When my second child was born and I developed post-partum anxiety almost immediately, our church housed a Christian counselor who offered free services. I saw her a few times during which she loaned me a set of tapes by Lucinda Bassett. Lucinda is the founder and CEO of the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety. In this self-help series, Lucinda has clients in a round-table-discussion of sorts sharing their stories and how her exercises helped them overcome their anxiety, panic attack, and agoraphobia.
I recently remembered something that kept coming up in the discussions. Some of her clients had come from Catholic backgrounds and developed an immense fear of Hell. Lucinda apparently thought this was unhealthy as she wanted her clients to heal from it. At the time, as a Believer, I did not see how overcoming the fear of Hell was helpful. I thought, “Well, shouldn’t a person be afraid of Hell? I mean, it’s a pretty scary place?” Also, at the time I didn’t realize it was the most likely cause of my anxiety. I saw other Christians who believed in Hell going about their lives just fine. I guess I thought I was odd, or different, or just plain messed up. I wanted to be like the other Christians who rejoiced in their own salvation, while not being severely affected by others’ lack of it.
Thankfully, I was never really able to do that.
But more importantly, psychiatrists (like Marlene Winell) and counselors (like Lucinda Bassett) are starting to see how religious dogma has harmed people. There are now retreats and online groups where people are gathering, sharing stories, and helping each other heal. More and more people are speaking out of the fears they developed being raised in rigid, religious households. While my household was not rigid (my parents were never black and white thinkers), the church we attended was… or at least I WAS. I took it all in and I took it all seriously. Maybe a little too seriously.