The following article was obtained with permission from the writer.
I grew up believing LGBTQ individuals were “immoral” and I learned to feel disgusted by their “wicked” behavior.
It hurts to write these words now, these echoes from a painful and dehumanizing past. But it’s important for me to visit these spaces and to remember.
To remember those shamed into closets of self-hatred. To remember the way we lovingly slammed the door on them “for their own good.” It would have been unspeakably cruel if we hadn’t thought we were right.
But we were so sure.
It’s important to point out just how sure we were. We were so sure it overpowered our empathy. We were so sure it hurt.
It’s only now I realize just how much it hurt.
How much oppression from society, how much shame from one’s religion, how much silence from one’s friends, how much rejection from one’s family, and how much hiding from one’s self.
They say, “Hurt people hurt people.”
Perhaps, but hurt people are also uniquely capable of empathy and compassion because of how familiar they are with pain. It’s those who distance themselves from others’ pain that have a greater capacity to hurt others. Which is why I suspect…
“Dogmatic people hurt people.”
That was my experience. My need to be right trumped human connection and quashed empathy. I don’t think I would have been capable of harming others knowingly were it not for my strongly held beliefs.
Sometimes I wonder how right one needs to feel in order to not feel. There’s not a precise answer to this question but I think we begin to cross the line when we value our beliefs more than our shared humanity.
The pain inflicted on others is the more obvious suffering, but those who wield dogma are also experiencing disconnection at the hand of their beliefs.
When you hold a belief so tightly you cannot see another’s humanity, it will eventually obscure your own.
One day I realized just how much my certainty was hurting others and how much my fundamentalism was hurting myself. I wish I could have flipped a switch from fundamentalism to a more open and compassionate way of being. Instead, it was a gradual process of letting go and expanding awareness, then letting go some more.
Something amazing happened when I loosened my grip on strongly held beliefs. I had more freedom to embrace the humanity of others and to allow myself to be embraced. I was able to connect more meaningfully with my own experience and to affirm the experience of others.
I didn’t lose my moral compass, I just recalibrated it in the direction of compassion and shared humanity.
I deeply regret hurting others. It’s sobering to realize how easily I could do it again—how tempting it is to hold beliefs tightly, how comforting it is to feel right, how much my brain joneses for certainty.
And so I remember.
I connect with the pain. I recommit to my values. I loosen my grip on my beliefs and open my arms to myself and others.
Brian Peck is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in religious-based trauma in his private practice, Room to Thrive and guides individuals through their deconversions with evidence-based practices online. Brian loves discovering and adopting new and healthier ways to be human on the other side of religious belief.
You can also follow Brian on Facebook.