I Woulda Never Believed It

Hi all,

My name is Steve, and I'm a recovering Catholic.  I went looking for the term on the Internet after a recent session with my therapist, where I discovered that soo much of my internal suffering is caused by shame.  Not shame that I've done something wrong, but shame that SOMETHING is wrong with me. 

I consistently beat myself up, and put myself to shame, and live with debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety.  Not because of anything I've done, but because I have THOUGHTS and feelings...  natural thoughts and feelings that the Catholic church of my upbringing would have called 'SINFUL'.  My life has become very boring and stale and isolated, because I'm afraid to go out and live, because I might actually make a mistake.  I might do something that could be interpreted as sinful, and subject myself to the horrors of hell.

I was raised Catholic of course, and I went to 12 years of Catholic school, during the 70's and 80's.  I believe that much of what we were taught to believe can only be described as insane and medieval.

Let me just say that the Catholic Church has done many wonderful things, in ways of charity and meeting the physical needs of people.  Things like creating hospitals, homeless shelters, food-shelf's, etc.  But when it comes to meeting the emotional and psychological needs of people, the church has done TREMENDOUS damage and abuse to the psyches of millions (billions?)of people.

Let me get to the horrors of hell talk.  When I was growing up, I was taught that if I committed one of the 'mortal' sins, and didn't confess it before I died, I would go to hell for eternity.  And I was told exactly what hell would be like.  It was a place of eternal fire, where my flesh would be burned with infinite fire and the most intense pain imaginable.  Worst of all, I would be stuck there FOREVER.  What was a mortal sin?  Sure, there were things like murder and rape....  but mortal sins also included things like, missing church on Sunday, and lust, adultery, etc...  basically, anything sexual. 

And I was taught that to even THINK lustful thoughts was the same as doing the act.  I remember the verse from the bible where Jesus purportedly says "If you even look at a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery with her in your heart".  Oh my freaking God.  I was a teenage boy, coursing with hormones and natural impulses on a regular basis.  I've read that research shows that young males have sexual thoughts and impulses roughly every 30 seconds or so, and I was certainly no exception.   At 15, all it takes is for an attractive girl to walk by, the hormones jack up a bit and boom, mortal sin, eternal damnation, the fires of hell... it's all there.  To be able to feel that I was safe from the fires of hell would mean that I would need my own priest following me around so that I could make constant confessions.    Not having this accomodation, I concluded that I was doomed... that my soul was destined for hell.  UNLESS I could somehow shut off all of those impulses and feelings, and feel NOTHING!!!  So, I became a robot. 

The only logical way to save myself from eternally being on Satans barbeque, was to completely shut myself off from my thoughts and feelings.  Being hyper-vigilant to avoid ANYTHING that might lead to a feeling or an impulse.

This is the definition of spiritual death and being un-human.   And an ironclad recipe for chronic depression, anxiety, self-loathing, self-abuse and self-punishment.  In short, not much less painful than Hell.

And to top it off, we were taught that to suffer here on earth, was a GOOD thing, something to be STRIVED for.  We were to be martyrs, living in self-induced pain and suffering.

The whole experience can be summed up by a thought that I had as a 7 year old boy.  I was taught that if I died before reaching age 8, I would automatically go to heaven.... because sins didn't count before that age.  Being a bright, imaginative kid with a problem-solving type of mind, I remember thinking...  "if I can just manage to somehow die before my 8th birthday"

This is what the Catholic Church was to me.


- Steve

beentheredonethat1 beentheredonethat1
15 Responses Mar 6, 2009

Dear Steve, you are haunted by your childhood beliefs. We humans are a conundrum: men and women are very different in their sexual behaviour. If we would permit young studs to act loosely at their sexual cravings, where would society be? As we haven't got already enough teenage pregnancies and single mums...Women are very different. Those religious beliefs were developed not for your sake, but for the sake of the vulnerable females around you - and that means for societies' sake as religion is the glue to society. So instilling those anxieties into you is in parts also your own success: as it kept you out of troubles when you were young - staying put and turning yourself into a robot maybe a too harsh emotional and sexual restraint, that's what I am thinking. Only when we get older the good insights come in why things have evolved culturally through religious beliefs over the millennia as they did. Cerebral thinking only comes in through training and education of the mind. But through those millenia of religious evolution the masses were under-educated so emotional thinkers. Anxiety is an emotion, working on the anxiety of an emotional thinker is success to drive society in particular at times when we had no legal justice system. What you are basically describing is with your individual horror case of being falsely dominated by religious beliefs that do haunt you in form of anxiety for your soul's sake that religions do not nurture modern times by instilling wrongly anxieties that do not serve us any longer. You agree with me? My advice: grow up spiritually, don't be so gullible! God has given you a brain to think so you better want to use it. - Hugs, Daggi xxx


If the Catholic Church was anything like that in the Northeast back then, it sure mellowed out by the time I experienced it in the 90s and 2000s.

It's funny in hindsight to see so many differences in the "universal" doctrine of Roman Catholicism. In almost 20 years of it all, I was never raised to view sexual thoughts, lust, or missing church on Sunday mortal sins worthy of eternal fire. The concept of a hell altogether, rather than a nothingness, was never a concept I was really big on.

