The Duggars Are Not Crazy

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on September 21, 2013.

After I heard that Jessa Duggar is now courting, I’ve struggled to find words. In a way, I’m happy for her. In a way, I’m always sad to see my peers trapped in patriarchy. But in the midst of those emotions, I don’t have anything to say to Jessa. This is her life, not a cartoon on TV.  I do, however, have something to say to all her harsh critics — all the critics who mock her family, her critics who say that the Duggars are just crazy.  I wish to say this:

People don’t necessarily go into Christian fundamentalism because they are crazy.  (Note: I’m not denying that there are mentally crazy fundamental families. I am, however, saying that there are plenty of fundamental families who are not crazy.)

Before I write more, I want to clarify that I grew up in homeschool fundamentalism. I know what it’s like to wear dresses all the time and never go to school or have any friends outside fundamentalism. And I know what it’s like to only listen to classical music and hymns and wear awkward bathing suits no one else wears. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to stay in fundamentalism because I rebelled against it a long time ago. I also don’t know what it’s like to be on TV, or have 18 siblings. But I understand Jessa’s world a lot more than I understand the world of someone who grew up in public school. As at least a half-way insider, let me say this.

People don’t necessarily go into fundamentalism because they are crazy.

Many fundamentalists are seekers.

My parents were seekers. That’s why we attended the ATI conferences. My parents wanted freedom from their flesh patterns, they wanted to raise children who  grew up to know the Lord, and they wanted to find God’s presence. Fundamentalism not only promised these things, but also, and most importantly, fundamentalism handed them the tools to do it.

Our methods may sound crazy to an outsider, but they were tools that were coherent to us, and they were tools that appealed intellectually as well.

In other ways, we were just victims of spiritual abuse. My mom started homeschooling me for purely an academic reason. Somehow through a lot of peer pressure my parents were still members of the same homeschool group nearly 20 years later and had grown to adopt a lot conservative beliefs.

But my parents did not stay in homeschooling because they were crazy. (Also, my dad is not very controlling. We did gender roles only because that was part of the formula.)

In fact, the reason that Christian fundamentalism concerns me is that it is attractive, that it has something to offer a modernist world, that it has a place for truth seekers. Fundamentalism concerns me precisely because it offers a bunch of goods that are, actually, attractive.

  • Fundamentalism gives a wife and mom and reason to live.
  • Fundamentalism offers relief from a world full of media (no TV and gaming) in place of good books
  • Fundamentalism offers family connection via Bible studies and hospitality
  • Homeschooling offers extra time with the kids
  • Homeschooling offers family bonding and values
  • Homeschooling offers life beyond just careers, into what even secularists value most of all: family
  • Homeschooling comes with a built-in community
  • Patriarchalism releases at least one gender from the corporate box
  • Courtship is a network, a way to meet other family people

In a way, these were all values that I grew up around and just took for granted.

A few years ago one of my friends had a birthday party, and he invited all the homeschool families he knew to his party. It may seem odd to an outsider to have young children at his 20th birthday party, but it was not the least bit weird to me (parties with my family are the same way; there were as many kids under 13 at my 18th birthday party as there were teens). But after an entire evening of playing board games with people of all ages, washing dishes together, and praying for each other, one of my public school friends (the only person who had attended public school at the party) said to me, “That was so much fun. I never experienced this in my life.” She explained that she never had an evening playing board games with children of all ages. In fact, she never went to someone’s house and had them pray for her either. It was foreign to her, but she liked it.

Fundamentalism offers that kind of community. Yes, the community creates pain and breaks sometimes, but it’s still community that often attracts people to fundamentalism.  I was looking through photos of my teen years earlier this week, and every photo of me has a child in the picture. Our community valued children.

The other end of fundamentalism has been a lot of pain: a lot of guilt over purity culture, a lot of culture shock, a lot of shame from never living up to expectations. The purity culture and anti-feminist culture let me down. It didn’t keep its promise. In the end, it didn’t make us closer together as a family, and it didn’t make us better than secular families. I’m not defending fundamentalism, except to say this.

Quit saying fundies are just crazy-no-brainers while secularists are enlightened and free thinkers.

In a way my parents were free thinkers too, forging new paths different than their families. In a way they were buffalo falling off the cliff.  I see a lot of both of these characteristics in all people because we all live in the tension of trying to be our own subject (Satre) and trying to fit in. That’s a human condition. Hegel said it before we had Christian fundamentalism. Before we point too quickly and call others crazy, we need to look at the log in our own eyes.

I also recommend reading Roland Barthes’ Mythologies for the real scoop about why there is no pure social identity.

When Spiritual Abuse Comes From The Home

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 15, 2013 with the title, “Adult Children Shunned by Homeschool Parents: Selah’s Story.”

On my blog we recently discussed the challenges that some former homeschool students face when they leave their home.  This story is quite different from the last story, but it, too, deals with painful and strained relationships with fundamental Christian parents who were influenced by the subculture of the Homeschool Movement.

The pseudonym, Selah, was chosen for this personal account:  ”a Hebrew musical word that merges the modern concepts of pianissimo and fortissimo.”  For those not familiar with musical terms, pianissimo is a dynamic marking indicating the music should be played very softly, and fortissimo, very loudly. Selah continues,  ”In Jewish worship it is that moment of silence to mediate on what’s past, but an admonition to prepare to be dynamic.”

I love that description.   It will come more clear why she chose the name when you read her story.

I had the opportunity to talk with Selah and she shared her disturbing story with me.  Selah is 30 years old and left home 7 years ago.  Her parents had dysfunctional backgrounds, but both wanted to get things right in their lives and attempted to do a good job living their faith. Selah’s family was one of the first families to begin homeschooling in their small community. In fact, her family was ostracized for doing so.

Her family went from church to church trying to find the perfect church.  They eventually traveled to all churches within a 30-mile radius of their home, a total of 23 churches in all. They dabbled in the Shepherding Movement, had church in their home for several years, experienced some pretty destructive churches with affairs and sexual abuse occurring by church leaders. R.C. Sproul, Jr., was among her father’s influencers.

