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.

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

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

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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Everyone has a different story to tell, and this is mine.  Although it involves a lot of painful memories, I believe that re-evaluating my childhood experiences will help me not only heal from them but also avoid repeating them now that I’m a wife and mother.

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Part One: Good Intentions, Bad Fruit

I heard the stories so many times as I was growing up, the reasons for my parents’ decision to pull me out of public school halfway through first grade and start to homeschool me.  I heard how I cried every day when my mom dropped me off at school.  I heard how I was bored in class because I had learned to read at age 3, long before going to kindergarten.  I heard how my teacher was wasting classroom time on political issues by having the class write a letter about saving some whales.  I heard how the teacher hurt my feelings badly by insulting my quiet speaking voice during a presentation.  I heard how I had the problem boy as my seatmate because I was the best behaved student.  I never thought to question my mom’s narrative; school was certainly a terrible place for me, based on her stories.

As a former elementary school teacher, my mom knew that she could give me a more personalized education than I would get in a classroom of 30 other students.  While helping me get ahead academically, she would also be able to protect me from worldly and liberal influences.  The temporary sacrifice would certainly produce rich rewards for our family, she believed, so she steeled her will against criticism and dove in the the relatively new homeschooling movement in Northern California.

These days, I am often amazed at adults who remember what grade they were in for important world events, or who say things like “This was my favorite song in 6th grade!”  As a homeschooled student, I have almost no time markers on my memories.  Everything is a blur.  However, it seems like homeschooling went fairly well for my family throughout elementary school.  We were part of a homeschool group that had weekly park days and occasional field trips to factories, restaurants, and government offices.  My younger brother and I were very independent in our learning, with high reading comprehension, so we could complete our assignments each day with very little input from my mom.  Although there was almost no regulation of homeschooling in CA at the time, my mom still made sure that we covered the same general topics as our public school counterparts in each grade, except of course that our education was exclusively from a Christian perspective.

Years of countering criticism of homeschooling, years of being surrounded by other like-minded Christian homeschoolers….the effects on my family were detrimental.  We lost the ability to objectively evaluate whether homeschooling was still working for our family.  Things were obviously falling apart as my brother and I reached our teen years and as my younger sister reached school age, but no one could acknowledge it.  By then, our identity as homeschoolers was inseparable from our spiritual, political, and family identity.  Failure was not an option.

Desperate to achieve the Christian homeschooled family ideal, my family was drawn into the dangerous personality cult of Reb Bradley and began attending his homeschooling church, Hope Chapel.  Each member of our family has suffered as a result of the messages and culture of Hope Chapel.  Our weaknesses were exacerbated by the well-intentioned “support” we received there.

For me personally, the last 10 years have been an intense journey, a re-working of my entire worldview, in an attempt to become a healthier and happier person.  I’ve been working hard to weed out the deeply-rooted ideas that were planted by the homeschooling community and Hope Chapel, and I’ve seen the positive effects on my life as I have done so.

Upcoming posts will cover my personal growth in each of the areas where I was damaged:

Social isolation

Fear of sexuality

Emotional repression

Poor boundaries

Restrictive view of gender roles

Warped view of humanity

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To be continued.