I'm sorry to hear about the real hell I can only imagine religion was for you. Just remember man, that fear is their biggest weapon. Seek your own truth, and the truth will set you free!

You know your own hopes, dreams, and aspirations better than anybody else.

For anyone who is following this, I've made an update in 2012... This stuff will sneak back up on you at the time when you're least able to see it happening. That's what happened to me. Recent grief brought me right back to square one in dealing with the shame.

Steve --<br />
<br />
Your experience is much like mine, and you have done a wonderful job of expressing it. Spiritually, you are totally on the right track. <br />
<br />
One of the things I like to remember is that a loving God would never create an eternal Hell to punish his own babies for the shortcomings that he himself gave them. Like lighting your puppy on fire because he peed on the floor. Crazy, abusive... but NOT loving.<br />
<br />
The indoctrination of children via fear of God or Hell is simply a perverse power play by the bitter old men who run Catholicism, knowing that if you brand a child they will be under your thumb forever. When I split from The Church, God and I made a deal that he would never punish me for acting in accordance with what the intelligence he gave and what my heart told me was right, and it has worked out exceptionally well.<br />
<br />
I don't believe that God is in any way a person or volitional being; God doesn't listen, or care, or send blessings or punishments. God is the force that motivates everything in the world, and like physics and gravity, is completely unwavering. (This belief has been labelled as Heretical by The Church for centuries, so it ain't "new news"!)<br />
<br />
The shame you feel simply means that you were victimized as a child by people that you trusted... innocent, loving, well-intentioned child that you were. They are the ones who should feel the shame. You have nothing to fear from the small mistakes you might make.<br />
<br />
More important is to share your love for all mankind, for the whole world, and for life itself every day. Change your focus from your self to others, and help ease somebody else's suffering in some small way each day.<br />
<br />
Then you will truly be an agent of goodness, and will owe no apology or excuse to anyone.

Thank you for this. I remember my RE teacher telling my class of 15 year olds that if we ever *********** we were going to hell. He even quoted the passage about ' cutting off one's hand '. What a way to screw up a man's view of desire, of sex. Why did God give us such things if he despised them so. What a cruel game!

And Rustie,<br />
I encourage you to review the terms of service of this website. If I see another post from you containing judgements and unsolicited advice, I will report it top the Webmaster.<br />
<br />
<a href="http://www.experienceproject.com/faq.php" target="ep_blank">EP Link</a>#values

Rustie,<br />
I think you are mistaken. Please take your preaching elsewhere, as I did not ask for it, and do not want it. I am insulted by your presumptions and judgement as to "What the problem is". Do you not see that this is exactly the sort of behavior that I am protesting against?<br />
<br />
As for me, I have my own higher power. I do not need another human being or an institution to be my higher power. I will leave by saying, I am grateful to those who have come before me and said "Here's what worked for me... Try it if you like.... Keep what works, and throw away the rest."<br />
<br />
- Steve

Rustie,<br />
I can't help but react extremely negatively to your post. I don't think you get the jest of what I'm saying and feeling. How dare you presume that if I "just understood the teachings", that I would somehow arrive at the same conclusions that yourself and Pope John Paul II came to. It is just this sort of "Holier-than-thou" mentality that drove me from the Church (and Christianity altogether). How dare you or anyone else pretend to know what other people experience, and pretend to have a "Solution", when that solution is nothing more than more controlling behavior.<br />
ie: If you just read this, or believe that, and do as we say, then all of your problems will be solved. Sounds like a controlling abusive parent to me. Sorry, I had enough of that as a kid. I make my own decisions now about right and wrong... I don't need someone else to do that for me. <br />
<br />
The notion that the pope has the 'Best" answers about sex and love (or anything) is absolutely ludicrous, in my opinion. When I see the Catholic Church issue a retraction of what they've taught in the past about sexuality, and acknowledge and apologize that their teachings have created generations of shame-based people, then I will start to believe that the Church as an institution has any hope of survival.

Hi Steve, <br />
<br />
Your story really touched me, partially because you are so well spoken, and partially because you said so many things that I myself have been thinking and feeling about the Catholic Church. <br />
<br />
Having natural impulses, raging hormones, human feelings, and having to "shut down," repressing every part of oneself because it's sinful...and then feeling miserable for it...I understand this so well. <br />
<br />
I truly wish you the peace and freedom that you so rightly deserve.<br />
<br />

"Any religion that teaches children that God loves them but may send them to burn in hell forever is Spiritually and emotionally abusive in my belief. "<br />
<br />
By Robert Burney