Eldest children in homeschool families often get burdened with a lot of childcare responsibilities and Selah’s family was no exception.  Selah is the oldest of six children.  While her parents worked, Selah took care of her younger siblings.  She had an outside job, but took the responsibility of making her siblings breakfast in the morning, went to work, and then came home to make sure they had their lunch, later giving them baths and putting them to bed.  Selah was the one who took most of the responsibility for caring for her two youngest siblings, yet her parents complained that she didn’t do it right.

Through her teens, Selah experienced suicidal thoughts and depression.  At the age of 19, Selah took a full-time job, but wanted to go to college.  Like many homeschool families, her parents embraced the courtship model for Selah and wanted to oversee all aspects of her romantic life.  At the age of 23, Selah’s parents interfered in the relationship with her boyfriend and eventually kicked her out of the home.

Currently, Selah is living away from her parents, but struggles because she wants to have a relationship with them and her younger siblings.  God has provided other people in her life, but the void of her family is ever-present.  This was the comment that Selah posted on the Spiritual Sounding Board Facebook page:

What do you do when the Spiritual Abuse comes from the home? I have left. I have no contact with them, which is their choice, not mine. And in a recent letter to my boyfriend, my mom (who is at the crux of this) stated that I am a threat to them and has stated to my pastor and other friends that I am mental.

I have been on my own for seven years, hold a good job and regularly attend church. They refuse to go to church stating that the corporate church is apostate. They state that until I am married, they should have the final say in my life.

I must esteem and honor them, and any perceived deviation from that has repeatedly gotten me expelled.

If they were ‘just a church’ or ‘just some people’ I could maybe just let it go. But it’s my mom and dad, and my five siblings.

There is nothing harder than telling the man you want to marry that he can never know his inlaws and that your children will never know their grandparents.

Is there a solution to this? Or will it look like this forever?

This is really heart wrenching.  What adult child deserves to be abandoned by their parents? Why is it that some fundamentalist Christians are willing to completely sever ties to their adult children when they don’t measure up to their Christian standards?

What kind of love is this?

Let me share with you what I found on Wikipedia on shunning with regard to family relationships:

A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member’s closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.

Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what psychologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning may cause trauma to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.

What can we as a church body do to help people like Selah?

How can the church body respond to her?

I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.  

~Psalm 3:4

Starship Captains and Dinosaurs: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

Starship Captains and Dinosaurs: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

The following piece was originally published by Faith Beauchemin on her blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Faith Beauchemin on HA: “The Importance Of Telling Your Own Story.”

A fundamentalist Christian family is a hard place for a woman to grow up.

I was taught by my parents (and, more urgently, by all the books available to me) that a woman’s place is in the home.  A woman’s highest calling is marriage and child-rearing.  All of my talents and abilities and dreams could be met and fulfilled in building a happy home for my family.  If (god forbid) I were to end up single, I could be a nurse, like Florence Nightingale, or a missionary, or maybe a teacher.  I didn’t know anyone with a career, as far as I knew.  There actually were some women at church who had jobs, but they were either single or else I didn’t know that they had jobs.  It was just assumed by everyone that the normal pattern was for a woman to marry and give up her job as soon as she had kids, to dedicate herself full-time to taking care of them and, most likely, homeschooling them.  After all, Paul wanted women “to be keepers at home.”  And what someone wanted for women two thousand years ago is obviously the best thing possible for all women throughout time.

But two women slipped through the cracks and crept into my early image of successful womanhood.  Of course later, as my view of the world widened, there would be others, but these two I knew from early on in my childhood, and each holds a place in my heart.

When you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I (not feeling that motherhood right away would be my path) would respond either teacher or nurse, and singer.  Singer?  What a random career option.  This is because we had some old records by Amy Grant, which my mom had recorded onto tapes, which I listened to constantly.  She inspired me to enjoy singing, and I wanted so badly to be like her, singing such beautiful songs for a living. I imagined being on a stage, people clapping for me.  The dream was squashed by two things.  First, when Amy Grant got a divorce, I felt terribly betrayed.  I was too young to understand the reasons why it was actually a good thing for her to get out of that marriage, and I had been taught that divorce is a horrible sin.  I wouldn’t listen to her music for months afterward.  The second dream-squasher was being taught that everything needs to be done for god, not for oneself.  This led me to believe that performance was in some way wrong, perhaps not for other people but for a selfish, prideful person like me, it certainly would be.

My other early female inspiration was Captain Kathryn Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager.  The series ran from the time I was five years old until I was eleven, and oh, how I wanted to be Captain Janeway.  I recall in particular one birthday party, I couldn’t have been older than six, where we went to a park and played on one of those big playground structures.  I ignored all the other kids at the party and ran around the playground structure pretending to be Captain Janeway commanding the starship Voyager.  I sucked in my stomach because I thought that made it look like I was a grown-up woman with boobs, lending me more credibility in the character of female spaceship captain.

I have literally no clue how I continued to want to be Captain Janeway alongside being taught harmful patriarchal bullshit about having to be a totally submissive wife and mother with no career or dreams or goals of her own except serving her family.  I don’t know how Janeway survived my upbringing, how she remained enshrined in my heart as a totally badass role model, but she did.

Maybe it’s like the way I believed in both evolution and creation at the same time.  My Grandpa gave us books about dinosaurs and fossils and I devoured them (as I devoured all books), and somehow held separate in my mind two alternate timelines for the universe.  The first timeline was illustrated by the pictures in my bible story books, god creating everything from nothing, the luscious garden scenes, the temptation and fall of mankind, the flood, and then it appeared that everybody lived in the desert for a long time, with camels and stuff.  The second timeline was illustrated by the dinosaur books and a couple other books that managed to slip through the cracks.  There were volcanoes and organisms crawling out of the water, sea monsters and dinosaurs and cave men.  There were magical words like “Jurassic” and “Cretaceous” and “trilobite.”  The evolutionary timeline seemed more like a fantasy than the biblical timeline, just because it wasn’t continuously reinforced during every waking moment.  But the evolutionary timeline was so taboo I got an almost sexual thrill from thinking about it, reading about it, looking at those strange landscapes and animals, and I thought that it, too, along with the bible taken in a strictly literal sense, was true.  There’s no way to reconcile how I was taught the bible with the evolutionary theory, but yet those beliefs coexisted in my mind.  In the same way, there’s no way to reconcile the patriarchy I was brought up in with an admiration of Captain Janeway, but I held on to both anyway.

