Escaping the Emotional Damage of Our Fundamentalist Christian Past

by Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Way Forward


If a person is a relative newcomer to Christian Fundamentalism, and they decide to leave it for a non-Fundamentalist Christian religion, another religion, or atheism, I think it is likely quite easy to view their Fundamentalist past as nothing more than a blip in their life.  However, for those of us who were raised up in Christian Fundamentalism and spent years attending Fundamentalist churches, it is much harder for us to escape.

Many of us spent decades being immersed in Fundamentalist Christian thinking. Our minds were filled with Fundamentalist Christian sermons that told us how to think and how to live our lives. It is no small task to walk away from Christian Fundamentalism after spending a lifetime in it.  When we do walk away, we walk away with a lot of baggage and emotional and mental scars. How could it be any different?  Years of being told you are a vile sinner that deserves hell or being told that certain desires you have are an abomination to God, are bound to emotionally and mentally do damage. When every area of your life is scrutinized by the church, pastor, and God, it is bound to have a lasting negative effect.

Many long time Christian Fundamentalists end up in therapy. In my case, the psychologist I have seen for the past three years, has worked diligently to peel away my Fundamentalist past one layer at a time. Just when I think I am free from it all, out of the dark recesses of my mind, comes the ugly specter of Fundamentalism.  Try as I might to run, it still catches up with me.

I live with guilt, knowing that I hurt my wife, children, and the people I pastored. Yes, they have forgiven me…but I can not forgive myself. As I told my friend Zoe on her blog today, I view this blog as my penance. I hope through my writing to expose Christian Fundamentalism for what it is; a destructive religion that corrupts and ruins most everything it touches.

I also hope to give former Christian Fundamentalists hope. No, I am not free from the bondage of my past, and I suspect I will always bear mental and emotional scars from the five decades I spent in Christian Fundamentalism. But, I can let fellow travelers know that it does get better the longer you are away from it.  I can let them know that better days are yet ahead and there is an uneasy peace that can be had.

How about you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Read everything by Bruce Gerencser!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Way Forward.

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Way Forward blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have 6 children, and nine grandchildren.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • Robyn Ann Fenner

    I wasnt raised in Fundamentalism but it had a huge impact on me at a sensitive time in my life. I got out in 1995 and still am finding myself drawn in sometimes against my better jugdement. It is really really hard to shake those ideas once you have totally given all of yourslef to them

  • Jewel

    Great article, and I am glad you are recovering little by little. It shouldn’t be underestimated, however, just how quickly this mindset and teaching can take over a person’s life and mind. I was not raised fundamentalist. Well, not really. I was raised Catholic with a very laid back, pretty much secular family who went to church and did the sacraments, but pretty much lived like everyone else the rest of the time. But I met my ex-husband when I was out of church and started attending a fundamentalist church with him. In a very short amount of time, I went from hippy, feminist college student to homeschooling, quiverfull mom. I wanted to be everything that I thought my parents had failed at. I drank the coolaid and thought I was doing everything so right. This was probably over the period of a decade altogether, but I was hooked on the teaching very quickly. Cults can work that way frequently.

  • aletha

    I grew up Mormon, and recently left the church. It’s frankly scary how much Mormonism has affected the way I think, and how I act. It’s currently a nightmare trying to disentangle who I am vs the Mormon me.
    I applaud you trying to make things right and sharing your struggles.

  • OK1

    Hello Jewel,

    was there anything your family or friends could have done to prevent this or help you get over it faster? My daughter is on the same path now. Your sentences sum it up: “In a very short amount of time, I went from hippy, feminist college student to homeschooling, quiverfull mom. I wanted to be everything that I thought my parents had failed at”

    She is not a mom yet, but heading fast that direction.
    How did you come out of it?

  • stairway to heaven

    Jewel, like OK1 I also wonder what it was that drew you to those beliefs and if someone could of done something to prevent it.

    Vicki Garrison once said she thought there was something broken inside that made someone susceptible to be drawn into it.

  • Jewel

    I agree with the something being broken inside. I am still working on that in therapy. Childhood hurts coupled with just wanting to “belong” and be part of a group of people who accepted me were big things. But there is more than that. I haven’t figured it out altogther yet.

  • Jewel

    Hi, OK1. That’s a hard question. I had some relationship issues with my parents, particularly my mom, which made me want to be different than her. But that is only one piece of the puzzle. Interestingly, my mom thought all the decisions I were making were good ones!! She thought it was evidence of my “devoutness”, and I think she had always actually wanted to be that way. She has become more that way as she has gotten older, I think out of fear of life and of growing older and dying.
    A family member did help me come out of it by befriending me and shining the light on the darkness I was in. She was, at the time, the only voice that I was listening to that was an alternative to the fundamentalist teaching I was under. I am surprised I actually listened to her! But thank God I did. She helped me through a time when my marriage had become abusive and I was at rock bottom. I know God sent her my way.

  • OK1

    Thank you Jewel for sharing your perspective. Perhaps, the only thing I could do is to continue listening and wait for my girl to snap out of it some day. Too bad best years would be lost.
    She actually did mention that she doesn’t want to be a working mom like me. And she is hoping that she will talk to God who will in turn talk to her beloved, and everything is gonna work out between them three.