Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Overcoming Perfectionism

Be the very best you can be for Jesus.

That is just one of many TFI teachings that sound kind of sweet and innocent, but it sows the seed for a mind-trapping perfectionism.

That's the thing with so many doctrines of the cult. They seep into our minds sounding so "good," so "right," so "holy," that we readily accept them - but their actual practice takes a whole new form. "Make disciples of all nations" translates to "travel around the world annoying people by trying to foist your questionable religious beliefs on them." "Live by faith" to "beg on the streets and from door-to-door." And the quintessential, "God's only law is love" to "indiscriminate sex with multiple partners - as long as it is motivated by 'God's pure' love."

Back to "being your best." That morphs into never ever being satisfied with anything you do. So there is the never-ending, yet pointless, quest for perfectionism, that is further confused by the constant knowledge that we can never be good enough. (Only Jesus is good, right?)

This makes decision-making an endless nightmare of self-doubt. "What should I do? What is best?" Even simple things take on time-wasting dimensions, "What should I get for so-and-so for Christmas? What is the 'perfect' gift?"

This is something I've conquered in some areas, but I am still plagued by indecision about important things. I can settle for getting someone a gift that is "nice" or "good enough," but oh, how the big decisions plague me. "Where to spend my future? How to survive with no retirement funds? What to do?" 

Cult members answer that one easily, with a blithe "Jesus will take care of me." I can no longer do that, and I long for the clarity that a clear future plan will bring me.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

"It's Only Jesus"

Only Jesus is good. If there's anything good you ever do, it's only Jesus. Don't accept when people praise you, say "It's only Jesus. Thank Jesus."

That sounds innocent enough.

But let's think.

You're a child born into the cult where you may even have been lucky enough to have heard praise for your accomplishments, but you were taught to dismiss those words and instead "give all the credit to Jesus." Nothing you can do is good enough, because only Jesus is good. We are "altogether born in sins" (John 9:34). Any encouraging words wash right off because you know in your heart that you are bad and unworthy.

All your life you are taught that you are bad, a sinner. Replay that thought over and over and the loop becomes a habit, and the habit becomes a snowball growing in strength and intensity into full-blown self-loathing.

Now, coat this with a smile. "Jesus chose me." "We are the happiest people on earth."

A bandaid over the psychological damage.

Our brains already have a negativity bias. This has evolutionary roots. If our ancestors had a happy experience, it did not have much effect upon their survival. Daily threats of predators were what they needed to attend to, remember, and learn from.

But the "use it or lose it" quality of brain cells can come to the rescue. As we all know, our brains are plastic, and according to Dr. Norman Doidge, they are competitively plastic. "There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead." (The Brain that Changes Itself)

Albeit "unlearning" is more challenging than learning. The analogy of brain pathways provides an easy picture. We have been walking down the self-hate pathway for years. We've nearly paved it, we've worn it so smooth from daily passage. Now we want to make a new path. We beat our way through the forest the first time. Then as we repeat that thought, fashioning a new pathway - a new habit - day by day, the old pathway gradually gets grown over and fades.

It's not easy, but knowing that it is possible is already the first step down that more healthy path.