Maybe it’s because, deep down, I liked a world where dinosaurs roamed exotic forests and then millions of years later a woman could captain a starship better than a world that had been around for brief few thousand years of history in which women were always morally obligated to be subjected to men and never aspire further than the home.  And maybe it’s because, deep down, I knew as soon as I encountered it what I actually believed, no matter how strenuously I tried to make myself believe what I was being taught.

The Importance Of Telling Your Own Story: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

The Importance Of Telling Your Own Story: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

The following piece was originally published by Faith Beauchemin on her blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It is reprinted with her permission.

"Story-telling is empowerment."
“Story-telling is empowerment.”

Story-telling is one of the most powerful forms of sharing truth known to humankind. A story can contain so many different kinds of truth.  A story sticks in the mind longer than a syllogism or a propositional truth claim. And the thing about stories is, we all have one.

Sometimes it takes courage to tell your own story. But it is necessary. If you don’t tell your story, chances are someone else will. And whoever tells the story gains power over it. Do you want someone else’s words expressing your personal experiences, or do you want to choose the words of your story yourself?

A couple of months ago, I came across a blog called Homeschoolers Anonymous.  It’s a forum for homeschoolers to tell their own stories.  I began reading story after story, constantly finding mirrored there many of my own experiences.  The stories told tales of spiritual, psychological and physical abuse.  They spoke about the harm of authoritarian parenting, the fact that lack of socialization really is a huge problem for homeschooled children, the pain and regret and family rifts that result from many doctrines pushed by the radical right-wing arm of the homeschooling movement.  Reading these stories I felt angry.  I cried for all of us, for the suffering and for the fact that so many of us were moving on and finding healing and somehow building lives for ourselves.  And most of all, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.  We speak of our personal experiences and find common ground in the very wounds and burned-over fields we had thought no one would be able to relate to.

It was so comforting to find others telling stories similar to my own because I find that I have trouble taking control of my story, even in my own head.  You see, when you grow up in a hierarchical, authoritarian Christian fundamentalist environment, you have a single narrative which your interpretation of your experiences must fit into.  That narrative is reinforced over and over again, especially since many fundamentalists are very quick to talk about other people’s lives or tell you about your own life using these terms.  “Sin,” “rebellion,” “pride,” “selfishness,” “ungodliness,” “worldliness,” “backsliding”…these are the categories I had to fit everything into if it was not in line with my parent’s ideals for the perfect Christian life.

In an authoritarian home, you’re not allowed power over your own story.  You are handed the words of an authority on all matters and you must accept them as true.  Thinking for yourself is sinful.  This is why it has taken me a long time to start framing my story in my own words.  I can see the transition in my diaries, from stilted descriptions of spiritual things which sound like they are just someone else’s words parroted back to convince myself,  or endless agonizing about why I was so sinful, to finally taking my own thoughts seriously and using words that came from my own head to describe my life.

A diary is one thing.  The residual voice in my head narrating my life in Christian fundamentalist terms can be ignored, or argued with, or told to shut up.  But sharing your story out loud is an entirely different matter.  Because when you finally do gather the courage to share your story out loud, most people want to tell you that you’re wrong, and that their interpretation of your life is truer than your own.

These homeschool alumni who bravely shared their stories are being criticized.  Homeschool advocates are trying to negate the stories collected at Homeschoolers Anonymous by claiming “My homeschool is never like that!” or “Your parents didn’t homeschool the right way.” or “Your current viewpoints are proof that your parents never taught you the things I’m teaching my kids.”  Even well-documented claims that the Home School Legal Defense Association is fighting for a parent’s-rights agenda that will be extremely conducive to child abuse are written off by a simple assertion that it’s just not true.

It’s incredibly frustrating seeing this happen. I am willing to hear parents tell stories of how great homeschooling is for their kids (though I’d be much happier to hear young adults who grew up homeschooled tell stories of how great it was, since the players in the conversation are mostly not parents and we’ve already heard from our parents countless times how good they believe homeschooling is). But I am not willing to hear anyone try to negate these stories of how bad homeschooling has been for so many people. I’m especially not willing to hear stories of outright abuse be dismissed with basically a pat on the head and an assertion that the survivor’s experience is totally unique.  If we want to dialogue constructively on a topic, we need to first allow one another the basic respect of listening to each other’s stories and believing them.

One more thought on story-telling. I don’t like hearing an authority figure telling a story about or on behalf of those they have authority over.  I don’t care what the authorities think, I want to hear the people’s stories from their own mouths.  Because story-telling is empowerment.  You want to empower yourself, of course, but you need to empower others as well.  If we all bravely commit to telling our own stories and listening to other people’s stories, we might together be able to find the next steps in human progress.  Whatever our past, there’s something in each of our life stories that can make the world a better place if we speak it and collaboratively explore what it is we have to tell.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Six

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Six

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

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Part Six: A Tomboy in Christian Patriachy

"If I had known the term 'badass' back then, I would have applied it to myself with pride."
“If I had known the term ‘badass’ back then, I would have applied it to myself with pride.”

I was not the type of daughter that my mother wanted. I was a tomboy.

My hair was very short and I preferred blue clothes. I wanted to run faster and climb higher than anyone. I wasn’t afraid of slimy frogs and worms, and I could kill a spider without batting an eye. I looked with confusion and disdain at the passive little girls with their hair-bows, sitting and talking about clothes and boys. If I had known the term “badass” back then, I would have applied it to myself with pride.