Hello, I am a Catholic but i'm not here to impose my beliefs or tell you what is right or wrong.
I apologize for what you went through. If I was taught those things such as being lustful and being doomed to hell for example, I would also stop going to the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, some things that you were taught were from wrong teaching. I feel sad that some Priests or teachers in the school system don't know true Catholicism.
Do I feel like not going to Church sometimes? Yes Have I experienced lust? Yes Have I committed many sins in my life? Yes, too many to count ....but through it all, I know that God still loves me and he forgives me when im sorry. Of course I try not to sin again but even though I still sin, I always remember that when Jesus died on the cross He took every sin and will forgive me.
If you think sexual acts (before marriage) are ok then nobody should judge you.
Being raised as a Catholic, I was taught to love every person no matter who they are or what they did. That is the summary of what every Catholic should teach: that we should love one another as God loved us. =)
I hope I don't offend you because that's not my intention at all...I just wanted to let you know from Catholic teaching and my personal belief that no person no matter what they did are doomed to hell by their actions...they will only go to hell by their heart. Ghandi was not Catholic for example, but im 100% sure that he is in heaven. =)

I'm always amused by people who claim to be loyal Catholics and then make up their own lovey-dovey beliefs and tell victims that they just don't understand REAL Catholicism!

You're saying that the priests and teachers in the Catholic school -- who spent years and years learning the doctrine --"didn't know true Catholicism"... but you do???

Your belief that no person is doomed to hell by their actions is exactly opposed to Catholic doctrine. This is specifically a heretical belief -- "heresy" btw means "choosing what to believe" -- and in past years you would have been put to death if you expressed those beliefs out loud. Read about the reign of Bloody Mary in England. The fact that religious executions are not done any more is not because The Church has come to its senses, but because individuals now are believed to have rights which are protected by governments.

Your denial of the corruption of The Church is cute, but it's on par with asking a rape victim to forgive the rapist because, well... you don't think the rapist meant any harm, they just had the wrong idea about Love.

I don't mean this as ridicule. I'm just saying "Being Catholic" means something -- and what you say is NOT what true Catholics believe. In the Church Steve and I were raised in, even suggesting that a priest might have it wrong was a sacriledge.

This is live ammo that they were throwing around in the playground, and it is so clearly wrong that it is not something that can or should be glossed over.

The Church -- despite all its pomp and show -- is an evil organization, based on the teachings of Jesus. We were taught that when a priest entered the room, it was like Jesus himself entered. Yet when so many priests are caught in this institutionally-sanctioned child molestation situation, the Church says "Well, ya gotta figure a few bad eggs would slip in!"

Really? Why would God EVER let perverts serve as priests?

I'm glad you have found peace with the Church. But to suggest that the institution itself is not fundamentally corrupt and abusive is putting your head in the sand.

It reminds me of the story of how an elephant will not try to escape, even if it's only tied up with a very small rope around it's leg, a rope that it could easily break with almost no physical effort.<br />
<br />
When the elephant is very young, it is shackled to a very heavy chain around it's leg. The small elephant wants to roam around, and goes to the limit of it's chain and can go now further. It struggles and pulls as hard as it can, until it's completely exhausted. And it tries again the next day and the next and the next. After some amount of time, the elephant determines that it cannot get free of the restraint around it's leg, and completely gives up, having learned it's lesson. <br />
<br />
All it now takes to keep the elephant restrained, is that it feels something on it's leg, and it 'knows' that it's pointless to try to move about ,and it stays exactly where it is.<br />
<br />
<br />
<br />
I've been trying to figure out what that damn rope on my leg was for, and how it got there.... ;-)

Hi Steve, Thank you for sharing your story. I am a recovered Catholic but as I go around reading stories here, I realize there are so many people have really been harmed by the Catholic church, either mentally and/or physically. I personally have visited different religions in early adulthood and came to my conclusion where I am an Atheist today. I had many, many issues with religion, not just the Catholic church. I'm sorry this has affected you in such a profound way, to where you have to seek therapy. Too bad the church won't pay for that! Actually, I think it's reprehensible it doesn't! So, today I don't live by the word of "God," I live by the golden rule and I'm a happier person as a result. if you need to chat, just PM me. There is a group here "I think indoctrinating children into religion is child abuse." I really believe we're all are examples as to why. I wish you all the best.<br><br />

You share our common experience of the Church from the last 50 years, and it drove many away. Do not take it personally, it had the same effect on everyone of us, only some morphed into "holiness syndrom". BEtom

The guy who invented Christianity (that's right, I said invented) must've been a great guy. His ideas were obviously genius, do good and you'll be rewarded in the afterlife. Good people would only feel better and bad people would start thinking about what they were doing. Fear of god definitely reduced the number of crimes committed. The story spread around the world. As time passed, the bible god more and more misinterpreted. Maybe people corrupted it for their own gains, who knows. The church added celibacy rule because they didn't want to give a part of their property to the widows of the deceased priests XD Obviously, they had to invent a new policy. Lust is a sin. -> Thinking about lust is a sin. - > Thinking is sin XD <br />
<br />
I don't think you can go wrong by doing what you think is right. But I know you can go wrong by blindly obeying a 1000 times modified teaching. Church killed, stole, decieved, earned some serious $$, started wars. Why should anyone listen to them. <br />
<br />
Live how you think is right. If you want to do good, do it because of you, not because of god, not because you want to go to heaven and definitely not because some other human told you to.

Dear Steve,<br />
I am so sorry you are going through this terrible struggle. Hold tight to what is good...