Being raised as a girl within evangelicalism I observed that my options for safety and connection were within relationships.
The boys around me were praised for their skills and talents. Girls were praised for being kind, sweet, nice, pretty.
I remember one particular day where I was helping in the younger kids Sunday school. I was around Eleven years old. Our age group ( Junior High and High School) were strongly "encouraged" to volunteer. We were literally rounded up in the break between services and told "go help downstairs." We all did the same things to help: assist kids in making crafts, do puppet show bible stories, and pass out snacks. The boys were told things like "nice work, you did that so fast!" and the girls were told "you're so sweet." and "you're going to be such a great mama some day."
I distinctly remember another instance of hearing my dad talking to another white man in our church small group saying "well they should not have put a woman in charge. They're too emotional to be in leadership, it could never work." A youth leader later said to me about pastoring "Well thats important mens work, women aren't built for that type of work, they're too emotional."
I'm getting angry just remembering this so I will insert a reminder here that anger is an important indicator that something is wrong. It is not a malfunction, or a bad emotion. All emotions are is information. Incredibly necessary and helpful information.
All of this to say:
My ability to survive hinged on doing well in and manipulating relationships.
From what I had understood, getting an education was pointless because I existed for men, and leadership was something my brain wasn't capable of. I internalized these devastating messages as beliefs because that was my way of coping.
Safety = social emotional skills. This is why I have only had interest in relationships and the deeper dynamics of human interaction. It was how I knew I could survive.
My mind did not think other information was as important as my key to survival. It wasn't.
Everything was filtered through survival, which makes sense.
When we are little our entire existence depends on our immediate community, and however we find a way to survive that has a permanent impact.
Being raised as a girl in evangelicalism I knew that my survival depended on my ability to connect with people and get them to value me and take care of me.
I was incredible at it.
This is what some call good girl programming.
I no longer live trying to make other people happy, but my interest in human interaction and social dynamics is still the deepest interest I have, and I’m good with that.
It’s this interest that has led to studying so much and finding the tools that help me be a great coach, and a good friend.
As an adult in a safer place, I have allowed myself to love and take interest in other things, particularly hiking and being in the woods.
I’m curious, have you noticed similar things in your own life?
How has your adolescents in religion shaped your interests? How has it shaped your beliefs about what you are capable of?
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