Monday, July 24, 2017

Childhood Trauma: “Catholic Guilt”

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness



…the disciples came to Jesus, asking, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And Jesus called a little child to him, and set the child in the midst of them. He said, “Verily I say unto you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name also receives me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
--Matthew 18:1-6

While attending a Mass sometime before I'd left Roman Catholicism in profound distaste, a woman had walked up to the pulpit with something to share.

This woman had a bright smile on her face and pep in her voice. She announced to everyone how amazingly happy she was to have converted to Catholicism. The gist of her words was like so many others religious converts: her life sucked, her and religion connected, and suddenly life was bliss.

WTF!? I’d thought, disgustedly. How blind are you? You just voluntarily signed up for life-term imprisonment.

The Deciding Factor

I was just reminded of this incident the other day. My first thought was that it seems like another story of the proverbial grass being greener on the other side. There’s fear and desperation or some such things and, for better or for worse, along comes - - ! ! The Grand Solution ! ! - - and the person is immediately swept away.

Did it truly end up being “greener” for this woman? I don’t know. Perhaps her life circumstance really was one where the timing and energies were ripe for positive change and Catholicism has, in fact, offered her a path to continuous, deep satisfaction.

But I still know my feelings about the Church, and I know well the hell my life has been as caused by the Church, directly or indirectly. Plus, I’m well aware that, hard as they may try to avoid or deny it, the vast majority of Catholics carry many of the same distortions I had in the past or still do.

Assuming the woman truly found “home,” What makes this woman’s case so different than the cases of myself and multitudes of others? It seems to me this question must have created and stirred itself around within my subconscious for without consciously asking I received a conscious answer:

Childhood trauma: guilt, shame, and fear indoctrination.

You see… Regardless of what this woman may have learned in adult catechism classes and such, she’d already had 30 or so years of non-Catholic-conditioned life under her belt.

For any of us who have grown up Catholic, our story is usually very different. We feel guilty about everything. Let me tell you a little bit about it...

A Bastard from Birth

Although what I am going to speak of here is based on personal experience and perspective, as you will see through a few anecdotes, my experience is hardly a freak thing. Due to my highly sensitive nature, I feel that the various methods of conditioning had hit me very hard. Still, it’s irrefutable that a great many other Catholics have had some intensely heavy crap forced on them as well. Supremely unpleasant though it may be for many to admit, guilt, shame, and fear-induction is the culture.

Let’s begin with a rehash of a very short post I’d made some time ago. Aside from a few belief-creates-reality words, I’d included the following images of a bi-fold card I’d come across:


Folks, I was born on November 5th. Yet in a manner of speaking, I was apparently a spiritual orphan until December 2nd. And that’s how it goes with the Church. Once a child is born, the push is on because, innocent though they may seem, it’s believed that children are going to go straight to hell if they die before they’re baptized due to “original sin”… Which, one, means all unbaptized kids ever are hell-bound, and, two, is both strange and woefully disheartening because even for those who’re baptized (i.e.: all Catholics), most all of them still carry a sense of guilt and unworthiness straight to the grave.

In another instance, 99% of the people in my childhood environment were Catholic. I’m not going to name names or place blame or any such thing, but I will say this: When I was a kid, there was no slouching around where religion was concerned. The ways of the Church we’re heavily ingrained—when I didn’t follow them, directly or indirectly, I was punished. And when I did or thought about doing, well, just about anything, I feared being punished, judged, shamed, going to hell, and so forth.

By 2nd grade, we were put through the paces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…” We were about 8 years old, and already we were being cripplingly indoctrinated with the shame- and guilt-laden beliefs that we’re more worthy of being punished by God because we’re sinners than being worthy of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance simply by existing through His Grace.

Let’s now step into my 8th grade religion class. During our preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, we had to remember and recite a number of things. My teacher, a former nun and a supremely unhappy person, would pick on random people to do the recitations. Upon making mistakes, one phrase she would regularly shriek at us was: “You are not even Confirmation candidates!” In the prior year, she’d told the "Confirmation candidates" that they were going to hell.

(And what I say here doesn’t touch on the things I’ve heard from older generations regarding how their parents and teachers had more strong-handedly, perhaps violently, treated them.)

Being conditioned from birth, steeped in Catholic family and friends, spending 12 years in Catholic education, and then some, it is clear to me how bliss-woman could find such joy in Catholicism—she hadn’t spent her childhood in hell.

