Life After Religion

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Over the past two years, the majority of people who have contacted me for mentoring or taken my classes have either left, or are in the process of leaving religion.

Many empaths and highly sensitive people find religious environments debilitating to their sensitivities because it is often spiritual bypass2preached that emotions are “wicked,” and unreliable. Many religions ignore emotions at best, or demonize their purpose and function.

(So why do we have them, then? Small malfunction on God’s part, I suppose?!)

Although Jesus’s message was all about the heart (and he was the ultimate empath), many churches value the mind, “right practice,” and “right doctrine” over personal experience, and prioritize doctrine above individuals. Spiritual bypassing is rampant, congregants bury their emotions in duty in an attempt to “die to themselves” (rather than nurture and expand “the well-spring of life”  — which is THE HEART – Psalm 4:23), and in the end, they’re left feeling spiritually empty and exhausted. They kill their passion, lose heart, and call it moral fiber.

Being ardently committed and passionate about doctrine or a “plan of salvation” is not the same as spiritual growth and expansion, and for empaths, this kind of “mind over emotion” environment is deadly.

Because I have SO MANY empaths contact me who are in this transition period out of religion, I thought I’d share some common themes I’ve noticed, things to be aware of, and resources that may help the process.

Themes I’ve noticed:

*Most people who outgrow religion feel they have nowhere to go. They either carry a chip on their shoulder about religion and turnemotional bypass

off all aspects of spirituality out of (understandable) anger, OR float around aimlessly with no sense of connection to others and no clear moral compass.

*For those who come from a strong Christian background this is especially true, as most Christians have a deep sense of community/family, and when you leave, no one knows quite what to do with you. It’s not that they’ve stopped loving you or no longer care, they just don’t know how to relate to you anymore. And leaving the religion feels like you’re leaving THEM. And in a sense, you are.

*Many who leave religion often go through a pendulum swing, trading a life of duty/service/rules, to a maelstrom of drugs, sex, and partying. This swing typically causes them to eventually go back to religion and shut down their hearts even further, because they never learned to trust themselves. They never learned moderation. They never figured out who they are OR resurrected their hearts. They simply tried to numb the pain by releasing all their suppression in one fell swoop. And because they made a mess of things, they feel even further convinced that they “need” religion to babysit them, because they’re convinced they are sinful to the core. In my experience (with the people I’ve worked with), this is the most debilitating conclusion one could come to.

Having a system that babysits and monitors your behavior might be good when you’re spiritually young and immature, but Spiritual abuseyou are meant to eventually grow-up. A parent wouldn’t keep their kid in a play pin for the rest of their lives. That’s abuse. We are meant to grow, make mistakes, and learn how to take care of ourselves. Sadly, many churches and religions foster an unhealthy dependence on their system, emphasizing that without them and their rules/standards/structure, the people would be utterly lost and hell-bound. This is the most destructive and emotionally/spiritually stunting system a person can submit themselves to.

So what can you do?

If you’re coming out of religion, here are some tips to help you stay grounded/healthy:

*Connect with others who are in your shoes: When I first left religion, I didn’t have friends for a while – at least not any that I felt truly understood my heart. I still believed in (and had a relationship with) that which I called “God,” but I was exploring what that meant outside of the programming I’d been raised with; I had no desire to abandon it entirely. I simply needed to feel authentic, a feeling I deeply lacked in the religious environment. There were too many things I did not resonate with, and I just couldn’t lie anymore. It wasn’t until I connected with others who were on a spiritually “open” (and expanded) path that I began to truly find myself again.

Check-out Meet-up groups in your area, or connect with groups on online (Facebook has a ton). I also explored YouTube videos and found others like me (YAY), some who have become very close friends. Finding your “tribe” is an important part of the exit journey. You might be surprised how many people out there are on your same path.

*Know the withdrawal stagesThis will vary for each person (depending on how severe the religious programming hasYield to Love been). For me, it wasn’t entirely excruciating, because although I was raised around religion my entire life (including fundamentalism) I managed to escape all the extremes, and the one church I grew up going to was pretty mild, open, and free (emphasis on having a relationship with Jesus, not on the “church” itself). But I also never deeply connected to it. I’m not sure why that is, but I have NEVER been able to connect deeply to any organization. It just didn’t resonate…and never has.