When I was young, my mom was more tolerant of this. After all, in the early days, there were mostly boys in my age group in our small homeschooling community. So I was free to run wild with the boys and join their sports games during our weekly park days.

However, puberty was looming, and it signaled the end of my adventurous life. It was time for me to learn to act like a “lady”, and the means of teaching was through one sentence: “That’s not very ladylike”.

I was a difficult student; after all, the rules seemed very arbitrary and I couldn’t see any advantages that compensated for the extra restrictions. The heart of the message seemed to be that I had to become extremely aware of my body in order to keep other people from being aware of it. A lady did not run. A lady did not sit with her knees apart. A lady did not lie down in public. A lady did not make random bodily noises or find them amusing. A lady did not use crude language like the word “crap” or “fart.” A lady did not wear tight or revealing clothing — for awhile, that meant no shorts or sleeveless shirts. A lady never pointed to or discussed her own body in public. And most of all, a lady never called boys or invited them into her bedroom (not even when I was 23, in a group, with my family home and my door open! What did my mom think I was going to do, have a blatant daytime orgy before my first kiss??).

And besides the extra restrictions, there were also extra responsibilities. I had to learn to sew and cook, things that my brother was exempt from. I tried and tried, but I was never able to enjoy these womanly skills. Eventually my mom gave up on me and moved on to teaching these skills to other more grateful homeschool girls, leaving me feeling jealous and rejected.

It didn’t help my situation that my sister took naturally to wearing cute dresses, having tea parties, and making crafts. She didn’t even need coaching, while I was unsatisfactory even with coaching. As I watched my brother leave for his many outdoor adventures with other boys, I felt cheated and limited, having been born a girl.

In some ways, I was lucky compared to many other girls in the Christian Patriarchy culture that attended Hope Chapel with us. I was never required to wear only dresses or have long hair. I didn’t have to take care of innumerable younger siblings. But most importantly, I was actively encouraged to go to college.

For many conservative Christians, higher education is seen as suspect because of the so-called “secular liberal bias” of universities and professors. That was the case for my family as well. However, my parents were unusual in our church and homeschooling community because they believed that even a daughter should be educated enough to support herself if necessary. So they encouraged me to attend a very conservative Christian college such as Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or Moody Bible Institute. They advised me to choose an area of study that would allow me to supplement my future husband’s income by working from home after I had children.

So, why didn’t I head off to college right away? After all, I was completely miserable at home due to the extremely authoritarian parenting style that my church promoted. There were really two reasons: first, my severe social anxiety made the thought of college overwhelming and terrifying. Second, my parents’ pro-college message was drowned out by the sexist anti-college message of my church.A couple more years of worsening family relationships, of increasing depression, of a sense of purposelessness, of no prospects of a church-approved way out of that mess — that was exactly what I needed to reach my breaking point. My exact thought process at the time was this: “I’ve been praying for guidance about my future for years, and I haven’t heard anything. I can’t go on like this. I’m going to just start moving and hope that God will steer me if I go the wrong direction.”As I left home for the first time at age 23, I felt small, weak, timid, and vulnerable, heading out into the great wide world all alone. There was no trace of my former badass self from childhood. So is the Christian Patriarchy right about women after all?People tend to live up to the expectations of those around them, what others believe they are capable of.  The sexist beliefs then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The women in the church were told over and over that they were easily deceived and easily swayed by their emotions and needed a man’s protection/guidance. But denying women education and experience is what made them that way.College was a time of transformation for me; I was overcoming my severe social anxietydiscovering my true identity, learning to be comfortable with sexuality, and learning to set boundaries and take responsibility for myself.   Marriage has only continued that process, as my husband and I work to maintain an equal partnership–something truly beautiful that I didn’t know existed 7 years ago.Now I am a feminist stay-at-home mom.  I stay at home because I want to, because I love the bond I have with my little one and the adventures we have together as I introduce him to the world.  I can understand his excitement as he discovers what he’s capable of — because I’m finally feeling. it too.

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To be continued.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Five

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Five

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

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Part Five: Forming Boundaries Late in Life

"I wasn't secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me."
“I wasn’t secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me.”

Do any of these sound like you?

I have to always say yes to others, or else I am selfish.

I have to always hide my hurt, or else I am unloving.

I have to treat other people as faultless, or else I am holding a grudge.

I have to keep my wants and needs to myself, or else I am a burden to others.

People who experienced authoritarian parents tend to turn into adults with poor boundaries. They were trained for it their whole lives and can’t imagine another way of doing things. However, it’s an extremely unsatisfying and unsustainable way to live, don’t you think? But most importantly, it’s actually not what a loving person is like! For me, when I was in that mindset, my “loving” actions were actually motivated by obligation or guilt because I thought I didn’t really have a choice; I was just an actor.

Besides hindering me from showing real love based on real choice, this mindset also prevented me from ever feeling loved. My buried wants and needs were still there; I just expected any true friend to be hyper-vigilant to my emotional state and correctly guess my unexpressed wants/needs. I felt that anyone who didn’t put in that monumental effort didn’t really care about me. And when people hurt me, I didn’t give them a chance to repair the damage to the relationship; I either lied to myself and them by saying that I wasn’t hurt, or I expected them to realize the problem and fix it without being told. Obviously, it was really hard for anyone to break through those defenses to form a real and lasting connection with me, even if they wanted to.

When I was in my late teens/early twenties, equipped with my driver’s license, I began to have more opportunities to interact with my peers.  However, with my poor boundaries and repressed emotions from authoritarian parenting, and with my severe social anxiety from isolated homeschooling, I wasn’t exactly set up for success. It’s not surprising that I was able to form friendships with more dominant and outgoing people most easily at first. They were the ones who were confident enough to break through my guardedness and befriend invisible me. I had no identity and nothing to contribute, and they were the ones who could talk enough to cover for my silence. They were the ones with ideas that I could go along with. And, thankfully, they were the ones who could ask me the pushy and nosy questions on occasion that helped to break open my protective shell.

