a child and she failed in her duty to provide that to me. As an adult I understand that she is incapable of loving me for who I am, or of respecting my boundaries, so I accept her as she is.  Even if I did everything she wants me to do, it will never be enough to please her, or make her like me. So I’ve learned not to try.

I now surround myself with people who do love and validate me, and I work to end this cycle of emotional abuse for my kids.  I have narcissistic fleas, and the best thing I can do for my kids is to kill those fleas when I see them creep up.  Associating with family who encourages dysfunctional behavior doesn’t help me with that.  At this point in my life, if someone can’t respect my healthy boundaries then they are someone I’m most likely not going to have a relationship with, or I will have as little contact as possible.  There are no relationships I participate in that are based on fear, obligation, or guilt.  It’s not worth sacrificing my health, or my sanity simply because blood is thicker than water.  The reason it’s thicker is because of all the disease in it.  You should surround yourself with fresh water.  Don’t waste another minute of your life trying to please a narcissist (or change their mind about anything).  Find healthy people who know how to love.

_______________________

Deanna M. Boudov is a member of the International Brotherhood of Survivors of Christianity.  She was raised half-Catholic, half-Evangelical, and 110% crazy in Central New York.  She still lives in CNY with her husband Dave and their two children; who they are raising half-atheist, half-agnostic, and 110% awesome.  In the future she hopes to have a career as a professional profanity consultant.

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About Neil Carter

I wear many hats (and none of them pay well!): I am a school teacher, a tutor, a personal trainer, a supplement pusher, a driving instructor, a swim coach, and a father. I also help moderate a growing discussion group of more than 400 atheists in Mississippi and I’ve recently started a more public forum for anyone interested in discussing issues related to skepticism and/or life in the Deep South.

  • TrueFreedom

    I relate to just about everything that you have gone through with your parents and your kids. You are a wonderful communicator, and you sound like a great mom.

    • dboudov

      ((TF))

  • http://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/ N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

    Deanna, I applaud your courage to write so personally and I’m profoundly sorry for what you’ve been through. As I read about your mother, I kept thinking about the neurological research regarding mental disorders. It is not uncommon for neurological-mental disorders with symptoms of hyper-religiosity to go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed. No doubt brain plasticity played a role in her religious beliefs, but the fact that your mother baptized your daughter in the manner in which she did, and other over-the-top behavior, sends up red flags for me.

    From The Role of the Extrapersonal Brain Systems in Religious Activity – PubMed 16439158 :

    “Hyperreligiosity is a major feature of mania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, temporal-lobe epilepsy and related disorders, in which the ventromedial dopaminergic systems are highly activated and exaggerated attentional or goal-directed behavior toward extrapersonal space occurs.”

    From – The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences:

    “As many as 60% of those with schizophrenia have religious grandiose delusions.”

    From – Dr. David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain:

    “If an epileptic seizure is focused in a particular sweet spot in the temporal lobe, a person won´t have motor seizures, but instead something more subtle. The effect is something like a cognitive seizure, marked by changes of personality, hyperreligiosity (an obsession with religion and feelings of religious certainity), hypergraphia (extensive writing on a subject, usually about religion), the false sense of an external presence, and, often, the hearing voices that are attributed to a god. Some fraction of history´s prophets, martyrs, and leaders appear to have had temporal lobe epilepsy.”

    From – A Complex Presentation of Complex Partial Seizures — Official Journal of the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry:

    ““Because of these affective, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms, patients with Complex Partial Seizures (a.k.a. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy) are frequently misdiagnosed.

    Deanna, have you heard of Religious Trauma Syndrome? If not, I recommend reading all 3 articles. http://www.babcp.com/Review/RTS-Its-Time-to-Recognize-it.aspx

    I think you’ve done the right thing by removing yourself from the dysfunction. In my unsolicited opinion, I think your mother needs a thorough neurological evaluation, but that doesn’t guarantee she’ll be properly diagnosed. She does exhibit symptoms of hyper-religiousity, and that isn’t a character flaw. It’s a symptom of common mental disorders.

    Thanks again for sharing. I admire your strength; to have weather the storm for so long, and my apologies for such a lengthy comment.

    Victoria

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      LOL@RTS

      That was the name of my seminary.

