Pre-note: This is a very difficult thing for me to share, but I think it’s time. Know that I have nothing against the church I don’t attend, nor any other religious institution for that matter. This is my personal journey. Thanks for listening.
I actually did some research on this topic recently, wanting to find out why, when I attended church I felt such anxiety, and left feeling exhausted rather than uplifted. I was shocked with what I discovered. First, let me describe my church setting so that you can imagine what I was experiencing, and then I will tell you my findings.
For the first hour of church, everyone meets together in one large room (anywhere from 400 to 800+ members), prays together, sings some hymns, listens to a few key speakers, and partakes of the sacrament. The second hour, children go off to their meetings and adults go to theirs. We meet in a group of men and women, all squished in a tight space, and listen to a teacher and contribute by raising hands when teachers ask us questions. Sometimes participation slips are handed out and we read aloud a scripture, or a quote by a religious leader and explain in our own words what we think the scripture/leader is trying to tell us. The last hour, the men go off to their group meeting and the women go to theirs. This meeting is very similar to the first, except it is a group of women only. Questioning and participation slips are the norm.
My research into church attendance and anxiety reveal that anxiety goes down when you attend church, read church doctrine, and consider yourself religious. (Here and here.) And I bet the majority of people will agree with this statement. But to me it was shocking and earth shattering. And I think I’m not alone. At least I hope…
If anxiety goes down when people attend church, why then, did waking up on Sunday morning give me the worst anxiety of my life? Why did coming home after church make me feel drained, down, and in despair? Before I went on my soul searching journey recently, I thought it was because I wasn’t good enough. Every week when I went to church I left feeling down on myself. Why did everyone around me feel like going to church filled their spiritual bucket, when I went home feeling that mine was poked full of holes and bleeding out on the ground?
I made the choice about a year and a half ago to quit attending church. (What a gut wrenching decision!) Now when I wake up on Sunday morning, I have no anxiety at all. I know that I have all day to continue to mentally prepare for the week ahead rather than attend church and come home exhausted and depressed. (Isn’t that part of what attending church is supposed to do? Prepare you for the week ahead? –That’s what I was taught anyway.)
For those of you who are new to the whole introvert/extrovert world, introverts are physically and mentally drained when needing to be in, and interact with, large groups of people. Extroverts are the opposite. Also, introverts have anxiety when being asked to speak in front of large groups of people without being prepared for it. So when I was handed a slip of paper with a scripture or a quote, I would spend the entire meeting worried about and waiting for the time when I would need to speak out loud in front of the group. I would panic. I would read the scripture or quote several times missing out on other comments or parts of the lesson because I was so worried about saying the right thing. So you’re thinking right now, why didn’t you turn down a participation slip? Well, because it was expected that you would take it. It was the right thing to do.
That leads us straight to another quality of introverts. We really worry about right or wrong. Not that extroverts don’t, but introverts worry above and beyond. Like whoa. So if an introvert hears something that they should be doing, and they aren’t doing it (or not doing it to the best of their ability), that is going to affect them very powerfully. They are going to feel huge guilt. And introverts always think they can do better. It doesn’t matter if someone looking on thinks that they are doing a great job, in their mind they are going to be able to see the perfect version of what it could look like, making them think that who they are at that exact moment in time is not okay.
A personal example of that is the admonition of sharing the gospel. Introverts aren’t going to feel comfortable walking up to someone and saying, “Hey! Let me tell you about my religion!” “Let me tell you what I believe.” “Want to hear about my church?” Ya. No. So when someone is saying that we should be openly sharing what we believe with at least one person a week? Not going to happen. Sorry. But then see the sorry? That’s because I feel guilty that I am not more outgoing. That’s why I decided to say, ENOUGH! Enough with this nonsense.
So why not say that and still keep going to church, Rebecca? I hear you, and I tried. I tried to shut up the voice in my head that kept telling me you’re not good enough. And I was doing okay. Until an important leader in the church told me the problems I was experiences were my fault. I’m not going to go into details, but at that time I realized I was in an abusive relationship with my church. I would go to church prepared to be uplifted and come home bleeding out. I would go through my week wrapping my head around who I was, talk myself back up (many times with the help of my husband) and then head back to church the next week and the cycle would continue. Bleeding out, anxious and depressed. Every. Single. Time.
Instead of preparing me for the week ahead, church was something I had to “get over”. And I work in an extroverted world. (We all do for the most part. We have an extroverted culture.) I needed to be prepared to teach all week long. I would creep through the week, rebooting as much as possible in the evenings and on Saturday (many nights losing sleep over serious self-doubt and guilt), only to be slammed again on Sunday. What a vicious cycle.
This vicious cycle I believe is what lead to my adrenal failure and thyroid disease. (But that’s a whole other topic.)
So now what does my life look like? Now that I know who I am, what do I do differently?
- First, I stopped going to church. Maybe I’ll go back one day when I feel like I am strong enough to stand up to a community that values extroverts… maybe not. Nowhere in the three hours that I spent at church was there ever a time to sit quietly and visit with one person. To dive deeply into some theological question that was truly burning inside my heart. To strengthen relationships with like minded souls who just want some quiet time to ponder their deepest burning questions. (I used to ditch class and sit in the hallway and read and ponder on my own, but then, without fail, someone would walk by and make some comment about skipping class…)
- Second, I give myself plenty of time to decompress and process what I am wondering and thinking about… This blog is a great way to do that. (Did you know introverts will bear their soul to the internet rather than a stranger sitting next to them. I know. I embrace the weirdness.)
- Third, I value the unique characteristics that I have because I am an introvert: observing, listening, thinking, reflecting, writing, speaking when prepared, being self-sufficient, being focused, learning, being trustworthy, being loyal, being in touch with my emotions, and being thought provoking. These are all things I can do and do well.
- Fourth, I take one day at a time when things get tough. I listen to my mind and my body and take time out when I need it. I read loads of books, get pedicures, go for walks, write on my blog, surf Facebook, give to people in need, enjoy a cup of coffee and a good snuggle in a blanket.
- Fifth, I learn what I want when I want. If I want to learn about me. I do it. If I want to learn something new, like a foreign language or a new instrument or a new craft, I do it. I never feel guilty about taking the time to learn something new. (Introvert fuel!)
- I read every day. I mean EVERY day. I read to learn, read for enjoyment, read to escape. I just read. (Also introvert fuel!)
- Finally, I have stopped comparing myself to anyone but me. I am the judge of me. No one else can say that I need to do a better job. I don’t need any stabs and jabs from the outside world. I do a great job of that on my own. I’m currently working on doing that less. Wish me luck!
Enjoy the Dance! ;D