It’s also not surprising, although really sad, that many of those first friendships didn’t last through the turbulence of my mid- and late- twenties. In a way, I was really experiencing my teens and twenties simultaneously. Out on my own for college, I was trying to discover and establish my own identity for the first time in my life, and dealing with an incredible amount of childhood baggage at the same time. And just when I felt I was making real progress in replacing social anxiety with relationships, my progress in forming boundaries set me back.

I asked my husband to provide a little outside perspective of what the process looked like, since most of it took place during our relationship. He sees it this way:

1. I realized that conflict had to be acknowledged and resolved rather than ignored in order to have a healthy relationship. That meant that it was ok to admit when someone’s behavior bothered me. However, since I had no experience at conflict management, I didn’t know when or how to go about it. I was a mess of over-reactions and under-reactions, and the whole time I was incredibly stressed and afraid of rejection.

2.  Once I began to open up about my feelings, wants, and needs, a backlog of repressed emotions suddenly started to flow out. In my mind, lists of ways I had been wronged started to appear, even from all those times that I thought I was being loving and not keeping a record. So, whenever I needed to talk to someone about a conflict, they would be surprised and hurt by the size of my list of related issues.

3. I wasn’t secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me, whether it was a friend or a family member. Even just their attempt to change my opinion by sharing a different perspective was threatening to me. Figuratively speaking, if a person even dared to knock politely on my boundary wall, I would appear with a shotgun and tell them to get off my property. I had very strong ideas about how I should be treated, and it was almost impossible for people to fit in my narrow tolerances. Everything had to be on my terms; I expected anyone who cared about me to change immediately when I informed them of a problem.

4. Now I’m finally feeling more secure in my boundaries, so I’m starting to become more balanced and pick my battles more carefully. I’m getting better at differentiating between real offenses and simple mistakes, as well as determining what approach might be most effective way to manage the conflict. I’m also trying to prevent emotional build-up by dealing with things right away. And most importantly, I’m trying to take other people’s differences and imperfections into account and realize that change usually comes slowly. It’s easier to accept that when I remember that others are also being patient with me in ways I can’t fully see.

I deeply appreciate my husband’s support during this process; without him, it would have been much more difficult to work through so many issues. Even though this process has been extremely challenging and painful at times, and even though I still have a lot of progress left to make, I am so much happier than I was before. Now when I choose to help people, I have the reward of feeling happy and satisfied because I did it willingly. Now I take responsibility for my needs, wants, and feelings, so I don’t feel so helpless and dependent. Now when I choose to tolerate people’s imperfections, I feel a sense of our shared humanity rather than feeling devalued.

However, it is unfortunate that I had to go through this process so late in life. I feel like it was much more traumatic than it needed to be because it conflicted with the progress I was making in forging friendships with people for the first time in my life. If you are dealing with similar issues as an adult, I’d like to recommend two things: read the book  “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend and find yourself a good therapist; hopefully you can find a way to establish and maintain good boundaries in a less destructive way than I did.

*****

To be continued.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Four

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Four

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Part Four: Authoritarian Parenting and Emotional Repression

"At the worst point in my relationship with my dad, I went for several years without my dad smiling at me even one time."
“At the worst point in my relationship with my dad, I went for several years without my dad smiling at me even one time.”

I have a lot of respect for my dad. He’s thoughtful and generous to all of us. His constant reading makes him an interesting and well-informed conversationalist.  He makes his life decisions very carefully, yet never looks down on me for making different decisions than him.  Instead, he tells me all the time that he loves and misses me, and that he’s proud of who I’ve become. I feel so lucky to have him as my dad.

Unfortunately, we have not always gotten along so well.  Less than ten years ago, our relationship had been almost completely destroyed thanks to the authoritarian parenting techniques of the fundamentalist Christian homeschooling culture (in our case, it was Reb Bradley’s Child Training Tips). Authoritarian parenting forced both of us into roles that we were not at all suited for, with tragic results.

For my dad, authoritarian parenting caused him to see our relationship as a power struggle; maintaining his authority was his biggest responsibility and highest priority.  After all, if we were calling the shots in our own lives, we would become self-indulgent and lack internal self-control.  That would lead us to more dangerous “worldly” teenage rebellion against our parents and God.  So in order not to fail at parenting, my dad had to be hyper-vigilant against giving up power to us kids.  What an insane amount of responsibility to put on one person!  And how difficult to create a positive relationship with that kind of dynamic: it’s impossible to mandate real respect and love!  My dad began to crack under the pressure.

For me as a teen, authoritarian parenting very nearly reduced me to an empty shell of a person. I found that my opinions and emotions were sources of trouble and guilt.   Anger or frustration–even just on my face–were signs of disrespect and lack of self-control. Questioning my parents’ decisions or expressing different opinions, even on trivial matters, were signs of rebellion.  Even the simple act of lifting my eyebrows could get me in trouble.  In order to survive, I had to bury my negative emotions and try to become more passive and less opinionated.

In addition to guarding my facial expressions and speech against “disrespect” and “rebellion,” I also had to hide many positive feelings. My parents’ preferred method of discipline when I was in my teens was to take away privileges. Anything that I had shown happiness or excitement about was a likely target. So, to protect things I cared about, I tried to stay detached. One technique that helped me care less about something was to focus on the negative about it. Unfortunately, it was hard to rekindle my excitement once my negativity had extinguished it, but at least it was easier to deal with the feelings of helplessness and disappointment.

At the worst point in my relationship with my dad, I went for several years without my dad smiling at me even one time.  He spent long hours at work or locked in his room and tried to avoid talking to me or looking at me when we passed. But still, every night, my mom made me find him to say, “Goodnight Dad, I love you,” and stand there looking at the back of his head with no answer.  Any time I protested this nightly tradition and expressed my hurt to my mom, she simply cautioned me not to let the “root of bitterness” spring up in my heart. So I did my best to bury my negative emotions, just like I saw my mom doing.

