It Isn’t Personal

Itisn'tpersonal BO

As I’ve gone through some of my old posts and relived some of the ways in which family and friends responded to my de-conversion, one important thing emerged. Much of my suffering hinged on me believing that they were responding to me personally and I was somehow in the wrong–the damager, the bad person.

As I read the old posts, I was reminded of a book I read a while back, by Don Miguel Ruiz, entitled “The Four Agreements.”  One of his chapters, “The Second Agreement, Don’t take things personally,” was extremely insightful.   Ruiz writes, “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”  As I considered that idea, it struck me, when someone responds in anger and fear it’s because of their anger, and their fear.  I wish I had been able to see that early on in my journey out of Fundamentalist Christianity.

When my sister screamed at me that I was going to Hell, I wish I could have responded in love, maybe saying “I know this is scary for you, but I’m still me” and then believed it.  When a Christian friend got mad and told me that she took it personally that I would no longer be in church worshipping with her, I wish that I had not taken on her insecurity as my own, feeling like the bad guy.  When my best friend told me that she hadn’t invited me to her daughter’s wedding because she was afraid to have me there because it was a Christian wedding, I should have been able to recognize the fear in her eyes as being fear of her own doubts, not of me personally.  If I had understood that then, I would have been able to walk away from those encounters feeling empathy, not like I’d just been punched in the sternum.

I’m not sure if seeing those and other situations through that lens would have changed the outcome of any of those relationships, but it would have probably eased the heartbreak and shame that I suffered at their words and would have helped me understand them better. As Ruiz explains that when people spew anger on you, “You eat all their emotional garbage, and now it becomes your garbage. But if you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell.”  I wish I had understood that then, because, man, I felt like I was in the middle of hell.

Back then, I took everything Christian family and friends said and did personally.  I really felt like it was my responsibility to make them understand, ease their fears and their anger.  I’ve come to realize that I can’t fix those things in others.  Their responses to me, at their core, were not about me and that gives me the freedom to exercise empathy and compassion.  Will I still take things personally?  Of course, but I hope less and less.  For a while I thought that getting pissed off instead of hurt was progress, but I’m beginning to see that the concept of “it’s not about me; it’s about them,” is going to have a much more positive impact on me and the people around me.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Name withheld
    Dec 29, 2012 @ 02:06:57

    Just found your blog. Christmas is weird this year, especially singing carols. Even weirder, my inlaws gave us birthday candles and we stuck them in our mashed potatoes, lit them and sang Happy Birthday Jesus. Had to try hard to contain my eyeroll. It has only been the last few months my mind has truly turned a corner and my mental filter automatically interprets the world, especially the religious world, in this context: “people are social creatures and love rituals and traditions. These are part of bonding, building memories and identity, and trying to explain the mysterious and unknown.” As a young person, I adored and revered God with all my heart. I was in a missionary organization for two years later taught in a communist country. I broke up with great guys because they weren’t “on fire” enough to want to abandon secure career goals for a God adventure overseas. I definitely have more bible knowledge than the average Christian, I am curious by nature and a scholar. I used to have such emotion singing the traditional carols, even while struggling intellectually, and this year it has finally vanished, like singing about dust, like the identity.

    I don’t want to wear the label “atheist” because the atheist “community” is so strident sounding and touchy and obnoxious. Everyone it seems has a persecution complex, why cant we all get along (says Pollyanna/John Lennon). There is a reason.

    It’s very strange to become neither fish nor fowl. I am not sad so much anymore, but a bit lonely. I talked to my mom. She has never told anyone what she really believes until me. And she has been in a similar position for years, living in a small town, part of a Baptist church and she loves and needs her friends that she thinks would reject her if they really knew her beliefs about God.

    My teenage daughter and I arrived at the same conclusion separately. I still go to church with my husband and youngest mostly because I want to know what they are filling their minds with. There is some valuable content in church I try to tell myself and my teenager also it’s literary and western culture stuff she should know. Haha. Offensive still though “if you’re not in God’s family you can join us today”. Applause.


    • notabarbie
      Dec 29, 2012 @ 03:06:32

      Thanks so much for reading and for your honest and heart-felt comments. You are who I write for in many ways. I had to laugh at the picture of the candles in the mashed potatoes “Happy birthday dear Jesus…” I laugh now, anyway. I used to make a birthday cake (red velvet) every Christmas Eve for Jesus and, yes, we all sang Happy Birthday (face palm). I get so embarrassed sometimes.
      I know what you mean about not wanting to align yourself with atheism, but be careful not to label and judge (something I was very good at, as a Christian)