      • http://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/ N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

        Really? Oh the irony. ;)

      • dboudov

        RTS teaches BS

    • dboudov

      Yes, I have heard of RTS, unfortunately it was after I got treated for PTS, which I do think loss of my religion contributed to that. So glad there are all these resources becoming available now. I wouldn’t surprise me if these issues are just neurological, but people who have the kind of character impairment I have been writing about usually will not seek out any medical help.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com Captain Cassidy

    Another awesome post, Deanna. You really do have a talent for hitting the nail right on the head. Thank you for sharing it. And that meme you did is FABBO. This is one of those posts I’ll be chewing on for a while.

  • dboudov

    Thanks Cassidy, and thanks for the nice shout out on your blog. Man you are prolific!

  • David W

    “”…the mistake you are making is you are trying to use reason and logic with people who do not use reason and logic.””

    I have recently come to understand that logic and reason are often not winning strategies.

    If two people are conversing, and they are both using logic and reason, eventually, the truth will emerge. However, if one party comes to see that the truth that will emerge is not in their interest, then the winning strategy for them is to resort to ‘deep emotion’, which trumps ‘rational talk.’

    The reactive comments you listed in the red boxes are just Christian-speak forms of ‘deep emotion;’ and by using them in our society, they have the even more advantageous position of being setting themselves up in a position that is taboo to criticize, that being a member of the dominant religion in this country.

    IOW: Why use reason and logic when you can throw what is essentially a form of a temper tantrum by resorting to deep emotion, and then throw in a sprinkling of those Christian-speak “reactive comments” you listed in the red boxes, AND THEN accuse you of persecuting them and their religion when you respond with ‘rational talk!!’

    It would be illogical of them NOT to use this winning strategy, unless of course they were just decent people who were interested in bettering themselves and others.

    • https://www.facebook.com/deanna.boudov Deanna Boudov

      You just described every family discussion I have ever had…ever; even the ones not discussing religion.

    • http://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/ N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

      “I have recently come to understand that logic and reason are often not winning strategies.”

      I agree. At least with the fundamentalists. Is a drug addict able to reason knowing that in doing so they will experience withdrawal? What many people don’t realize is that religion can be physically and psychologically addictive. Neuropharmacological studies show that dopaminergic activation is the leading neurochemical feature associated with religious activity. Dopamine (a reward neurotransmitter) is necessary for survival but studies also show that too much dopamine (dope) can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors in judgment, huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others. Too much dopamine can also lead to psychosis. When people take hard drugs, the high they are getting is coming from dopamine. The drugs cause it to be release. Two other reward chemicals are released as well — oxytocin and vasopressin

      This is one of the main reasons why going through a deconversion can be very difficult for those who were once devout. One is physically affected like a drug addicted going through withdrawal. Couple reward chemicals with years and years of an authoritarian religion reinforcing the threat of hell to the point that a part of your brain associated with fear, disgust, aggression, and negative emotions (amygdala) increases in gray matter volume, and the reinforced neural networks light up like a Christmas tree at the thought of eternal punishment.

      Your right — it’s taboo to talk negatively about religion, even when it can literally cause addiction and change the structure of the brain to the point that parts of the frontal lobes (higher thinking, emotions regulation, critical social assessment) are literally deactivated.

      • katje

        Excellent reply. I have long noted the similarities between religion and drugs and the research that bears them out. It is better than drugs, though, because it offers a release from responsibility that is readily acceptable to most of society. What more could someone want than to blame all and credit all to magic? I truly believe that if a christian ran a red light and killed five people because he was praying, not only would he get acquitted, but he would feel zero guilt because it was god’s will.

        • http://gravatar.com/prosepetals prosey

          *nodding* Just to add to the discussion –and note here: I’m not attempting, in any way, to diminish the neurological realities of dopamine release in the brain, and those chemical responses…I’m merely sharing a thought that passed through my mind while reading, and articulated to a friend of mine that I think dovetails nicely here:

          “…pondering the author’s (I believe correct) comparison with children of “alcoholic” parents (and I put that in quotes because of my stance on the term “alcoholic” itself, versus any form of “self-medicating” which may not be clinical addiction, but an emotional dependence) ~ anyway, the author reflected her initial surprise to the similarities of codependence. I don’t find it surprising at *all*…because one of the first questions I have for anyone (including myself, to be clear) who drinks or otherwise alters themselves is, “What is it that you’re hiding from?”

          The question of *shame* is a HUGE one, and while I won’t suggest causation, I believe the correlation between emotional abuse, religious “addiction,” and chemical “dependence” all share the same source: Shame.”

