THE PARADOX OF RELIGION: CATHARSIS AND SHAME
Fear, ambivalence, and hope have remained constant parts of human civilization since the dawn of man. Despite modernization transforming our issues that don’t necessarily mean immediate death, we still experience stresses and traumas which affect our lives and psyches.
So when we look at religion and mental health, we recognize how it provides us a means of coping and attempting to understand the complex world humans have always found themselves in. When things see things out of our control or when we simply cannot understand our circumstances or inevitable fate, it brings us comfort to know that we have at least one thing to count on. And when life gets tough, we know we have one avenue to go towards to have a catharsis.
However, it is no secret that religion, especially the Abrahamic religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, have instilled an element of shame intertwined within their practice. And with this shame, many may face inner dilemmas which drastically affect their mental health. So when we look at religion with respect to mental health, it is necessary to understand its complex relationship where it can be both beneficial, and detrimental.
RELIGION IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States is primarily comprised of those who follow an Abrahamic religion, where 70.6% Christian, 1.9% Jewish, and .9% Muslim, according to PewForum. This means that most Americans navigate the aspects of humility, shame, and often contradiction with respect to their daily lives, and thus, face difficult challenges with their mental health.
This does not disregard the 22.8% of people who don’t affiliate with a religion, along with smaller religions such as Hindus (.7%) and Buddhists (.7%), which face another dimension of dynamics between their mental health and religion (or non-religion for that matter).
And like the image above indicates, we must also look at religion and how ethnicity and race interact spatially across the USA if we are to truly going to understand how one’s experience with religion manifests itself.
ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS AND MENTAL HEALTH
It is historically identified that many of those who practice Christianity, Judaism, and Islam saw mental illness deriving from spiritual/religious fault or even one’s recurring sin in life. In some cases, they were even thought to be possessed by a demon.
However, for the most part, many modern followers of these religions do not prescribe to such ideas anymore. Nevertheless, these ideas maintain a latent influence on how mental illness is viewed in these religious communities, where it is stigmatized and often times, places the blame on the individual suffering from it.
Many times people may justify plight by saying it is in God’s plan or hands, and one must have faith in it. It can provide mental solace as it makes one feel like this plight will pass and they will get through it. However, this can also prove to have an adverse effect upon individuals, as they begin to face an inner conflict of wanting to help oneself, yet feeling too ashamed to seek help for it.
Guilt is thus a prominent feeling that many feel when they follow these religions, particularly Catholics, Jews, and Orthodox Christians; the basis of these religious sects is atonement (penance) and acknowledging one’s flaws/sins. Again, one does not need to be religious to still feel the effects of such an ideology, as it still has an implicit effect upon those who identify as one of these sects and practice them in a more subtle manner.
AYANA AND NAVIGATING ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS
We at AYANA believe that religion is a major factor in the development of one’s values and psyche. It plays a key role on how one approaches their emotions and how to process them. It is thus vital that we at AYANA provide our clients access to the therapist who is able to discern issues from many perspectives and background, including one’s religion. We hope to provide therapists who understands the psyche and emotional turmoil that religion may entail. This way, many can begin to deconstruct the shame and guilt intertwined with Abrahamic religions, and thus, begin to understand some of their inner conflicts which may be the root of some of their mental health challenges.