The term “exvangelical” was coined in 2016 for folks who have walked away from the evangelical Christian religion. You might be an exvangelical if you feel a twinge of discomfort just seeing me refer to Christianity as a religion. I left the faith more than two decades ago, but that old trope still pops up about it being a “relationship” not a religion.
The lifestyle, community, and control of an evangelical church is different from more casual forms of religion. It infuses every aspect of your life. While many people grow up attending services on the weekends, most don’t have the expectation to be “on fire for god” at all times, or to continually spread their religion to others. Losing this type of religion is a loss of identity, a loss of lifestyle, and a loss of culture.
I see clients of all kinds, but I do have a special place in my heart for exvangelicals, and especially those that identify as LGBTQ+, since I have both of those identities. I understand the old programming, and the ways we can still be impacted months and years after we’ve made our minds up and left. And so, I wanted to offer some helpful tips for exvangelicals’ mental health.
- Be patient with yourself. You may not know what you believe just yet. It’s okay to not know. You may be used to feeling so damn sure of your convictions, it might feel a bit untethered to sit with not knowing. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable while you’re figuring things out.
- Seek out community. We all need to belong somewhere. If your church was your community – your “family” – this may be the most painful loss. But people find community in all sorts of places – a softball team, a community choir, a book club, or the PTA. Even if you’re an introvert, you still need people some of the time.
- Watch out for negative self talk. When you’ve heard and believed for years that you are inherently bad (“sinful”), your brain is going to keep throwing that garbage at you, even when you have made a conscious decision to believe differently. Try to catch yourself, and work on replacing the negative talk with kinder words, the way you might speak to a good friend or beloved family member.
- Make friends with your body. You may have been told by religion that the “desires of the flesh” were evil. No. Sex is a biological drive. You’re allowed to want it and enjoy it, whether solo or with someone else (safely). You may also have been expected to control your body in other ways, such as taking extreme control of your weight or consumption of food, or ignoring and overriding your need for rest. Start listening for those bodily signals again, and don’t be afraid to give your body what it needs.
Are you interested in working with a therapist who gets the evangelical culture but keeps the magical, mythical beliefs out of counseling? Let’s talk!