        • http://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/ N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

          Hi Katje — my apologies for the delay in my response. I’ve been spread thin lately. I agree with you that religion offers a release from responsibility though Christians seldom see it that way. The bottom line is that the Abrahamic god was invented so people could literally get away with murder, steal property from other tribes (Numbers 31) and own slaves and women. Jesus was added to the mix to seduce and control the masses (neurochemically) and it worked. It’s been known for several decades now by conservative rabies, distinguished biblical scholars and archeologist that the Pentateuch is myth.

          That most certainly affects the credibility of the NT. But most religious people simply won’t go deep into study (outside their bible and church) because to ask questions and doubt is a big no no. Plus — deconversion is not for the faint at heart. For many (especially if they live in religious areas) leaving the fold comes at a great cost on many levels.

    • http://empiricalmeta.blogspot.com/ Sam Daniels

      I see this same dynamic being played out each day with our current crop of “leaders” in Washington, DC. So, maybe none of this is only about mythology and religion. It might be, in fact (using logic and reason here), the way human beings are hard-wired to treat their fellows.

  • https://www.facebook.com/mary.ann.9659 Anna Bee

    Thank you for writing this. It is so refreshing to be able to relate so well to someone else’s story, and to come across something that isn’t just Christian-Bashing for the sake of Christian-Bashing. You’ve done a brilliant job depicting realistic problems that “non-believers” commonly encounter here in the U.S.

    I am inspired.

  • http://gravatar.com/willowblackbird Willow

    This series of articles has been very therapeutic for me. This was my mother and my upbringing 100%. I am an atheist and I’ve never been happier. This paragraph:

    “I can’t make people like me, not even the ones who are supposed to, like my Mom and my brother. I deserved my mother’s unconditional love as a child and she failed in her duty to provide that to me. As an adult I understand that she is incapable of loving me for who I am, or of respecting my boundaries, so I accept her as she is. Even if I did everything she wants me to do, it will never be enough to please her, or make her like me. So I’ve learned not to try.

    I now surround myself with people who do love and validate me, and I work to end this cycle of emotional abuse for my kids. I have narcissistic fleas, and the best thing I can do for my kids is to kill those fleas when I see them creep up. Associating with family who encourages dysfunctional behavior doesn’t help me with that. At this point in my life, if someone can’t respect my healthy boundaries then they are someone I’m most likely not going to have a relationship with, or I will have as little contact as possible. There are no relationships I participate in that are based on fear, obligation, or guilt. It’s not worth sacrificing my health, or my sanity simply because blood is thicker than water. The reason it’s thicker is because of all the disease in it. You should surround yourself with fresh water. Don’t waste another minute of your life trying to please a narcissist (or change their mind about anything). Find healthy people who know how to love.”

    …is exactly where I am now. And working on letting go of the hurt. Thanks for these articles. :)

  • Pamela

    Wow. Thank you so much for writing this. It took me so many years to realize just some of these things on my own, alone. Thank you for spelling this out so clearly.

  • https://www.facebook.com/john.shores.9022 John Shores

    “We don’t need you to tell us you love us, we need you to act like you do.” – Zackly.

    Well written Deanna!

    • dboudov

      Thank you my friend.

    • http://mountaintrail.us Joel Justiss

      Yes. That was well put. When I read that line, I made a mental note to respond with, “You say you love me? I’ll believe it when I see it!”

  • Hypatia

    My colorful diction brought great consternation to my Southern Belle Baptist mother and heaped guilt on my otherwise very lady-like Christian soul for the better part of my upright years.

    I prayed about my mouth every. Single. DAY. Clearly I was clay meant only for utility.

    And apparently, as a sailor.

    Two and a half years ago when my Wizard of Oz moment came to pass, I was mere days from blowing out forty three candles.

    TWO, dare I say, epiphanies…

    1. Many Ex-Christians I know (like Seth Andrews and Neil, here) seem to have had a fundamental spiritual de-coupling in their forties, somehow sailing past the other exit ramps on Maslow’s hierarchy when less Southern, less inculcated school aged children might have escaped a lifetime of delusion with a few pointed questions. Is it that we are life long learners, still trying to lead an examined life, and only able to come up for air a FEW precious times in a hectic life cluttered with “have-tos”? (PARENTHOOD: Steve Martin, “My whole life is HAVE TO.”) I have exhorted Seth to do a show on the TIMING/ AGE of Deconversion. He said he would work it up.