Examples of Trauma Manifested

Let’s first revisit an above instance. I’d said: “…when I did or thought about doing, well, just about anything, I feared being punished, judged, shamed, going to hell, and so forth.” As I heal, I’m both dumbfounded and saddened but the intensity of negative thoughts that come up in me. There’s forever a voice saying things like: Someone is going to see you. They’re going to laugh at you and judge you for this. You’re going to look like a girly faggot if you do that. Outrageously asinine and self-denying as these are, they’re the same types of thoughts that had complete control over me for the better portion of my life. In constant fear and self-rejection, I’d effectively become who I’d thought everyone else wanted me to be rather than being myself.

In regard to attaining personal desires, we often avoid “getting more” and “moving up” due to a feeling that to do so we have to be sinning in some way, we’re not worthy, God is going to judge and punish us, and we’re necessarily going to step on people in the process. We’re wildly afraid to be happy while others are still suffering as if our personal suffering somehow eases the suffering of others.

In regard to money, we’re conditioned into poverty; we’re taught that we’re unworthy of financial and material riches—they’re evil, and if we have them then we’re evil. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Which is “funny” in a very distorted kind of way because many of us, as a means of coping with the inner discomfort, will then either spend gobs of money on trivial “stuff” in order to get the “high” that comes with spending money, or we’ll blow our cash, not on things to bring personal satisfaction because “that would be selfish,” but on alcohol, gambling, junk food, etc. In all cases, we’re still forever crying lack, regardless of how much money and goods we have, and we’re far less able to afford or apt to buy the quality things that would provide us long-term, positive gains. Add to this that, in believing we don’t deserve to have, we often become unconsciously trapped in the “there’s always another bill to pay” scenario.

(Ironic, is it not? Catholics are forever crying poverty because that’s the Church-taught belief and that’s therefore the personal perception, yet all the while the Church remains the richest entity on the planet…)

Where giving and receiving is concerned, what we give is never enough, and when we receive we feel like we must give back and give back and give back more. Even with what is labeled, Take me. I’m free, guilt and unworthiness come a-knockin’:

  • "I will take it because if not it will go to waste-then I'm responsible."
  • "I will take the used because I don't deserve the new."
  • "I will take it because I'm afraid of disappointing someone by saying no."
  • "I won’t take it because I don't deserve to be handed anything freely."
  • "I won't take it because someone else may need it more than me."
  • "I won't take it because I'd be criticized for being a cheapskate."

Do you get the idea? This only scratches the surface. The number of ways this religious trauma expresses itself is uncountable. And perhaps impossible will it be to understand “Catholic Guilt” for those who aren’t cradle-raised Catholics. But I’m pretty sure, if super begrudgingly, there are hundreds of thousands of people who on some level know exactly what I’m talking about.

Self-Inflicted Trauma

I want to briefly share a personal story with you. I may have mentioned it before, I’m unsure. If so, this is the perfect time and place to mention it again.

At a point in my life when still thoroughly embedded in the Catholic matrix, there was something I’d done periodically that I’d felt absolutely terrible about. So much of my conditioning screamed that doing this thing basically put me one the fast-track to hell. Yet, due to all my other mental-emotional distortions, I struggled fiercely to not do it but did it all the while, anyway.

One day, I was so angry at myself for having done it that I vehemently asked God to punish me; to hurt me in some physical way. I hated myself and believed so dearly that I was a horrible human being. Within hours, I was trying to undo a rusty bolt on an old air conditioner. It wouldn’t budge so I pushed the ratchet with extra force. The ratchet ended up sliding off the bolt, and I slammed my hand into the innards of the air conditioner. In a numb hurt, I looked at my hand to see blood and a flap of skin hanging off the side of my thumb.

Ask, and you shall receive. Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.

This is “Catholic Guilt.”

Years later, I’ve come to see that there’s nothing inherently wrong with what I was doing.

Processing Out…

Normally I have something to offer solution-wise. I can’t give that to you here. For one, I’m still working out the trauma, myself. But two, and probably the most importantly, “Catholic Guilt” programming is implanted incredibly deeply and is fantastically complex.

As much as I wish it weren’t so, its removal will likely take someone years, if not decades, of determined effort to overcome. The shackles of religiously-induced guilt, shame, and fear lock down every aspect of life, and they are enormously difficult to break free from.

If I’ve given you (i.e.: Catholics) nothing else, I’ve sparked your awareness. You may not realize it yet, and some of you may even loath me for it because you cannot unsee, but awareness of what was formerly unconscious, what is plaguing your every turn in life, is a really. big. deal.

Take advantage of this new awareness, lest this evil continue taking advantage of you.

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