But for some of my friends/family who were in pretty extreme/fundamentalist groups, it is a much more painful, excruciating, and even terrifying process to exit. If you were raised or deeply programmed in a religion that preaches legalism and constant fear of hell, it’s extremely difficult to leave (and all the more crucial that you do, when you’re ready).

*Join support groups – especially if you’ve been in anything that resembles a cult. Again, Facebook and Google communities have groups that help people who are leaving fundamentalism. It’s important to connect with others who understand the process you are going through (so you don’t feel alone). And it wouldn’t hurt to consider therapy. A lifetime of religious programming takes time to be free from. You don’t walk away unscathed. A lot of unhealthy beliefs stay with you. And frankly, most religions don’t equip you for living a healthy life outside of their boundaries. Get the support you need.

*Have compassion on yourself. I think one of the biggest challenges people who leave extreme fundamentalism have is spiritual abuse 2the ridicule and tone of ridiculousness they (and others) have toward them(selves) “how could you have ever believed in that?!”

Remember that the reasons you were in religion is because on some level it served a purpose, and the purpose is different for everyone. For some, religion was simply a stepping stone on their path of spiritual awakening, for others, it served as an escape from a destructive or abusive life.

Extreme religion often appeals to those who’ve been abused because of the strong boundaries many fundamentalist uphold. The organization will often feel “clean” and “safe” and offers an immediate sense of family and support. This is not only appealing for the abused person, but can initially feel deeply healing. The strong boundaries gives the initiate an opportunity to feel “safe” and hear messages about God – and that initial experience, regardless of how abusive the church/cult may turn out to be, is always the hardest thing to grapple with when one considers leaving. They feel the church “saved” them or that God spoke to them (or led them) there, and if they leave, it would be denying that experience.

Leaving religion also causes people to question their ability to hear God speak. This alone can be devastating. When you are raised in an environment that teaches you to listen to them (or their doctrine) above your own intuition/inner-knowing, it severely damages your ability to tune-in to your own inner guidance system. Putting your faith and trust in something external from you is disempowering. Period. It is impossible to be truly (ultimately) free when you give your power away to a person, an organization, or any doctrinal idea.

It’s okay to honor and respect your decision to be in religion. You don’t have to demonize the experience, but you also don’t have to stay in it. Every experience we have is here to teach us, and when we judge the process, we limit the understanding.

However, it is equally important to realize we grow out of things. Just as we go to 1st grade, then 2nd, then 3rd, we’re not meant to stay in the same place spiritually forever, and after a person gains a sense of safety/foundation and feels strong enough to go deeper, they often feel stunted and trapped, the once appealing religious standards now become stifling to further growth.

This typically causes one to feel a tremendous amount of guilt, (with the extra bonus of fear if the church is one that stressed the consequence of eternal damnation.)

Leaving fundamentalism can be a huge psychological mind f*&K and it takes some time to be free from the fear. But Spiritual abuse 3freedom does come, and often, if you love yourself enough to continue to go deeper with your spiritual growth, you find more freedom, love, and harmony than you’ve ever had in the church/group you were a part of. God is not a building, and spiritual growth is not limited to a group of people. Peace and expansion, as well as a deeper (and more freeing) experience of the Divine awaits all who love themselves enough to receive it.

God is not in a box. Why should you be?

Here are some resources:

Withdrawal Stages from Spiritually Abusive Systems (check out link)

(For those who ARE Christian, but have left religion or are perhaps feeling spiritually dead, this John Eldridge talk is the perfect reminder that there is nothing religious about Jesus. It’s possible to be a Jesus follower and be deeply in touch with your heart, your emotions, and your vulnerability. In fact, it’s essential:

For those who are ready to move beyond religion entirely, here are some things to challenge your spiritual journey for further growth:

Finding Purpose in the Past: An Interview with Teal Swan

Interviews, Teal Scott, The Heart Chakra

‎”Oh yes, the past can hurt. But, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”     -Rafiki, (The Lion King)

“What is my purpose?” It was the name of a Teal Scott video I randomly clicked on YouTube. The question was pacing my mind just moments before the title appeared, so I took the synchronicity as a sign. I knew nothing of Teal Scott. Yet that was all about to change…

But let me back up.

I had just arrived in the States after spending six months in Italy – a place I thought would be a permanent residence, until one afternoon while meditating upon a particularly mournful cloud wandering in the Florentine sky, Spirit said to me: “Go home.”

