Handling religious differences
I read the article you wrote to a parent whose child had rejected their religion. I thought it was wonderful, but I wondered if you have any advice for me.
My wife and I are the ones who rejected our families' religion and this situation is really difficult for us, too. We feel judged for our decision and bothered by the little comments people make. I know that my family thinks I’m going to hell for leaving their church. I don’t believe that’s accurate obviously, but how do I deal with the disapproval and judgmental comments?
Once again, this is a fear problem and understanding their fears will help you respond more appropriately.
I know their comments sting and feel like an attack, so I understand why you might get offended. But you must remember that all bad behavior is based in their fear about themselves and once you understand this, you won’t feel as defensive.
Your family members are having a hard time dealing with your decision because they are scared of these five things:
1 — This has triggered a fear of loss for them. They honestly believe they are going to lose you forever because of this choice. They love you and the idea of losing you causes them a great deal of pain. Even though you don’t believe this is true, it is very real to them.
2 — This has triggered a fear of failure in them. They honestly believe it is their sacred duty to save the people around them. They take the responsibility very seriously. They will feel like a failure if they don’t successfully save their own family.
3 — They are afraid that your differing beliefs will separate you from them, and you won’t be able to socialize in the same way. Their religion is such a huge part of their life that not having that in common will feel awkward. They are afraid you will no longer speak the same language. There could also be issues with certain social activities such as alcohol or tobacco use or attending certain kinds of entertainment. How do you socialize with your family member when you have different standards? They are afraid these things will pull you apart.
4 — They are afraid of being wrong. We, as human beings, have a great deal of fear about being wrong, because we think it diminishes our value as a person. In this situation, both parties can’t be right, so one of you has to be wrong. They cannot accept the possibility that it is them, because it would mean their sacrifices weren’t worth it. Most religious people have made (and are continuing to make) some big sacrifices to “do the right thing.” They have to see your choice as bad, and even cast you as a bad person to some degree, to justify these sacrifices. They may also get a little overly committed to being right, at times, which is an ego problem.
5 — They have a lot of fear around any ideas that pull people away from church. They are taught to stay far away from any written material or people who criticize or discredit church. You now represent these apostate ideas and that makes them a little scared of you. They are afraid your beliefs could cause more loss.
You must understand their negative comments are based in their fears about themselves and people in fear tend to behave badly because they are too focused on themselves. But they do love you. If they didn’t love you they wouldn’t be this scared. It is because they love you so much that they don’t want to lose you or feel separated from you.
Here are a couple suggestions for your behavior:
1 -- Don’t take anything they say personally and don’t get offended. Their insensitive comments are signs of their fear and are really a request for love and reassurance. Instead of defending yourself, take the time to reassure them that everything will be OK. The more confident, happy and loving you are toward them, the more they will respect your decision and love you back.
2 — Don’t let them trigger your fears of not being good enough. When someone infers that you are wrong, it will trigger your core fears and you will want to defend yourself. You must stay in control and remember that just because they think you’re wrong, it doesn’t mean you are. What they think doesn't affect your value, either. You have the same value no matter what they think. This means they can't really diminish you. Stay bulletproof and loving no matter what.
3 — Treat them the way you want to be treated. Remember that everyone is entitled to their own ideas, opinions and beliefs. If you love someone you will always honor and respect their right to see the world the way they see it. Make sure you are honoring their beliefs. Don't do anything that would make them uncomfortable.
4 — Practice unconditional love. My advice to them was unconditional love, and that is also my advice to you. Love them and appreciate the fact that they love you enough to be terrified of losing you. If you show up with unconditional love, serve them and edify them, it will help them to see their unloving behavior for what it is and it will make it really hard for them to stay in fear. This is the way Jesus Christ handled the people who disagreed with him, by the way. He loved them. He loved everyone regardless of their beliefs
Unconditional love is always the answer.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of ldslifecoaching.com and claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.