These Stories About The Effects That Religion Has Had On People's Mental Health Are As Eye-Opening As They Are Heartbreaking

    "I’m 35 years old, single, never married, and still a virgin. 'Purity culture' really messed up my head growing up, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to get over it."

    Many people who grow up in a religious household end up leaving their faith behind as they get older. For a lot of us, the things we were taught as children just don't continue to serve us into adulthood.

    But even though the healthiest choice for some is to move on from those teachings, they can be so ingrained in us that we're left feeling guilty about behaviors that are actually very normal, and our mental health can be impacted in small and large ways.

    I am not saying that all religion is bad, but I do think it's important to talk about the ways it negatively impacted us so we can find ways to heal.

    That's why I asked the BuzzFeed Community to share their stories about the things they still struggle with after leaving organized religion and how it's impacted their mental health. Here's what they had to say:

    1. "Speaking up to men. I grew up going to a very conservative Christian school, and never saw a woman pray or speak on religious matters in mixed company until I left. Even our Bible classes were separate, so the boys could learn about theology and leadership, while the girls made scrapbooks about their 'dream weddings.'"

    2. "I was taught that if you love anything more than God, he would take it away from you as a lesson. This literally taught me and others to have anxious attachment and to not fully love people because then they would be taken away from you somehow."


    3. "Sex. I don't believe in god anymore but I involuntarily feel dirty every time I have sex."

    4. "Trusting my body’s cues. The church I belonged to taught that physical bodies were earthly and therefore controlled by Satan. You couldn’t trust your body’s signals that you were hungry, it might be the devil trying to tempt you into gluttony."

    5. "Standing up for myself. I was bullied pretty hard in elementary and middle school, including getting beaten up on a regular basis. One time, I came home after being physically dumped off my bike and then kicked repeatedly. I asked for help from my parents, but they told me that Jesus said to turn the other cheek."

    6. "Hugging the opposite gender; wearing clothes that show my shoulders or thighs; wearing anything more than mascara and lip balm. Essentially all the things I was taught to do or not do as a woman so that I didn't risk tempting my 'brothers' to sin."

    7. "Being Jewish is about observance and doing things that will help while you’re alive. My parents were observant but not restrictively so. They kept a kosher house, and we couldn’t 'mix milk and meat.' We went to synagogue on the holidays, but that was basically it."

    "The less-good aspects of being brought up in a Jewish home was the guilt. If I wanted to do something that might be contrary to my family’s convictions, I wouldn’t have a good time because I felt I was betraying them.

    There was also a lot of, 'Your Nana didn’t get [insert disease] in steerage just for you to behave this way!' You know — 'kvetching.' A lot of fear about 'being taken away' or catching an incurable disease."


    8. "I was in my 30s and married for years, but I was still so anxious to tell my mom I was pregnant, because it would mean admitting that I had sex. (Even though we needed fertility treatments and didn't actually have sex to conceive.)"

    9. "I grew up conservative, religious, and homeschooled, so my family and my religion were my everything. I’m queer but not out to my family because I am terrified of their reaction, and I still struggle with not feeling guilty or sinful for that. I have other family members who are out, and my parents tolerate it so long as it’s not a topic of conversation or something they have to deal with in person, so I know they would be really unhappy if I told them."

    10. "I grew up Hindu and was taught that we should never touch books or paper with our feet because they represent knowledge, and touching them with our feet is a sign of disrespect. If you accidentally do touch books with your feet, you're supposed to touch it to your forehead to counteract the 'sin.' I don't follow any other religious rules or believe in any other superstitions, but I still immediately touch a book to my head if someone touches it with their feet."


    11. "Drinking — whether it’s alcohol or coffee. I grew up Mormon so caffeine was something that was against the religion. My grandma is still very religious and tells me that caffeine is bad and that I shouldn’t drink it. Alcohol as well."

    12. "I grew up heavily involved in a Southern Baptist church. I was viewed as the 'perfect Christian girl' and was doted on by older members of the church. I felt very loved by my 'church family' as a child, but as I got older I began to understand that that love was contingent on me sticking to their very rigid beliefs of right and wrong and gender roles."

    13. "I grew up Mormon. For me, I was taught not to let anyone touch my 'private square' (where the garments would cover.) It was a mind-fuck to go into the temple unmarried, not able to be intimate, have sex, do things that could lead to sex etc. Then you exit the temple, married and suddenly everything is okay?"

    14. "When I first masturbated it felt amazing, so I kept doing it. Then I learned that it was a sin, which triggered my guilt and paranoia. Not knowing that body exploration was normal, I was petrified. I used to count my sins up for the day to make sure I wasn’t going to Hell. Each time I did masturbate, I would convince myself I was addicted to it and needed help. I would look up ways to 'tame my urges' because it was a sin and against my religion."

    15. "I grew up in a Christian household. My views on certain things did not match with my parents or the church. LGBTQ+ issues and mental health, for instance, were not accepted. It was the type of place where if you had an anxiety attack, you were just supposed to pray through it. But as someone who was recently diagnosed with a slew of mental health issues, that was not helpful at all. I'm glad I'm not going back."


    16. "I was raised strict Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt. I was taught that God will punish or reward for all thoughts/actions, which led me to develop very rigid 'if/then' thinking. For instance, I just recently starting taking an active interest in how my hair looks. Last month, I was diagnosed with a rare form of alopecia. My first thought was, 'This is God’s way of telling me I shouldn’t have been so vain.'"

    17. "Getting tattoos! I grew up Catholic and was always told tattoos were bad and you'd never want to get a tattoo because what if someone saw it in your wedding dress? To this day I still struggle with this. All the tattoos I have are in a spot where they're hidden by a long dress. Even now, if I see a photo of myself where one of my tattoos is visible, I second guess the whole tattoo, thinking it makes me look unattractive or that it just shouldn't be there."


    18. "Growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church I absorbed the message that any one 'sin' meant I would be cast out of the flock and damned to hell. In particular, this created so much anxiety about anyone ever becoming mad at me because I interpreted this as sinning."

    19. "Celebrating just about anything. Christmas was the worst and I still to this day don't celebrate it. Once our single mom got remarried to a very religious man, we were not allowed to show joy over giving or receiving presents, since it 'took away from Jesus's Birthday.' We got a birthday cake for him each year."

    Thank you to everyone who was willing to share their stories with me. I appreciate you so much.