Home?! What home? Prior to Italy I had spent the past 10 years in Portland, Oregon – the weirdest and most liberating place I had ever been. Portland is full of tall trees, wide rivers, and farmer’s markets – plus it’s considered the most “un-Churched” city in America – my favorite part about it.

Apart from grey skies, I could handle going back to the land of hipsters and hippies, but Portland wasn’t the Spirit’s call, and I knew it. My insides tightened at the thought of what was coming…Utah. The word hung in the air like the moody cloud drooping above my head. How could God want me back there?!

Don’t get me wrong, Utah is not a bad place. The mountains possess a noble, native magic, and the summer skies are full of violent purple, and thunderous mountain tops. But the vast, dry valley carries my own shadows, and memories I’d rather avoid.

My father was a Mormon polygamist.  Between three wives he managed to have 16 children (of which I am the youngest).

Mainstream Mormons do not practice polygamy, so my family history was not exactly dinner conversation with friends. The Church of the First Born convened in Mexico (where polygamy was legal) but a bloody religious war had caused my family to go into “hiding” in Utah.

The killings happened before I was born, but my dad (then an apostle of the church) and family were on a hit list. That’s all I ever knew about it, but I still have memories of church members coming in and out of our house, hushed whispers, and that constant, uneasy feeling that some foundational part of our lives had been shaken.

My mom left the church (and my father) when I was quite young. Luckily she found a small, Christian church to attend, and with it, a relationship with Jesus.

I experienced first-hand the peace that filled her heart (and our house) after her conversion. But some in my family were still attached to inherited belief systems, and with her death when I was 12, came fear among certain family members that God punished her for leaving the “one true faith.”

I didn’t experience the hell my siblings went through, but I resented the religious bondage I felt had been tied around our necks — and something about Utah always reminded me of it.

And now here I was, two weeks after arriving from the heart of the Renaissance, spending a pointless afternoon on the internet, aimless and lazy, and loathing my decision to ever come back.

Enter Teal Swan.

When I first heard her voice, my head tilted slightly sideways and up, the way humans tend to move when they listen intently. Something was familiar. Oddly familiar.

A couple weeks went by and I continued to watch Teal’s videos, incessantly trying to put my finger on what was so vaguely recognizable. Unsatisfied, I headed to her website and was shocked by what I discovered:

One: She grew-up in Utah.

Two: She was abducted into a religious cult at the age of six and ritualistically tortured for 13 years.

I contacted her that day.

Teal Swan was not like other children. It wasn’t long into her young life when it became apparent she had unusual abilities. Spontaneous healing, clairvoyance, clairsentience, clairaudience, manipulating electromagnetic fields, and communicating with entities, were all normal occurrences in her daily life. It wasn’t until word got out in the community, that she understood something about her was very different. And it was a difference she would  pay for.

Mormonism teaches authority to heal, receive direct messages from God, and other gifts Teal was demonstrating,  is only available through the Melchizedek priesthood. If a woman is exhibiting these abilities, the gift is believed not to come from God, but from the devil.

Living in the highly religious community of Logan, Utah, most neighbors became fearful of Teal’s abilities, and forbid her from entering their homes. Children were not allowed to play with her, and her parents received strange messages declaring their daughter was a sign of the second coming.

But there was another group who caught wind of Teal’s extrasensory phenomena. Unlike the Mormons in the area whose response was ostracization, this group (known as The Blood Covenant) believes it is their direct duty to rid the world of evil.

One of the leaders, a sociopath with an extreme case of dissociative identity disorder, infiltrated her family, abducted Teal at the age of six, and ritualistically tortured her for 13 years.

Teal was physically and sexually abused in religious rituals, forced to participate in sacrifices, repeatedly raped and starved, and made to have three abortions of children fathered by her abuser. Tied-up and left in a hole in his backyard, her abuser used her to be photographed for sadomasochistic pornography, prostituted her out of motels and gas station bathrooms, and repeatedly exposed her to electro-shock programming. And the list of abuse goes on.

Yet, despite the horror experienced at the hands of this man, Teal’s message is not one of revenge, but of forgiveness:

“…this book is dedicated to the man who ‘ruined’ my life. I find in retrospect you did not ruin it at all. I see now that we are only ever victims of victims. I am sorry for the pain I know you suffered in your life. I have stopped the cycle, and now I have you to thank because you were my greatest teacher (as difficulty always is). Without you, I would not have even thought to look for the happiness I now possess today. One day you will know that you are free.”