I was supposedly in the prime of my life, but I started to feel very old. My body was full of aches and pains, and I was constantly tired or dealing with a headache. Finally, at my mom’s urging, I went to see a doctor.  I was caught off guard when the doctor asked, “Do you think you’re depressed?” “Oh my goodness, no!” I answered. When the doctor left the room, I burst into tears with no idea why. I finally decided that I must have been upset that my Christian witness was damaged since I wasn’t showing Jesus’ peace and joy on my face during my doctor’s appointment.

Looking back, it’s easy to identify that I was deeply depressed and incredibly emotionally repressed.  But I didn’t interpret it that way at the time.  I saw my depression as “deep spiritual sensitivity” that came from my desire to be perfect.  And I saw my emotional repression as “true love”: by pretending I was never bothered and that I had no preferences, I thought I was being unselfish and putting the needs of everyone else before my own.

As I entered college and started to work through many of my social anxiety issues, I continued using the relational techniques that had helped me survive at home.  I was passive; I went along with other people’s ideas and goals; I had no strong opinions or desires of my own.  I was just there, a non-factor, grateful to be included.

The real change for me came through developing my relationship with my boyfriend/husband.  Our long conversations helped me work through my pent up emotions and discover my opinions.  On many occasions, he waited patiently even for 20 minutes, silently walking next to me with his arm around my shoulders, so I could finally express a basic opinion or feeling.  At some point, I came uncorked, and we now have an entirely different challenge as my opinions and feelings come flying from left and right!  In time, I’ll find balance.

Sorry, but I don’t agree with ___.
I felt really sad when you ____.
I’d really rather ____.
I don’t really enjoy ___.
In my opinion, ___.

These phrases may seem mundane to you, but to me they are priceless.  Every time I use them, they remind me that I am a real and valuable person with my own identity, my own voice, my own choice.  They make me feel empowered because I remember what it was like to try to live without them.

*****

To be continued.

Putting Children First: Karen Loethen’s Thoughts

Putting Children First: Karen Loethen’s Thoughts

The following piece was originally published by Karen Loethen on her blog Homeschool Atheist Momma with the title, “Still Looking for Disadvantages of Homeschool?” It is reprinted with her permission. Karen describes herself as “a homeschooling mum of two children (ages 15 and 12) and the wife of an amazing man.” She and her family “are Midwestern Americans, currently living in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.”

I’ve been wondering, do I write pro homeschool stuff because I am simply reinforcing my insecurities about homeschooling?

No.

I write it so that others can find pro-homeschooling stuff easily.

But today I am motivated to explore the truth behind negative homeschool experiences.  I have been reading websites of homeschool alum who are very unhappy with their homeschool experiences and blogs of suspect homeschoolers.  I’ve been reading stories by homeschool alum, adults who feel “weird” and “odd” and in pain and who have serious difficulties relating to the world at large, who report abuse, neglect, serious emotional damage, and hugely poor parenting.  I am overwhelmed, today, with the negative homeschooling experiences for some children and adults out there.

While we can not reparent any of these wounded people who are trying so hard to heal themselves, we can offer them our love and seek to understand their claims. We, as homeschooling parents, should never attempt to discredit someone’s story (as I have seen on some of these sites). No, instead, we must learn from these experiences and offer these people our love and compassion. And offer them our thanks for being willing to share their stories. It takes courage in this world to stand up and disprove the majority. And, besides, they are people who are courageously, fearfully offering their life stories, hoping for healing.

If you go there, write nothing, or write only messages of love and support.  It is homeschooling parents who are insecure and fearful themselves who do not allow these voices to be heard without confrontation.  I understand that fear, but these boards are not the place to put one’s own issues out there.

As one woman at the Homeschoolers Anonymous website said, today, homeschooling is often portrayed in the media as some great and noble cause or as a quaint, folksy version of the Great American Dream.  I’m grateful for the “improvement,” as homeschool has had a fairly dreadful rep for a long time. Sadly, some of that rep is well-deserved. I must also add that most of the stories (all the I have read today, in fact) share a fundamental Christian motivation or Evangelical basis for their isolationist and authoritarian approaches to their homeschooling and parenting. This is not the point of my post, but it is an essential piece of the puzzle.

I think of homeschooling as an extension of, as a part of, parenting.

In my mind there is no way to separate the two.

I think we should all have the right to freely educate our children without state involvement. But this presupposes that all adults are capable of making healthy and wise choices for their families and we know that this is not the case. But whose job is it to decide who should and who should not homeschool? No one is sitting in an office making lists of people who can and should become parents.  Anyone can become a parent regardless of maturity, ability, mental issues, all other issues, etc. Parents of all ability levels have always existed in the world.

Maybe we can all agree that not all people who are parents should have been parents.

Similarly, not all people who homeschool should homeschool.

To homeschool, to parent, to the best advantage of one’s children, a parent needs to be mature enough to put the needs of themselves Last on the List and the needs of their children First on the List. A person suited to homeschool and parent children must have no philosophy, culture, or creed that puts anything, anything ahead of the good of the children. A person well-suited to parenting and homeschooling children is a person who is willing and able and apt to reflect upon new information and evidence and use that evidence and make changes, improvements, adjustments when necessary.  The person adequately suited to parenting and homeschooling is a person who takes the time to learn about a variety of educational and parenting options and looks at those options carefully, making decisions based on what makes a better human being from each child.

And more, I believe that the best approach to parenting, in my opinion, is a person who manages to believe in their children, who even believes in the human race!  I believe the more successful parent and homeschooling parent is one who finds humor in life and looks for fun.  I believe it essential to think well of people.  I think it necessary to put Love at the center of family life.  I think it necessary to be a self-aware adult.  And I think it necessary that I spend time locating my own issues, growth areas, and limitations.  And seek to improve myself.

Yes, I can be a bit serious about this.

I believe that adults owe it to themselves and to their progeny to become the best people they can be.

Because when they don’t, it’s the kids who suffer.

Post-Fundamentalist Marriage

Crosspost: Post-Fundamentalist Marriage

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on July 4, 2012.

"My church was completely wrong about women."
“My church was completely wrong about women.”

