Feeling the Wounds From Catholicism

I am a recovering Catholic and am engaged to be married this summer. Preparing for marriage - in a non-religous ceremony - has brought me back to much of the pain, guilt, and grief that my catholic upbringing has layed upon me. My whole family is intensely Catholic and my father is even a deacon of the catholic church. 

I've realized that in marrying a non-Catholic, I can finally stop forming my identity as one against the Catholic church. It's feels like (or I hope) that in the end this transformation will be liberating, but in the last month I have experienced a great deal of pain - of all the guilt I have felt my entire life.  Being a woman, this guilt manifests through the psychologically encoded teachings of the church that state that I have sinned by virtue of who I am - and who I am is not something I can change.  The guilt also manifests because in not being catholic, I create a rift between myself and my family, something that is deeply painful to me. My family also often sees me as sinned, wrong, or at worst, evil. 

I've been trying to understand better how the Church operates psychologically. It most certainly makes claims to Truth where questioning Truth is coded as sin / evil.  And the weekly embodied ritual seems to embed Catholic doctrine into people's psyche in a way that people can't explain. The mass also provides an embodied ritual which is meant to both teach people that they are sinned while at the same time relieve people of this sin.  It is this aspect of the mass that creates a kind of addiction - I've heard some people state that they just have to be Catholic and receive the body of christ each week - but they can't explain why. It seems that it is this imparting and relief of guilt and sin that people feel they have to get through the mass each week.


I experienced this guilt most intensely during high school. Every morning I would wake up with the most painful guilt. In my mind, I would walk back through the day before trying to remember what I had done wrong, but I could never come up with anything. Then I would get in the shower and say the our fathers, hail mary's and glory be's until the pain had passed. At the time I had no idea why I felt so much pain and guilt.

deaconsdaughter deaconsdaughter
7 Responses Mar 25, 2009

I know this is a really late response, seeing as how you wrote this in 2009 but it struck such a chord with me I had to reply.

I'm an almost 30 year-old female who was raised in a Catholic household and attended a Catholic elementary and high school. My father is also a deacon.

Growing up, I never questioned the validity of what I was being taught or why I had to go to church every week. Thinking back, the guilt probably began when I learned about confession and we were made to consider all of our sins on a fairly regular basis. My parents were always pretty strict in the moral sense, and I recall always trying to make the right moral choices, even if it meant being made fun of or shunned by my childhood friends. Because I had two older brothers who both had some behavior and anger problems (later labeled ADHD), I tried extra hard not to do anything wrong to avoid any more emotional upheaval in the household.

I rebelled a bit in high school and some of college by doing smoking, getting high, drinking a lot, picking a boyfriend completely opposite of what my parents would have wanted whom I felt was totally accepting of me (turns out he's now gay!). One of my brothers had a serious accident when I was in college. He was drinking and broke his neck and was a paraplegic. I'd say my faith at that point had grown pretty strong on my own account because I wanted him to recover so much (and he actually did!).

It wasn't until I was in grad school for school psychology that I really began to question things. Being in that program made me look at everything objectively and it probably didn't help that I became close friends with some atheists or nonbelievers. In addition, when I went to my oldest brother with my questioning concerns, he not only confirmed what I had been questioning but being as he's a scientist, reinforced it.

After having gone through a very very tough emotional time in grad school, I stopped attending church. That's when my parents began to find out. I recall my mom telling me I was being "lazy with my faith". After grad school I left to move to another state, thinking this would help me sort things out. After a couple years I felt too guilty about being away from family and moved back in with my parents (probably not the best idea, but it was free).

I recall my deacon father stating that part of the "deal" of me living at home for free is that I had to go to church. This was at age 27. With the newfound independence I found living away for a couple years, I steadfastly told them I was no longer going to be going to church. This made me feel extraordinarily guilty, especially because it meant not seeing my father preach. However, I felt it was part of my own healing to admit this to them instead of faking it, which quite frankly, would have been much easier.

I still live at home and am going to be moving out next month. Throughout this time I've been living with unbelievable amounts of guilt - for being myself, not being a "believer" and being surrounded by my ultra-religious mother, who hold prayer groups, constantly refers to God in what feels like every conversation I have, and my own guilt for having guilt…haha. Although they've come a long way as far as not asking me to go to church anymore, my mother refuses to believe that I'm no longer a Christian and still talks to me like I am, even though I've told her I'm not. I think I've realized I even went into a helping profession (which I HATE by the way due to all the stress) because I felt like I HAD to do something to help others. Not that that was a inherently bad choice, except that I ignored my passion for the arts completely.

To make matters even more worse, I am mad at myself that because sex has always been so taboo in my family, I am still a "technical" virgin. I struggle with this soo much and really hope that moving out again with help me be more comfortable with dating, because dating while living at home has not been successful. I struggle because (and pardon my generalization) guys at my age do expect pre-marital sex at some point, unless they hold some extreme religious conviction against it, in which case, we would not be compatible. I'm afraid if I "give in" to what I've kept "sacred" despite no longer having those moral beliefs, that I'll feel so guilty I won't be able to handle it.

I know that's a lengthy story, but it feels so great to get it out! I've been getting weekly therapy for the past 2 1/2 years or so with only minimal progress and I think so much of it has to do with being raised in this manner and having loving parents that wished I was still this way but not being able to please them.

Please feel free to give me any suggestions you have! Thanks!

Thanks for sharing your story. Its not much different than mine. I have dealt with the guilt by celebrating it.

Btw Jesus is a story, a metaphor...Christ means anointed one. Do the research yourself, don't believe me.

Write down your intention for absolute freedom from any oppression or indoctrination. Write down what you want & why you want it. It may Take some time to heal but your intention to heal is all That is required quite truly. When you begin to put your energy into your intention you will find what you have been programmed with will lose its whole completely.

The Catholic church is a drug that you have been given for years making you addicted and when you get off the drug you feel bad. Not me though. Never got hooked on it. There should be CA's meetings for this "Cathoholics Anynonymous" I never felt any guilt for leaving the church. Only relief and freedom! Just read about the Spanish Inquisition that lasted 400 years or so. The Catholic church murdered many people in the name of God! And if after that you're still stuck on the Catholic church and on guilt, I don't know what else to tell you. Free yourself of those shackles and if it means not being around your family so be it. Blood is not thicker than water in a lot of cases.

This is classic indoctrination with the sole ob<x>jective of keeping you in docile obedience. You have had the courage to question and that is good, but hard to do, and brings with it the pain of breaking addiction. <br />
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Learn to love yourself and to love Jesus Christ. Become dependent on Christ, not the Church. I am walking the same walk as you, and freedom and peace await all who seek it through Jesus Christ. Become dependent on Him, not the church.

Thanks for sharing your story. Interesting enough I attended a lecture Sunday given by the author of a book called "The God Virus". He talked about the tactics used by all churches to attract and retain members.<br />
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The guilt / forgiveness cycle was one of the techniques.<br />
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Are you atheist?<br />
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I deal with it by embracing the guilt. I will tell you any more I get a total rush from it. Much the same feeling as riding a roller coaster.

I accidentally posted this before finishing.<br />
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Just to finish with my story - another intensely painful aspect of my relationship to the church is that my father is a deacon. I perceive is as having naively bought into the hierarchy, gendered symbolic violence, and truth games of the Church - it is so hard to see one's father in this light. He is a good man, but he has never questioned the church. <br />
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Has anyone found ways to heal this pain? I am seeing a therapist, but she can only do so much. I feel like I need rituals to undo everything the church did to me - I feel like it's crushed my spirit in certain ways and left me with guilt/anxiety. How can I rid of this pain and liberate myself?