Anyone who has left the IFB goes through this. You look back at what you were forced to do as a child and cringe. Door to door evangelizing on Saturdays where you would sit in someone’s home and tell them that they and their children were going to Hell. Not speaking to someone who was gay or had a gay child.
Or maybe you were the adult who spanked their children, forced them to stay away from family members who didn’t believe or behave as you did. Your choice of religion traumatized your children, and some may not be in your life anymore.
And let’s not forget the fact that guilt is a major factor in the IFB religion itself. You are trained to feel guilty oftentimes when you’ve done nothing wrong.
Whether you were a child or an adult, the guilt can last a lifetime. It can lead to depressions, self-harm, suicide and more. But how do you learn to let it go?
Sit in the Guilt
I know this sounds odd but to truly let go of this negative emotion, you need to name it and be aware of how deep your guilt goes. Is this guilt for something you did to someone else? Is it guilt you feel over treating yourself so poorly?
Take out a journal and write down what you did that you felt was wrong. Name names and give details. Take a moment and imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. What do you think they were feeling? How do you think it impacted them?
This is hard for anyone who was raised or attended IFB churches. We are not taught to forgive ourselves. We are taught that God will punish us how and when He wills. Meanwhile, a spanking will take care of your sins for now. You were forced to pray and ask God for His forgiveness and then commanded to ask your parents for it as well.
Close your eyes or look at a picture of yourself when these events were unfolding. Remember how you felt when something happened that you feel truly bad about. Are you that same person now? Do you still believe in the things you believed in back then?
As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”
You are not the same person. Stop feeling like you are. Learn to forgive yourself or you will stay in your guilt forever and nothing will change.
Ask for Forgiveness and Make Amends
Just like this is an important step in AA or NA, you must do both. Ask the person for their forgiveness and then also make amends if you can. Did you have a cousin who was gay, and you had to distance yourself from them? Find that cousin and ask for forgiveness. Ask them if there is anything you can do to make amends. Maybe you could volunteer in a LGBTQ+ youth center or simply spend time together getting to know each other. Do they want you to go to an appointment at their therapist’s office….go.
Keep in mind that not everyone will forgive you. If you beat your child their whole lives until they left, it might take time. You need to do it at THEIR pace and timeline. The key is if they don’t forgive you right away, to replace all that energy and time feeling guilty about it and instead focus on them. Send them good energy. If you still pray, pray for them. Let them know if and when they want to forgive you, you’ll be there.
Replace Negative Self Talk with Self Compassion
Every time you feel that guilt crop back up, you need to be able to replace it with something. You need to retrain your subconscious that when that feeling comes up, I’ll replace it with positivity. For example, if you feel guilty about telling your aunt she and her family were going to Hell if they didn’t recite John 3:16 and get an immersion baptism, every time you think about that replace it with “now I know better and I’m doing better”.
Negative self-talk gets you nowhere. It gives you nothing. You owe it nothing. Learn to be kind to yourself. If you were raised IFB, it is not a skill taught but self-compassion and self-love is what we all need.
Another way to avoid feeling guilty is to practice gratitude. What do you have to feel happy about now in your life? Do you have a partner who accepts you for who you are and tries to understand what you went through? Do you have a better life now and a better spiritual life now? At the least, aren’t you glad you got out? Take a moment each time guilt rears its ugly head and shoot it down with happiness!
Pay it Forward
A final way to keep guilt at bay is to find a way to pay it forward. Guilt is such a passive thing. Combat it with action. Find support groups who help kids leaving the IFB. Join a forum for other IFB survivors and cheer each other on. Write about your experiences in a book or a blog and share resources.
Guilt is sometimes warranted. We all do bad things. But if your guilt is anchored in your time in the IFB, it is time to let it go.
IFB Overcomers is an online resource for those who have left Independent Fundamentalism and are looking to heal and discover themselves. With a podcast, webinars, forum, blog and resources, we hope to help retrain your heart and mind from the mindset of the IFB and help you not only survive but overcome and then thrive!