We have also evolved as social, tribal creatures, and we are hardwired to fit in with our group. We learn from the people around us – family, friends, classmates – whether we want to or not. We pick up not only our native language, but also our regional accent. We dress similarly to our peers. And if you grew up in a religious subculture, you were similarly programmed to accept certain norms in a thousand different ways.
Religious cultures promote not only their belief systems about deities, but so many other schemas: heteronormativity, shame about normal human thoughts and emotions, sexual repression, and so much more.
Even if you’ve never been personally religious, you may have been continually exposed to the default belief in a Judeo-Christian god, or the normalization of religious beliefs. If you’re going through a tough time, a relative tells you that they’ll pray for you. Your baseball team scores a run, and the player points to the sky (because, apparently, that’s where the god is).
You may see signs like this one directing us to church, which was allowed (and presumably funded by) the local government, that I see on my drive to my kid’s school each morning. In the US, it’s even printed on our currency: “In God We Trust.” And as a society, we accept that all of this magical thinking is normal.
You may have consciously decided that you no longer believe in a god, or that you at least are not going to allow dogma to dictate your lifestyle or decisions any longer. But at a less conscious level, you’re probably still impacted by this cultural programming. Maybe you have trouble speaking plainly with your partner about sex. Or you find yourself being overly helpful to anyone who asks, even when it isn’t good for you. And this can be frustrating. You might be upset that you’re still thinking or acting in these ways that aren’t congruent with your present-day values.
You’re not alone in this. Rewiring our brains is not a simple or quick task. Be patient with yourself. We are hardwired to fit in, and we have absorbed our culture. It’s not surprising that we can end up with some stubborn unconscious and unwanted programming. For most of us, it doesn’t change overnight, or even in the same year. So, if you notice that your deconstruction and reconstruction – your reprogramming – is slow or a little glitchy, be kind to yourself. You are only human. In fact, that self-judgment may be a relic of religious influence. Practice patience, acknowledge the (sub)cultural programming, and turn up the volume on what you believe and value in the present.
If you’d like to get some help with self-compassion around deconstruction, get in touch and let’s talk.