On Self-Evaluation

CW religion, religious trauma, self-harm

One of the worst things Evangelical Christianity ever did to me was rob me of the confidence to determine my own moral value. I was taught, as an explicit article of faith, that I simply did not have the ability to accurately judge my own value. Only God could do that. And, of course, since God’s explicit judgement wasn’t going to come any time soon, I had to rely on the evaluation of others who were considered “godly.” The result is that I became entirely dependent on other people’s praise in order to feel worthy of my own existence, and came to powerfully fear learning that I had made a moral error.

Making a technical mistake is one thing, that’s just part of the process of learning and growing and finding the best solutions. It’s moral failure that affects me like this. Combine an external locus of self-esteem with an encouraged fear of damnation, and you create a girl who breaks down any time she learns she’s accidentally harmed someone, or made them uncomfortable, or crossed a boundary she was unaware of, or simply acted carelessly out of an abundance of autism. These things don’t happen all that often, but when they do they are devastating to my opinion of myself.

And it’s not simply a feeling of guilt, or wanting to do better, it’s a fear that by making a mistake I have lost my right to exist, an unconscious core belief that I deserve eternal torment for my error. When I was small, I used to punch myself in the head as hard as I could any time I made a mistake, because I felt that I deserved punishment for it. My parents, bless them, convinced me to stop doing that, and I am grateful for it. It might have evolved into worse forms of self-harm later on if left unchecked.

But I have probably replaced literally smacking myself in the head with mental self-flagellation. I practically dive right down into a depressive spiral when something like this happens, because I feel like I deserve to be miserable, like I am no longer allowed to be happy. And I feel that I am so utterly disgusting and poisonous and awful that I need to be quarantined from the rest of society, for their own good. So I shut myself off from people and avoid seeking help dealing with my emotions. And I can never reveal the details of my mistake to anyone I do end up talking to; what if they lose faith in me, too?

And so lately I have been working on learning to understand that while other people can judge the effects of my actions, set boundaries, and etc., they have no right whatsoever to judge my moral value for taking those actions. I, and I alone, know what was going on in my head when I did something. Which means, in the absence of an omnipotent god, I am the only being in the universe even remotely competent to judge whether my actions make me a bad person. This isn’t about rejecting criticism, mind; when someone says “hey, this thing you did bothered me” I want to take that seriously! But I don’t want it to cause me to doubt whether I deserve to exist. So I need to move control of the feeling of having value away from an imagined (and extremely stern and cruel) omnipotent, perfect being and toward myself, seeking to grow but having compassion for where I am now. I’ve been told that some people have that as their mental image of God. That god sounds much nicer than the one I had. But all I have for that is myself. And myself, at the moment, still imagines that cruel god judging me unworthy.

Skylar Hill

Programmer, Lisp enthusiast, composer, and the gayest trans girl this side of the Red River

By [Skylar Hill], 2023-05-13