In most religious communities, faith is advertised as the cure to all of your problems. Having faith is all you need to get through the tough times; if you have faith you will make it through; if you have faith you won’t complain; if you have faith there should not be any fear in your heart and so on…. When we have faith we find comfort in our beliefs and in the idea that someone greater than us, a higher power will take care of us and is in charge of the world. This is a powerful idea because it helps us get through the tough times knowing that He knows what he is doing even if at this moment it does not make sense to us. But sadly, this comes with a huge cost.
It has come to my attention that when working with religious clients there is no room for what is occasionally thought of as “negative” feelings such as sadness, doubt, disappointment, and anger. Such clients only talk about being happy and content and experience guilt when talking about G-D and their “negative” feelings in the same sentence. Of course this is assuming that they ever talk about their “negative” feelings. It almost seems like if you have faith you cannot and should not feel angry towards G-d, or be disappointed in Him. It seems like we have learned that if we don’t talk about it, it must not exist; that is how we treat our emotions. If I don’t think about how angry, disappointed, sad, hurt I am with and by G-D, it will go away. We deny that we feel sad and hurt and tell ourselves that He will not be happy if we are honest. We come to miss the fact that He is with us all the time and is aware of our unthought-of thoughts. By not acknowledging our feelings we only fool ourselves and rob the opportunity to deal with them honestly and lovingly meanwhile G-d has already witnessed the disappointment that lurks in the fabric of our minds. This inhibits us from either going to therapy or really growing if we are in therapy.
When we lose touch with our feelings, we lose ourselves, a part of us that makes us human and vulnerable. It is important to know that a healthy parent-child relationship can only occur when the child knows that his/her parents can handle all of his feelings, the good, bad, and the ugly. It is only through acknowledging and accepting the child’s “negative” feelings that the child learns to love him/herself and not live with constant SHAME. If we believe that G-D is our passionate and merciful father, then we must believe that as a parent He understands our pain, disappointment, anger, and anxiety. He is able to bare our DOUBT. Because by avoiding our feelings we are not keeping our faith strong but rather weakening our right to feel as human beings. It is possible to keep your faith and go to therapy, because faith gets shaken, because as humans we have doubts and by talking about them in therapy we are not transformed into infidels.
Remember that running away from your feelings will only hurt you and cause resentments in all of your relationships, including the one with G-D. Have faith in yourself and in your faith and allow yourself to experience a full range of emotions even if they are scary and controversial because by talking about your feelings you do not automatically deny G-D’s greatness.
Marriage & Family Therapist Intern