    2. In MY career as a professional profanity consultant I have noticed that lavish swearing seems to be an active form of stress relief — a manifestation of PTSD? My mouth has RADICALLY chilled since I “gave away the grace” and embraced reality.

    Our familial CV is similar enough to make me question if that b!tch mama of yours didn’t have an evil twin in South Carolina.

    Oh… and…well… while I’m up here…..

    3. BLESS YOUR HEART. You have my SYMpathy, sweetie.

    • Rustybadger

      How…I am in awe. Profanity Consultant? I can’t even right now…THIS is the best thing I’ve heard of. Ever.

      You MUST have a website?

  • http://gravatar.com/kathrynnehead Kathrynne Head

    RaMEN! Far too much similarity here to be coincidental, down to the mother and brother–with whom I have cut off all contact. Sad. Twisted. Sick.

  • A Noni Mouse

    I am so sorry that this has been your experience of Christianity. ): My reply is a response to the previous post as well as this one:

    I can actually kind of relate to some of the articles you write. It’s hard to fully relate since you claim atheism and I claim Christianity, but I can definitely empathize. My mother is that of the Christian Narcissist strain and reading a few of your articles have helped me to dissect and inform my childhood experiences. I walked completely away from God and the church and found my way back on my own 3 years later and have found that true, Biblical Christianity is far different than the doctrines and Bible I was taught growing up. My theology was and is now different than theirs. I experienced the same kinds of abuse, the same kind of emotional trauma, and the same backlash after my parents found out about my “rebellious years”.

    It’s been so healing to find Christians who actually practice what Christ preached, holding fast to unconditional love and walking out the teachings of Jesus with integrity without shaming or guilting me, loving me as I am, where I am, for who I am. It’s so awesome that you, too, have found healthy, validating, and fulfilling relationships in your life! How incredibly healing that is! I may not agree with you on what you believe, but I am very grateful to you for putting a name to the childhood I knew and the effects of it. My worst fear is parenting like I was raised, becoming blind to my children’s individuality and raising them to feel restricted, unloved, or invalidated as a human being. Because in psychology there is a common phrase (that scares me to death!) that we “make the same parenting mistakes as those who raised us.” I hope that shining a light on the sources behind our emotionally and mentally bruised upbringings will stay the both of us from repeating the cycles we were born into.

    I would like to point out that not every Christian family operates this way! It is not the norm, nor is it the expectation in the Bible! No Christian should use their faith or God as an excuse for their wrong behavior, and it’s actually the opposite of what Jesus taught to operate in that manner. It makes me frustrated to hear these stories of your experiences and to see them in my own childhood and my interactions with my family (which are not so many, as I have had to put up boundaries with them as well.) Faith should never be something to hide behind and make excuses for. Because then it is only a facade. It’s just tradition and fancy words and not the way you live your life. It makes me so sad to hear that this is more common than I had thought. I know a lot of loving, open, validating Christian families (maybe I have not had much experience in the Bible belt, but here in California this has been my experience) that encourage their children to think for themselves, develop their own ideas about God, and seek to be honest and real with themselves and their kids about their own short comings and failures apart from attaching them to religion as an excuse. Jesus instructs us to be decent human beings, to listen to one another, to reach out to the oppressed and afflicted, to love unconditionally and to own our own failures and turn away from them. The goal is to grow and thrive, in a strong community of love that encourages, cares for, and edifies one another with kindness and peace. And to not throw away your thinking MIND in the process. (Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, MIND, and strength). We are supposed to ask questions and dig deeper and find God on our own terms. And reconcile science WITH religion as opposed to trying to impose war among them. Jesus himself yelled at the Pharisees for clinging to their man-made religious traditions over the most common sense commandment: Love. (agape, actual UNCONDITIONAL love, not some religious pretense masquerading as love) At least, that’s the Jesus and the Christianity I have come to know. If there is anything that frustrates me more than supreme fundamentalism, it is Christians who think nothing good comes from anywhere else but the Bible. All truth and beauty are God’s, and it’s a shame that people think they need to close their eyes or become “blind to the world” to try to see the Truth.