      I agree there are some obnoxious and strident atheists, but there are many that are not. It just doesn’t seem like it because they keep to themselves and a lot of some atheist’s apparent obnoxiousness and strident-ness is provoked, unfortunately. I’ve listened to Christian radio off and on and atheists are painted in an unfair light, but when I was a Christian, I didn’t see it. It wasn’t until I “left the fold,” that I realized just how the Christian media tainted my view of atheism.
      Anyway, I do know the loneliness…all too well. When you can’t share what’s going on in your head with anyone, it can be so hard sometimes. Know that there are a lot of people out there, just like us. You will find them and they will find you. At least you can tell your mom about it. Sadly, your mom is right, mostly, her Baptist friends would reject her if they really knew, and how very sad that she can’t truly be herself, with the people she considers friends, which makes one think about the true definition of a friend, doesn’t it? I did lose most of my Christian friends, but it’s a big world out there, and you have your daughter too. My daughters and I came to similar conclusions separately as well, and now they are some of my strongest allies.

      It’s okay to be neither “fish nor fowl.” You’ll find your way and the journey has many twists and turns. You’ll try on many different hats–some you will like and keep, some you’ll like for a time and then toss aside and some you’ll remove immediately, knowing that they are the wrong fit, oh, and some you’ll wear for a while and then put away, only to come back to later. The beauty of it all is that you were able to remove the safe and familiar one and start trying on new and exciting ones, some for the first time in your life. There’s no wrong or right way to de-convert.
      Does your husband know? I remember going to church after I had de-converted…with my, now ex, husband and my son. It felt weird. All the intolerance of Christianity sure stood out to me though. It just became too much for me. They did eventually stop going too.

      Anyway, again, thank you for reading and, most importantly, for commenting. I wish you a New Year of freedom and exploration! Contact me any time. I’ve been where you’ve been. Happy New Year!


  2. ... Zoe ~
    Dec 29, 2012 @ 08:19:55

    I’m probably a bit “touchy” . . . obnoxious? . . . well, depends on who you ask . . . strident? . . . :mrgreen: The fact that I even commented on this means I’m probably feeling a tad persecuted.


  3. Ratherbedigging (posted previously as Name Withheld)
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 02:24:01

    It’s a new year! Hope it’s a great one for you.

    Thanks for telling your story, I appreciate it so much, as well as your response. As I am going down this road it’s nice to know I am not alone. I have been checking out

    I guess I shouldn’t speak for others saying they have a persecution complex. Sorry (Zoe), I was out of line. I have run across a lot of bitter comments in my internet travels. I’m sure it is all part of the process, as in feeling duped and having to extricate oneself from a complete belief systems when most around are putting the screws to you/wailing/worrying. I certainly had to discard a lot of way-out beliefs over the years, even before I rejected faith altogether. It isn’t easy, especially for a non-confrontational type like me.

    I should have been more specific about my “strident/obnoxious atheist” comment. There are plenty of strident/obnoxious christians. Don’t worry, I have no great respect for Christian radio or apologetics etc. It’s my impression of a number of bloggers I read (not atheist oriented blogs, just topics of interest). Some of it is really funny. Some of it is people eviscerating each other. The christians in the discussion on these blogs tend to be uber-careful or polite even though much that is thrown around has to be extremely offensive to them. Polite is good.

    Debunking christianity type comments: “see how superior my reasoning and arguments are to your poorly reasoned pronouncements”, “no, mine were far superior, show me where I am wrong. You obviously flunked Logic 101 and are a troglodyte”, “A straw man!” “An ad homeniem attack” “I’ll pray for you to know the love of Jesus”, “prayer is stupid you idiot!” “Christians are meanies.” “Atheists are meanies”. I’m tired now.

    As far as hesitation to identify myself with the “atheist” label, or the “feminist” label, or even the “liberal” label, I can only liken it to this: Some christians I know call themselves “Christ followers” because they don’t want to be lumped in with the Jerry Falwells of the world. But it just makes them sound wimpy. I am wimpy.

    This is what I meant by touchy:

    I know I am digging a hole for myself.

    Of course when I have attempted to get my husband to acknowledge my point of view and he just cannot wrap his head around it and defaults to “you have no moral compass” blah blah, my frustration level gets very high. And when my mother in law said to my daughter re her disbelief “You don’t know what you’re saying!” I was pretty touchy about that.

    I try hard to substantiate statements I make in writing but in this case it was just an off the cuff remark. I try hard to see both sides of a question, which is how I got here (bu-bye christianity). It probably comes down to this: I don’t think I am ready to name myself till I have a support system in place. Because I anticipate the gasps of horror and the viral “please pray for ____.”


    • notabarbie
      Jan 03, 2013 @ 09:23:46

      We go through so much on the de-conversion journey and you will learn that you change from day to day, sometimes minute by minute. I’ve been an obnoxious Christian and an obnoxious atheist 🙂 I think most of us who were deeply steeped in Christianity and then stepped away, have to go through the “hatin’ on Christians” phase. I see very clearly that I’m slowly but surely moving away from that. I won’t miss it and I’m sure others won’t either, and I’m equally sure that it will crop up from time to time even after I think I’ve moved on and it’s okay.

