In the cult, unhappiness was a sign of a sin and separateness from God. If I was in pain or unhappy it was because of something I was or wasn’t doing spiritually. I was told that my own instincts were selfish and deceitful and that they knew me better than I did. Following “biblical” formulas guaranteed happiness and prosperity and they had a formula for every problem I had. This kept me from becoming vulnerable and feeling my emotions. I didn’t need to share or feel my problems, I only needed to work harder at the solutions being given to me.
I now know that the cult had the “absence of the holy spirit” disease that Lewis describes.
Despite no longer being a member of the cult, my first response to stress is still to find a formula and hope that it will fix it. I stay with these self-improvements projects even when I often do not get any benefit or enjoyment from them. And I am very critical of people who don’t have the fortitude to “improve” themselves like me.
I do this despite knowing that holiness is not given through works and that I’m using formulas to avoid feeling my emotions.
At the same time though, I’m physically unwell. And in my battle towards healing I’m finding my self-improvement habits to be crucial weapons. This diet is basically a formula where I read every label, see how my body reacts to specific foods, and stay consistent in avoiding things that make me ill. It is intensely time-consuming and at odds with people who think they know my body better than I do. I would not be able to handle it if this attitude was not so ingrained.
My current solution to this cognitive dissonance has been to keep detailed lists of self-improvement ideas that I’m working on. I usually add something when I’m stressed and delete it later when I’ve calmed down and had time to think about what upset me. Once in a while I’ll keep a project on the list because I think it will work.
I am slowly getting better at not avoiding my emotions.