Those are the words Teal Swan wrote to her abductor in the  acknowledgement section of her book, The Sculptor in the Sky. I had read them just moments before she sat down with me for an interview at Café Supernatural, in Salt Lake City. The impact was still palpable.

“I was surprised to discover you lived in Utah,” I said, as  a waitress brought us our juice. “Something about you felt familiar to me the first time I saw one of your videos…but Utah must be it. I think I was picking-up on the Utah energy…”

Teal smiled. “Yes.” she responded, in a way that made me feel she wanted to say more, but thought better of it.

I wanted to say, “I know you from somewhere. I have this strange feeling we’re connected in a way I don’t quite understand. And I think you’re tied to the reason I’m in Utah.”

But what came out was:  “I’d love to hear more about your story…whatever you feel comfortable sharing…”

The details of Teal’s abuse are not the focus of her message. But just as it is difficult to see stars in the day, the backdrop of darkness is necessary to fully appreciate the intensity of her light.

She shared openly, demonstrating a graceful inner strength and conviction. For Teal, there is purpose in the abuse. To her, no part of the pain is meaningless. She sees past suffering as the very catalyst to give and experience healing.

But it shouldn’t have happened that way. It is said that severe psychological abuse is akin to death. In the face of extreme trauma, one is usually written off as irreversibly damaged. Doctors and psychiatrists who evaluated Teal after her escape declared her brain was “dismantled beyond repair.”

Though several years of therapy would prove that not only could Teal come back to a place of wholeness, but she discovered the techniques and visualization she learned through therapy were so successful, she was inspired to write The Sculptor in the Sky, as a guide to healing.

Teal now uses her unique abilities, her story, and her connection to the Source of Love, to inspire change. She’s coined the term, “Spiritual Catalyst,” to describe her work.  With her healing gifts, she acts as a medical intuitive to people with extreme physical conditions and diseases. She holds “syncronicity workshops” around the world to help people understand how to use their thoughts and emotions to raise their vibration and heal their life. She conducts personal consults once a month, and speaks out publically about the unproductive prison and jail systems, stating that “you can’t punish anyone into wellness.” Teal has devoted her life to help humanity heal.

Her story reveals our capacity to overcome, even the most extreme places of darkness. It shows us the way out of powerlessness. It gives a picture of life beyond revenge, and into a place of forgiveness and peace.

As we sat in Café Supernatural, I felt my bitterness toward Utah begin to dissolve. The anger from my own religious past simply faded in the glow of her overwhelming ability to love.

Later in our conversation I would admit I was unsure why I was in Utah. And Teal would respond:

“The reason you’re here is less of a mystery to me. There is a reason I wanted to meet with you in person. It will hit you.”

Watching someone face trauma with love, heal abuse with compassion, and take on anger with forgiveness, helped me let go of bitterness I held toward extremism. I was meant to come back to Utah. I was meant to see her video, and I was meant to talk to her that day. Teal reminded me that I chose Utah, even before I was born. There was purpose in all of it. Everything was exactly how it needed to be.

Teal’s ability to forgive showed me that I had the power to let go, and allow my purpose to be fully restored.

What happened that day when I stumbled upon Teal’s video,  was not a mere act of coincidence. It goes beyond synchronicity. It is bigger than this article, or Spirit’s reason for calling me back to Utah. What I saw that day with Teal, was me. Who I met that day, was myself.  I met  you. I met the whole of humanity, and I saw a glimpse of the future we are capable of entering.

If you asked Teal what healed her, I think she would say, ultimately, it was her faith. To believe beauty can rise from ashes is the impetuous that wills it so.

Every time an Olympic record is set, it changes humanity’s  belief about what is possible. Teal’s story sets a new precedent for the capacity of human love. She shows us we are capable of living beyond mere survival. We have the capacity to be fully restored to the light.

By choosing love, Teal did not only heal the darkness of her own wounds, she healed mine. She healed yours.

Don’t be afraid to open yourself up to the limitless capacity of love. Imagine what the world could be. Imagine what we could overcome.

And so it is with you…

For more information about Teal Scott, visit her website at http://www.thespiritualcatalyst.com/

Teal Swan ,”The Spiritual Catalyst” is a well known Esoteric,  Extrasensory who writes and speaks publicly about spirituality, the meaning of life, God, The Higher Self and the road to health and happiness. Teal is part of the first 1980s wave of indigo children.

Amanda Flaker is a freelance writer, editor, and creator of Chakra Center. She loves to travel the world and write about it.