      Anyway, I get what you mean about needing a support system in place and, actually, no matter where you land, if you ever fully land anywhere, a support system is the most important thing you can work on–and yes, there will be gasps of horror and the viral “please pray for___.” Been there, done that. Hold your head high, knowing you are being true to yourself. That’s really all we can do, right?

      I understand the frustration with family. The truth is most never understand no matter what you say, or how you say it. It just is what it is and I do understand the need to try. As a wise friend (Zoe) once told me,”You don’t have to rush into anything.” That has turned out to be wise advice. Say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, and let the rest work itself out.

      Thanks so much for reading and for your great comments. I hope your New Year is the best one yet!


  4. ... Zoe ~
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 08:50:44

    Not to worry Ratherbedigging. It’s a journey. Most of us go through a lot of sorting it all out. I have encountered obnoxious, strident and persecuted non-theists in my adventures. I tend to chalk it up to personality along with circumstances. Don’t be pressured at all to name yourself.


  5. ratherbedigging
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 05:07:31

    Thanks yall, that sounds like good advice. I sometimes just want to get a t-shirt that says ex-christian. Or post it on facebook. Let the chips fall where they may.

    We were out to dinner with my in-laws the other day and my father-in-law asked me to pray over the food. In such a situation I would typically say something like “you go ahead”. This time I said “I don’t pray”. My mother-in-law just laughed a little, maybe thought I was joking, even though my husband told her awhile back I was no longer sure about things. She’s a bible study leader and my father-in-law was a minister (still ordained) before he went to work at an oil refinery and is now retired.

    I am trying to find resources to help me in my marriage. My husband and I had a heart to heart not so long ago where he said he’s committed to me. But it’s hard whenever I state my position on something he thinks I’m trying to tear down his faith. It does scare him I know.

    I was looking through amazon about the topic and ran across this book: Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith. . . and How to Bring Them Back [Paperback]. Written for those “longing to rescue” the people who left.

    “Young people aren’t walking away from the church-they’re sprinting. According to a recent study by Ranier Research, 70 percent of youth leave church by the time they are 22 years old. Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29 years old. Unlike earlier generations of church dropouts, these “leavers” are unlikely to seek out alternative forms of Christian community such as home churches and small groups. When they leave church, many leave the faith as well.”

    These types of stats were quoted when I was young but I think the vast majority of my cohorts are yet in faith land, we grew up in Texas (I’m 47). However, in this generation, which seems fragmented due to people pursuing all kinds of interests (the internet makes that possible) that may change. The church we are part of is growing and a fairly young congregation though.

    It will be interesting if the old guard eventually dies off and evangelicalism becomes less dominant. But America is not Europe.

    When I bring this topic up to my teenager (leaving christianity) , now she is like “And why are we talking about this again?” in her mind it’s settled and she’s moved on.


    • notabarbie
      Jan 12, 2013 @ 07:52:25

      Great comments Ratherbedigging. I so remember those restaurant moments. I remember praying in restaurants–another one of those embarrassing things. I also remember how, for a long time, we continued to say grace before dinner, at home. We finally stopped. I think I blogged about it at some point. I’d have to go back and look. That was really quite brave of you to be honest and say that you don’t pray.

      Marriage is difficult when you are de-converting. I don’t know of many couples who both deconverted at the same time. I think the stauncher the other partner is about Christianity, the more difficult it is. My divorce appeared to coincide with my rejection of Christianity, but in reality it didn’t, but with that said, I think realizing there wasn’t a Christian god who would condemn me to hell for divorcing my husband, freed me up to decide whether I wanted to remain married or not. My ex-husband is no longer a Christian either. He insists he never really believed it much, but was only trying to make me happy. He seems to have moved on from religion without much fall out.

      I laughed when you mentioned how your daughter has moved on and wonders why it is still a topic of conversation. It’s that way with my girls too. I think it’s so much easier for them. Young people are so much more tolerant than our generation and that, I think, is wonderful. I don’t think I will ever stop talking about it and I’ll probably never stop writing about it either.
      It’s true what you said about the younger generation leaving the Church, or religion. They are leaving in droves. There is a large number of older people leaving too. I mean, there are tons of articles and books written about “bringing people back into the fold.” One of the reasons why I think many are leaving is the Internet, and not because it gets people involved in other things, but at least for me, I was able to research, ask questions, and speak my mind anonymously. There was a time when all people had was a bookstore, the library, and their local pastor. Times have changed and I think for the good. There is also support to be found on the Internet. Think about it. Could you imagine trying to find other ex-Christians 20 years ago? It was virtually impossible. Now we are as far away as a keyboard. That encourages me.

      Anyway, I’m rambling. Thanks again for reading and for your input. It is invaluable!


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