Tue, 7 March 2017
Cass and Bob interview Rebecca Murphy. Rebecca is a 46 year old white cisgender heterosexual female, married for 28 years and childfree by choice. She was raised in an off-shoot of Mormonism called Temple Lot. In college she left that faith but was swept up into the International Church of Christ, which under the surface of their inspirational Sunday services was a domineering pyramid scheme with all the mind controlling influences of a cult. Before our talk with Rebecca, Cass has a brief conversation with Harry Flook, a 21 year old British photographer and documentarian visiting the states through former guest Gayle Jordan and the Recovering From Religion organization to chronicle how people find a sense of community after losing their faith and leaving the church.
If you’ve been following the last several episodes, you will have noticed that I am on a journey that associate with the stage of life in which I find myself, which I’ll describe as mid-life, post-religious, and post-parent. There seems to be a natural rite of passage happening that is not unlike puberty, where it is going to happen whether you like it or not. In the absence of meaning, formerly found in the role of being a parent and/or seeing one’s self within a religious narrative or simply the realization that one has fewer years left to live than one has lived thus far, some realizations begin to enter one’s mind that can serve as a mirror that exposes immaturity in one’s character (at best) or seem pathological at worst. It turns out (at least for me) that a strong sense of self has been kept at bay by the busying narratives in which my life has been immersed, and as the curtain closes on them (my role as a parent, for example, or my role as child of god destined to live eternally in heaven), and that suppressed identity is coming unchained and emerging from the dungeon with a vengeance. But, it doesn’t know how to behave or even walk and is blinded by the sun and atrophied by immobility so nothing about this is homecoming is going to be pretty. In fact, it can arouse deep anxieties, even panic, and hopelessness that can lead to suicidal thoughts. You will hurt and be hurt by those nearest to you. Especially if they’re going through the same thing at the same time. Many marriages are ended by this transition. But I found my hope in a psychological concept founded by Carl Jung and Murray Bowen called “differentiation.”
Differentiation of self is one's ability to separate one's own intellectual and emotional functioning from that of one’s family and/or lover. Individuals with "low differentiation" are more likely to become emotionally fused with others—particularly family or lovers. They’re like Siamese twins attached at the hip. And this attachment, that is largely dependent and codendent, can last for years until this awakening happens and you want to go your own way. Any attempt to do so will be taken personally by the person you are fused with. You want to differentiate yourself from them and they say, “why are you doing this to me?” When in fact, you are doing nothing TO them, they are just leaning on you so hard that they hit the floor when you move. People with "low differentiation" depend on others' approval and acceptance. They either conform themselves to others in order to please them, or they attempt to force others to conform to themselves. They are thus more vulnerable to stress and less adaptive to life changes. You may have heard of a healthy H-shaped relationship, where two stand-alone, vertical lines are in relationship, contrasted with an unhealthy A-shape relationship where those lines are leaning on each other.
Those with generally higher levels of "self differentiation" recognize that they need others, but they depend less on others' acceptance and approval. They do not merely adopt the attitude of those around them but acquire and maintain their principles thoughtfully. These principles, morals, and ethics help them resist lapsing into emotional reactivity and impulsive thoughts and actions. Thus, despite conflict, criticism, and even rejection, those with greater capacity to "self differentiate" can stay calm and rationally "clear-headed" enough to carefully assess facts, less clouded by emotion. What they decide and say matches what they do. Even when they act in the best interests of a group, they choose thoughtfully, not because they are caving in to group-think. They're more objective observers, more capable of calmness under relationship and task pressures. Confident in their own thinking, they can either support another's viewpoints without becoming wishy-washy; or, they can reject another's opinions without becoming hostile with them, or passively disconnected from them.
The ideal outcome here is when two people (beit father and son, or siblings, or husband and wife) both move from an A shape to an H shape, no one falls to the ground. However, if one person is unwilling or unable to do the work—the introspection, the therapy, the communication, the research—all of which are helpful in understanding what the fuck is happening, then they are most certainly going to crash when the other person differentiates. At that point, they have the option to stay on the floor crying, blaming and demonizing the other person…for the rest of their lives, but in so doing, they miss out on this wonderful evolutionary opportunity to grow up and personally develop, and secondly, they destroy a valuable relationship to their own heart.
I see this as a key development for those of us who have graduated from religious faith. When we discover that self-debasing doctrines have left us a depleted shell or ghost-like version of our true selves, we have to find them and meet them, maybe for the first time. We have to get to know them, we have to ask them questions, we have to discover what they like and dislike because they’ve been asked. This is the first step of differentiation. The second is learning how to self-soothe and control our own anxieties. Before, we looked to God or others to comfort us. The third is learning to manage our reactivity, or what Dr. David Schnarch calls, “grounded responding.” Religions remove responsibility from people and when they get our from under that tyranny, they find that they’re ability to respond to circumstances and people is undeveloped. They either over-respond in aggression and thoughtless comments, or under-respond in passive aggression, apathy and dis-attachment.
The fourth and last element of differentiation is endurance. Stay in the room with difference. Tolerate some discomfort for the sake of personal growth and the healing of relationships. Toughen up. Grow a pair. Start giving yourself and your loved ones the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be so quick to assume the worst in them. Bounce back after defeat or failure.
Ultimately, you know what this is: this is saying yes to what is. This rite of passage is a gift and will reap tremendous benefits in your life and relationships. Like giving birth, if you can survive the pain of transition and the stretching, you will reap a new life. No-sayers want to pretend it’s not happening or that there’s no work to be done here. They may be quick to thrown in the towel or say “there was no hope for that relationship anyway,” which actually may be true, but please, only make that call after exhaustive effort on your part.
Know this: there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re going through this. Don’t blame or shame yourself or anyone else. Tenderly welcome your formerly enslaved self into the 21st century, into freedom, and start looking for ways for that beautiful human being to express their self. Teach them they can self-comfort, they can act from their core and not react from fear, and that they have what it takes to finish strong.
Don’t forget: Coming up: Saturday, March 18th the Nashville Nones Convention. it’s an all day event to be held at Unity Church in Nashville tickets are $20 at the door. More info at nashvillenones.com and there’s a link in the show notes. 5 weeks later is ReasonCon in Hickory NC, the weekend of April 21st. more info is available at reasonnc.com.
We taped the conversation with Rebecca Murphy on February 5th, 2017, and the interview with Harry Flook on March 5th. We interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. We hope to encourage people in the process of deconstructing their faith and help curb the loneliness that accompanies it. We think the world is a better place when more people live by sight, not by faith. Please subscribe to our podcast, and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Our show is available on most podcast platforms. Also, you can support us monetarily in two easy ways: you can pledge one dollar per episode through Patreon; that’s www.patreon.com/eapodcast, or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website, www.everyonesagnostic.com. The smallest contribution is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for listening and be a yes-sayer to what is.