Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Can I Be Better Than You, Please?

Posted by Ann on September 3, 2009

Reading at Santa Clara, Panama

Reading at Santa Clara, Panama

Brandt’s post inspired me to write a little about my own experience. I think for some MKs it can be a struggle to feel superior.  It took me a while after I left my fundamentalist Christian family to develop a strong sense of self worth. I experienced some of those superiority feelings when I returned to the States. But, for me, it was more of the inferiority type of feelings I experienced. I’ve had to work hard for my superiority feelings.

Boarding school was difficult for me. Being generally quiet and introspective, I had a difficult time making friends when I moved to Panama at age 7. I always felt a little like I was looking in at the world from the outside. Other people always seemed to know the game better than me. I was shy. Much of my childhood I was reading and studying people to try and figure them out.

My family punished me harshly growing up. At boarding school it was the same. Although I avoided the same level of punishment some of the children received at my school, I got my fair share. Most days I had my nose in a book, which kept me out of some trouble, but even doing that got me punished sometimes. Once I was even removed from school after being accused of cheating on a test by a classmate in the 6th grade. My father showed up unexpectedly one day from the jungle.  After a couple of hours of intermittent interrogation, and my repeatedly denying I’d cheated (I hadn’t), I finally gave in and said I cheated to make it stop. It was the craze at the school–I was the 2nd or 3rd student accused of cheating I think, but I wasn’t the last. My punishment, after a severe spanking and brief removal from school, was to confess my wrong and apologize while standing in front of the school. It took me a long time to get past that. I think it pushed me more into myself.  At the same time, it was very difficult to see other children going through similar punishment.

Coming back to the States for high school (a very fundamentalist Christian high school after one semester in public school), I knew basically no profanity, had limited information about sex, and was socially awkward. Since I was good at academics, I focused on my school work. I didn’t know the cultural references to movies and TV, although I did know some stuff about music. I was able to make some friends since I genuinely liked people and wanted people to like me. But for the most part, I spent my free time alone, or with one or two close friends. After high school I got a little bolder. My self-esteem increased once I started college, moved into an apartment, and started dating, even though I still felt different.

I guess this is where I’m at now. Trying to hold on to moments. I think I initially became a therapist from my wanting to help myself (by helping others and feeling better about myself–the pious, self-sacrificing disease). Now I think I’m still a therapist because I enjoy making the connections with people.  And it still feels good to do something for someone else who’s suffering. It’s easier for me to connect professionally. I have few close friends in my personal life since I guess I’m particular in my friendships, and mildly introverted. Writing on-line is nice because, even if I don’t meet the person reading, I like to imagine someone is understanding me.

Much of my life I’ve worked on myself to overcome the mentality I developed as a child. There was resentment, and anger. And also a lot of shame. But I’m okay with myself now when I express my anger and think I’m superior in some way. It feels honest to say this. I think it’s part of being human to experience feelings of anger and superiority. These feelings don’t translate into me being better than anyone, even if I still feel better than you sometimes. We share so much, including pain, love, and death.

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18 Responses to “Can I Be Better Than You, Please?”

  1. Brandt said

    Thanks for the story, Charity. It’s unfortunate that those things happened (that story about you being forced to confess is terrible), but at the same time it’s great to see how things have changed for you over time. Good stuff.

    Your post made me think, maybe part of the reason for my own superior attitude was related to feeling inferior, like you mentioned in the first paragraph. I certainly did have those feelings at times. Maybe I tried to make myself feel really special and spiritual because I didn’t fit in anywhere.

    • “It’s unfortunate that those things happened (that story about you being forced to confess is terrible), but at the same time it’s great to see how things have changed for you over time.”

      Aw, it’s an old story. I do think a lot of feelings of superiority do come from ones of inferiority. I think my experiences helped me put life into perspective and set me down a road toward a better understanding of people. Over time, it has developed into my valuing intellectual and emotional honesty. Anyway, thanks!

    • By the way, I changed the ending of the post. I didn’t word it quite to my satisfaction. What I was trying to convey is my coming to a place of acceptance of myself and being able to work through my defensiveness. So when I do get angry or superior feeling, there’s a part of me now that recognizes the absurdity of it. The “illusion” that I’m a better human.

  2. JN said

    One thing that was pretty therapeutic for me was forgiving people (without excusing what happened). Over the years, I’ve come across former dorm parents and school staff. I finally saw these people as real people, not authorities. We were all caught that intense web together and each was scarred in different ways.

    I’ve also had to deal with some stuff with my parents, who (thankfully) were never as conservative as my boarding school. I know they resent having to send us there. They acknowledge they made mistakes (thanks for the spankings, Dobson), but overall my parents are pretty cool people. The big thing there was to stop lumping them in the same category as the school.

    • JN, I’m glad that you comment on this blog. I agree that letting go of anger toward people and moving past resentment is healing. My parents are pretty cool too, and have apologized to me many times for some of the past. They’ve experienced a lot of guilt. I had many positive experiences at boarding school, and while living in the jungle, and I’m glad I got to be an MK.