If I had stayed within the constraints of fundamentalism and Christian Patriarchy, my husband and I would absolutely not be happily married today.  Our relationship from the very beginning consisted of many departures from the teachings I grew up with.  Each of those departures furthered the development, health, and mutual happiness of our relationship.

The first departure: As a single woman, I moved out of my parents’ home to get a college education. What is a completely ordinary step for many North American women was a desperate and terrifying leap for me. My family’s homeschooling church, led by Reb Bradley, promoted a very restrictive view of gender roles along with a strong suspicion of the “liberal bias” of higher learning institutions. Within the church culture, daughters were obligated to stay home under their father’s authority until marriage; once married, they would be housekeepers and stay-at-home mothers.  For daughters, a college education was dangerous (because it removed them from their father’s protection), risky for their faith (because it exposed them to non-Christian ideas), and wasteful (because it was not practical for their duties at home).

However, despite my church’s reservations about college, only good things came to me through my experiences there, far away from home.  College helped me grow socially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually in ways that have benefited me in every area of my life since then.  But of all the good things, I am most grateful for the chance to meet my husband; we were definitely meant to be together.  Without college, we would never have met.

The second departure: My boyfriend and I dated instead of courting. According to Reb Bradley’s teaching of “Biblical” courtship, a daughter needed the protection and guidance of her father to find a spouse. This was because women were supposedly easily deceived, just like Eve in the Garden of Eden, swayed by their emotions and easily taken advantage of. Through the courtship process, a father could “guide” his daughter by screening any suitors for “correct” religious and political beliefs; he could “protect” his daughter by making rules about displays of affection and enforcing those rules through constant supervision.

My experiences away from home at college convinced me that my church was completely wrong about women.  In fact, it was denying women experience and education that caused them to be so dependent on men; it was not an innate quality of women. As I was working hard to increase my self-confidence and independence that my church and family had damaged, I made a goal for myself: I was not only going to date, I was also going to ask out the guy.

The first and only guy that I asked out turned out to be my future husband.  As it so happened, we lived several hours apart from each other, so we only had one meeting and one shot at a relationship.  If I hadn’t taken the initiative to ask him out, we would never have ended up together.

It is absolutely critical that my husband and I found each other without being pushed or restricted by our parents.  We were not playing a role of trying to please our parents and stay true to our parents’ beliefs; we were free to be ourselves, and we could see more clearly what our life would be like together if we got married.  We were adults, taking responsibility for ourselves and our well-being in the present and the future.

The third departure: My fiance and I cohabitated before getting married. It goes without saying that cohabitation was forbidden in the culture I was raised in, since even the alone time of dating was considered unnecessary and hazardous to “purity”.  In fact, cohabitation was seen as one of the great evils of society and a major contributor to the decrease of marriage and increase of divorce rates in North America.

My fiance and I never planned to cohabitate. The circumstances of life simply made it the best option for us. It was only later that we saw that cohabitation itself benefited our relationship.  It gave us confidence that we were making the right decision to get married, because we could more clearly envision our future married life together.  What were the gaps like between structured activities and conversations?  What were we like as introverts, when we withdrew from our pseudo-extroversion in order to recharge?  What was it like to take care of mundane tasks together, like keeping up an apartment, cooking, cleaning, and shopping for groceries?  What did he act like, first thing in the morning before he’d had his coffee?  What did I look like, first thing in the morning before I’d put on makeup?  The fewer surprises, the better–especially when it’s a lifelong commitment you’re talking about.

Besides that, cohabitating without having premarital sex allowed us to horrify absolutely everyone in the world.

The fourth departure: He pushed me to freely express my opinions and disagree with him.  As we developed a closer relationship, we began to experience some communication challenges.  Specifically, I found it extremely difficult to express my opinions, even when we were just making simple decisions such as what movie to watch or restaurant to eat at.  A lot of this was due to my emotional repression from authoritarian parenting, but there was more to it than that.  It also came from a serious misunderstanding of healthy relationships, which I had learned from my church and family.  I felt, deep down, that having and expressing my own opinions was selfish and would cause my partner unhappiness. I thought we would have a better, stronger, and happier relationship if I buried my preferences and played the role of a supportive wife.

To my surprise, the opposite was true.  Due to my “unselfishness,” I rarely felt loved or understood, and my partner constantly felt frustrated as he tried to guess my wants and needs in order to make me feel valued.

It turned out that he wanted to have a relationship with a real person, a person with feelings and thoughts. He did not want a “yes man” or a deferential subordinate; he wanted us to learn from and challenge each other.  Improving our communication skills beautifully affected our relationship; we began to understand ourselves and each other much better.  With that greater understanding, we were able to begin making better decisions as a team, compromising and compensating each other when necessary, so that we experienced the most mutual benefit.

The fifth departureWe don’t separate our responsibilities based on gender.  Within fundamentalism and Christian Patriarchy, your role in life is based on your gender, with no regard for your personality, strengths, weaknesses, or preferences.  If you are a man, you must provide and lead.  If you are a woman, you must take care of the house and children and defer to your husband’s decisions.  Any unhappiness that arises from this gender-based arrangement is merely a sign of your need to depend on God more and try even harder to fulfill your gender role properly.

That approach to life is blind to the huge amount of variety in the world and even the variety in the Bible.  Instead of acknowledging variety and diversity, everything is black and white, neatly categorized, and stacked in little boxes.  All the misfits and in-betweens are either ignored or labeled as sinful.

My husband and I realized right away that we would both be unhappy if we just automatically followed traditional gender roles without adapting them to suit who we were. In some ways, we appear very traditional at first glance; I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, and he supports us financially by working every day.  However, we are only doing that because we both happen to be happy in those roles right now, and we do not feel trapped because we know we could choose another arrangement at any time.

In many other ways, we have chosen to depart from traditional gender roles to promote the greatest mutual happiness and success.  For instance, he loves cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, while I find cooking to be a monotonous chore.  We are both happier when we share the cooking responsibilities.  Also, organizing and planning comes naturally to me, but he has a lot of difficulty thinking of and keeping track of the details.  That means we are both happier and things run more smoothly when I take charge of managing our plans and vacations.  Over time, we have recognized that we each have areas of expertise, so the person with the relevant skill or knowledge naturally takes the lead at the appropriate time.  Each of us is unique, and together we make a unique team; it would be a shame to damage that dynamic relationship by trying to force ourselves into roles that don’t fit us.