    With my frustrations off my chest and trying to put my thoughts to words (I know nothing I say in the above paragraph will convince anyone who does not to believe as I do, but it was therapeutic to get it out and articulate my frustrations and beliefs!), I do want you to know that I really enjoy reading the articles here! Jonalyn Fincher over at rubyslippers.org has been linking these articles. They are eye opening, enlightening, and a challenge to be a good, loving, open-minded parent when the time comes for me to have kids. And they really do help shine a light on my own experiences. Put words to thought and memory, as it were. Thank you so much for such great posts!

    • http://empiricalmeta.blogspot.com/ Sam Daniels

      Very good reply, IMHO. In my experience I met both types of Christians — those Deanna and Neil describe — and those such as yourself. I became an agnostic anyway, simply on the basis of empiricism and rationality. If I were to tell you that my closest friend and confidant is a centuries-old leprechaun, you would need some type of proof before accepting this. I have never seen any such proof of the claims made by Christians or the Bible, so it has not been difficult for me to live as I have in this, the only REAL life and world any of us will ever know.

      Anyway, I have always been more interested in WHY people believe something (anything!) rather than the actual particulars of their “faith”, including all religions, politics, UFO’s, and any and all conspiracy theories. Apparently we have a need.

    • Hypatia

      @ A Noni Mouse

      Let me guess, you’re one of those “Its not a religion, its a RELATIONSHIP” apologists? Isn’t it funny how YOU, in all your modern relativistic sanctimony, have discerned the TRUE MEANING of the Bible’s ancient text when all the great foundational ‘thinkers’ of Christianity as it is currently organized CLEARLY FAILED? (re: Martin Luther: Death to heretics, John Calvin: Death to heretics, Aquinas: Death to heretics)

      Only a few centuries ago your amazing temerity would have gotten you tortured and killed by these leaders of Christianity. But evolution takes many forms as we all can agree. ;)

      Keep rationalizing…keep generalizing…Many of us went through your stage. It will pass and then you, too, will be TRULY FREE.

      I’ll sacrifice a goat to Thor that perhaps your final break with wish thinking will happen sooner (before you have kids to abuse with superstition) than later (like for most of us who wish we could reboot our parenting to avoid years of confusion for the minors under our care).

      No sarcasm here…. good luck with your deconversion, Noni. Your time is close at hand even if you are the last to recognize it.

  • https://www.facebook.com/franklin.bacon.7 Franklin Bacon

    It is quite something as well, when the entire church group also acts the way this writer’s family does. Being a child in that church, when the time came to enter adulthood I was left with severe self-doubt and indoctrination that discouraged higher learning. Without an outside social support network, I have spent the last 30 years trying to recover from it.

  • Sean Tulien

    What a beautifully written, cogent, and thoughtful article. I can imagine that many ex-Christians will read this and find comfort in a shared perspective of struggles that seem entirely unwinnable or even tolerable.

  • http://antiquesandlingerie.wordpress.com michelleleeb

    “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

    Just thought the real meaning of that quote was relevant ;) the relationships we make are more important than the ones we’re forced into by birth.

  • http://prosepetals.storm-artists.net prosey

    I’d just like to add my Thank You to the chorus of Thanks here.

    I maintain a relationship with each of my parents (both of whom I’ve written about, and how I “deal” with them…which amounts to consistent boundary reinforcement). The relationships are on my own terms (no matter how much they wish otherwise, no matter how they *try* to push buttons, and not matter how they try to dominate what I “should” think/believe). I maintain these relationships *because* I love them both, in spite of themselves. I recognize that each of them (67 and 85, respectively) are incapable of self-recognition and reflection…that each of them are stuck in their own sort of arrested development (I can’t fix those things). I’ve never told my dad I’m an atheist -and have no intentions of doing so ever…not because I’m afraid of his reaction (I’m so not LOL), but because I know my truth would actually hurt him, and he’s approaching the end of his own life as it is. With my mother, it’s a bit different…because they’re different people…but the struggles you wrote so beautifully and articulated so elegantly — THOSE are deeply familiar struggles.

    So again, Thank You!!

    • http://write3chairs.wordpress.com write3chairs

      I’m encouraged and relieved to read these articles on Children of Christian Narcissists or CCNs. I am one, too. Am not really sure how my brother’s religious beliefs have evolved, but without a doubt my mother is a full-blown Christian Narcissist. The harder I push, the more she prays, and the farther apart we become. I sometimes dislike how I feel after speaking my mind to her because I know my words come across as an insult. It bothers me that I am a source of pain for my very own mother, and yet to appease her would mean a betrayal of my own sense of what is true. It helps to talk it out with understanding people. Thank you!

  • http://chandlerklebs.wordpress.com chandlerklebs

    “When the master of the universe is personally telling you on a daily basis that all your opinions are correct, then you don’t try to get along, you just continue your pattern of domination.”

    That is so true. This is why so many of the Christians I talk to seem convinced that their opinions are right. Their opinions are based on their religion and so reading their bible and going to church with people who think just like them helps them to believe there are no contrary opinions. It makes it IMPOSSIBLE for them to relate to an atheist like me even though I was once very much like them.

    • dboudov

      Yes, opinion becomes fact and fact becomes irrelevant.

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  • Judy

    My mother raised me alone. Although she always claimed to believe in the Christian God, she was not Christian enough to be included as part of her family. My mom was a bartender at the American Legion, which is apparently not a ‘christian’ profession. We only saw her uber-christian sisters at family reunions, which occurred once or twice a year. It wasn’t until she retired that she was able to establish a close relationship with her super, self-righteous sisters. I love my aunts of course, but I don’t always like them very much.

    There are a couple of aunts and uncles (my mom had alot of siblings) that never judged and loved her as she always was. Unfortunately, they are all either dead or have no desire to interact with the know-it-all members of the family. I personally have no desire to attend the family reunions unless my sister is able to attend–she is the only one i want to make the effort to see. That is incredibly sad, given that the reunions are held at a church that is 5 minutes from my house.

  • JD

    Thank your for your insightful and well-written article. I’m also recovering and am emotionally estranged from my Baptist-fundamentalist family. It’s helps to see that I’m not alone and how you have dealt with some of this. It’s sad and it’s a struggle, but I’m glad I’m raising my daughter outside the clutches of my own narcissistic religious upbringing.

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  • http://topsharking.com/ top sharking

    I believe that this is another case of the Republicans just saying

    “NO”. He’s bouncing around on floor, did a casual triple full,

    and is the only guy so far to do something real on vault — a couple handspring double fronts,

    to be exact. I personally believe this is immoral behavior that

    only hurt the most vulnerable of American citizens and line the pockets of the the

    credit card issuers.

  • http://topsharking.com/ top sharking

    I believe that this is another case of the Republicans just saying

    “NO”. He’s bouncing around on floor, did a casual triple full,

    and is the only guy so far to do something real on vault — a couple handspring double fronts,

    to be exact. I personally believe this is immoral behavior that

    only hurt the most vulnerable of American citizens and line the pockets of the the

    credit card issuers.

  • http://topsharking.com/ top sharking

    I believe that this is another case of the Republicans just saying

    “NO”. He’s bouncing around on floor, did a casual triple full,

    and is the only guy so far to do something real on vault — a couple handspring double fronts,

    to be exact. I personally believe this is immoral behavior that

    only hurt the most vulnerable of American citizens and line the pockets of the the

    credit card issuers.

  • Charlie

    Thank you, Deanna. My mother was a Christian Narcissist and you have given me so much to think about. As you described, my mother also used God as a defense whenever I asked her to justify anything. An argument always ended with her claiming she just understands God and the world better than I do, so I can’t possibly be right! How dare anyone question her? She is an angel in the flesh and God has chosen her to carry out his will on us lesser people. HA!

  • Charlie

    Thank you, Deanna. My mother was a Christian Narcissist and you have given me so much to think about. As you described, my mother also used God as a defense whenever I asked her to justify anything. An argument always ended with her claiming she just understands God and the world better than I do, so I can’t possibly be right! How dare anyone question her? She is an angel in the flesh and God has chosen her to carry out his will on us lesser people. HA!

  • http://victorianeuronotes.wordpress.com/ N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

    Hi Katje — my apologies for the delay in my response. I’ve been spread thin lately. I agree with you that religion offers a release from responsibility though Christians seldom see it that way. The bottom line is that the Abrahamic god was invented so people could literally get away with murder, steal property from other tribes (Numbers 31) and own slaves and women. Jesus was added to the mix to seduce and control the masses (neurochemically) and it worked. It’s been known for several decades now by conservative rabies, distinguished biblical scholars and archeologist that the Pentateuch is myth.

    That most certainly affects the credibility of the NT. But most religious people simply won’t go deep into study (outside their bible and church) because to ask questions and doubt is a big no no. Plus — deconversion is not for the faint at heart. For many (especially if they live in religious areas) leaving the fold comes at a great cost on many levels.


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