These five departures are risks that I took, doing the very things that I had been warned about for my whole fundamentalist youth.  In the end, it turned out that they were stepping stones from my depressed past life to my satisfied present life.  They were an escape route surrounded by scary shadows and “maybes”, but I’ve finally made it out into the light. I feel extremely lucky. I hope for the same happiness for each person who reads this; just realize that happiness doesn’t come from formulas and rules, and it will probably look different for you than for me, because of the beautiful variety of life. 

Bad, Evil Psychology Helped Me

Crosspost: Bad, Evil Psychology Helped Me

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on July 7, 2012.

"I've slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others."
“I’ve slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others.”

Growing up, I heard a lot of scoffing at psychology in my family, homeschooling community, and fundamentalist church.  In those circles, the study and application of psychology represented a worthless human attempt to feel happier apart from God and become better without the guidance of the Bible.   The anti-psychology sentiment was so strong that even building kids’ self-confidence and self-esteem was derided as a “worldly” goal.  There was too much “self” in the name.  Real True Christian children were to be obedient and humble instead. 

Looking back, I definitely had the obedience thing handled; in fact, I cannot remember ever purposefully disobeying my parents, even in my teens.  Yet I was constantly reprimanded for unsatisfactory performance because I was unable to be constantly cheerful about the instant unquestioning obedience that was required of me.  The impossibility of my situation left me feeling extremely frustrated and guilty; however, I reasoned that my faults were just a “thorn in my flesh” to keep me humble and seeking God’s help (

2 Cor 12:7).  

But apparently even my humility was a fault; I wasn’t doing that right either.  In my late teens, I heard Reb Bradley‘s teachings about pride at his homeschooling church Hope Chapel.  According to Reb Bradley, true humility was the absence of thought or awareness of yourself.  So those feelings of shame, awkwardness, self-consciousness, and frustration that I dealt with daily?  Sinful pride, not humility.  Talk about kicking a person when they’re down!  My tortured teenage mind twisted itself in knots trying to get out of my body, trying to have no positive or negative thoughts about myself, no “selfish” dreams or desires or goals for the life that stretched endlessly before me.  Really, I was tearfully and prayerfully trying to cease to exist..  It’s no wonder that my depression often spiraled out of control, and I spent almost all of my free time in my teens lying on my bed like a zombie, alone, dead inside.

One day in my early twenties, as I was driving my car home from work, I heard an unexpectedly beautiful and compassionate new voice coming from the Christian radio station.  In his gentle Southern accent, he talked about dealing with the pain of rejection and struggling with poor self-esteem as a result; I stopped the car and cried.  It was the first time I felt that my broken-heartedness was not yet another fault of mine; it was the first time that I heard the idea of self-esteem referenced positively.  

Who was this pastor who seemed so liberal and gracious to me at the time? Charles Stanley, the president of the extremely conservative and fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention.  

Starting with that one small first step of hearing a sympathetic voice on the radio, I’ve slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others over the last ten years.  Shedding my misunderstanding of the Bible and my deep distrust of extra-biblical resources, including psychology, has been immensely helpful to me in my own journey.  It has opened up a whole new world of fascinating ideas, including ones that have helped me make sense of my own childhood experiences and their effects on me. 

Recently, I’ve encountered one particularly relevant idea that has increased my self-understanding. I am what personality psychologists call a “highly sensitive” or “high-reactive” person. This refers to an inborn aversion to novelty and a tendency to more easily become overstimulated; it is not very common, but it is strongly correlated with being introverted.  It explains why I always order the same food in restaurants, choose comfort over style, love predictability, and avoid spending too much time around loud noises and large crowds.  Understanding the biological basis of my personality quirks is helping me manage my stress and not demand too much of myself.

But it has been even more helpful to look back at my childhood with the understanding that I was a highly sensitive child. In her book “Quiet“, Susan Cain discusses how childhood experiences can affect the highly sensitive or high reactive child:

“The destinies of the most high-reactive kids are also influenced by the world around them–perhaps even more so than for the average child, according to a groundbreaking new theory dubbed ‘the orchid hypothesis’ by David Dobbs…This theory holds that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment.  But others, including the high-reactive types that Kagan studied, are more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent.….

[T]he reactivity of these kids’ nervous systems makes them quickly overwhelmed by childhood adversity, but also able to benefit from a nurturing environment more than other children do.  In other words, orchid children are more strongly affected by all experience, both positive and negative.

Scientists have known for a while that high-reactive temperments come with risk factors.  These kids are especially vulnerable to challenges like marital tension, a parent’s death, or abuse.  They’re more likely than their peers to react to these events with depression, anxiety, and shyness.  Indeed, about a quarter of Kagan’s high-reactive kids suffer some degree of the condition known as ‘social anxiety disorder’….

High-reactive kids who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers, studies show.”  (p. 110-111)

I had wondered many times why some of my more extroverted peers who also experienced social isolation and authoritarian parenting seemed less traumatized and could enter mainstream society more quickly, while I struggled with severe depression and crippling anxiety for years and years.  In “Quiet”, I found a reason that in retrospect makes perfect sense.  As a highly sensitive child, the negative experiences simply affected me more strongly.

I started adulthood almost destroyed, with almost no ability to function.  Yet here I am today, a far happier and healthier person.  It turned out that my high sensitivity was an asset in my recovery in the end.  Once the conditions were right for me to “grow”, my development took off.  Positive attention, kindness, and acceptance coaxed me back to life and helped me grow into my true identity. 

Contrary to all the warnings I heard about psychology in my youth, I have found that the increased self-understanding has resulted in genuine self-improvement.  I much prefer this approach to the ineffective and tearful fumblings that were promoted by my church.