  3. Jerry said

    Charity,
    I’m glad you were able to move beyond those traumatic experiences. That is such a harsh way to treat any child and it makes me sad. What stands out is the shame that you must have felt. It reminded me of my own experiences of shame that really shaped my personality, and eventually I found help through therapists in my early adult life. My father forced us to attend a church across town (on the “rich” side of town), where almost everyone in the congregation was pretty well off while we were working class, actually about poverty-level at times. I remember being ashamed of the old car we had, the clothes my mom made (not bought) for me, the way the kids made fun of me at church, and the feeling of shame is the same. It’s a feeling that no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to be good enough for them. And I think for me that feeling of inferiority naturally led to a feeling of superiority. They are one and the same for me. That’s what I thought about when you wrote. It’s very interesting to see how the details may be different, but the feelings are pretty much the same.

    • Charity said

      “It’s very interesting to see how the details may be different, but the feelings are pretty much the same.”

      Yes–thank you Jerry. The memories are still there, and though I’ve moved on in a sense, early childhood experiences affect who we are now and our choices.

  4. Sarge said

    I wasn’t a “missionary kid”, but I was an “military brat”.

    We wound up in Virginia during the early sixties until I went in the army myself in 1965.

    I have been a non theist from age five, and my parents were rabidly Southern Baptist, father a deacon the whole hocus pocus. We used to host missionary families home on furlough, and got to know the kids my age, and the other family members. Military and Missionary kids have a lot in common.

    I acquired a taste for Swahili poetry from a couple of kids in one family, had some nice long talks and learned a lot.

    Some were, in fact the “superior” types, but most were pretty glad to get out from under the magnifying glass and relax a bit with other kids who just wanted to enjoy themselves and just be young.

    The worst “corruption” that any suffered from contact to me was missing a church service, or training union, or some such thing to go drag racing with me or showing horses. Oh, yes, and a couple of them cadged my cigarettes and indulged.

    My poor mother was appalled, I think, that the wives said the things they did, they all detested the head of the foreign missions board, a couple opined that they’d sleep sound as babes if they could get him under a herd of elephant or buffalo they knew of, one declared that he and a few other members of The Convention and The Board would improve a lot if they could be “converted to hyena ‘dung'”. No, she didn’t say “dung”.

    My mother and many others seemed to have some idea that missionaries and their families performed no bodily functions, had no bodily oders, went about praying all day or singing hymns, their eyes cast heavenward, hands in prayer position, and hovering six inches above the ground.

    A lot of the kids told me about the admonitions they recieved about their behavior when the church big wigs were around with rich potential donors ‘on tour’, and around the public on furlough.

    The pressure must have been humongous.

  5. The Chaplain said

    I think this post is a pretty good glimpse into the life of children who live under the authoritarian world that gets created when adults act as if they have knowledge of capital T Truth. One more example of the harm of evangelical Christian attitudes about the sinful nature of children.

    • JN said

      Knowledge and understanding are two different things. Even if it’s possible to know the Truth (“capital T”), it’s doubtful that anyone can really understand it.

      • The Chaplain said

        “it’s doubtful that anyone can really understand it.”

        I don’t see how a Christian can believe this. Do you think Jesus is a deity? If so, you think you know Truth. What’s not to get in your understanding of it? I mean, besides the fact that it makes no sense?

      • JN said

        I know space stretches infinitely, but I can’t begin to understand how vast even our universe really is. 156 billion (or however many) light years is huge. Maybe I’m just not particularly bright. I can’t even fully comprehend 1 billion light years (or one light year for that matter), but that doesn’t mean I don’t know the universe is huge and space goes on forever. If God is so big (so strong and so mighty), how are we to understand him?

        A god that can be fully understood by man is not God. A hopelessly finite creature like me can’t really understand an infinite ‘being’ or the ultimate reality. The only way we can begin is by putting it in words, terms, metaphors we can wrap our minds around.

        We put God in human terms because that’s what we know. Sometimes God, or rather the understanding of God, becomes too human. Zeus may have originally been an attempt to understand God, but he turned out to be just a glorified human, a deified superhero. No one worships Zeus any more because he became too small.

        Perhaps I’m out in left field, but I don’t think Christians would disagree (at least in theory). I don’t think all Christians know God, many just worship the idea of Christianity because it gives them that warm fuzzy feeling. Of course I may be wrong. I’m still sorting things out, and I definitely don’t have all the answers. I’m more of an artist than a theologian or scientist.

      • Paulo said

        “Knowledge and understanding are two different things. Even if it’s possible to know the Truth (”capital T”), it’s doubtful that anyone can really understand it.”

        There is also a big difference between knowing something and believing something. You can know that the universe is big and contains billions of stars. You can believe that you know the Truth, but you don’t know the Truth, you believe it.

    • Charity said

      “I think this post is a pretty good glimpse into the life of children who live under the authoritarian world that gets created when adults act as if they have knowledge of capital T Truth.”

      It’s unfortunate that around the world today missions have been covering up abuse of children by their members. Missionaries, especially prior to the early 90s, had mostly a free reign on their mission fields, with little to no oversight. Although I didn’t personally experience sexual abuse as a child, I know there have been reports of many MKs having experienced this, including those attending schools run by NTM. Those children, now adults, have also had their share of suffering. Without a doubt, I think child abuse should be reported. Just because I think people need to be treated humanely, doesn’t mean I think they should be able to get away with some stuff. Online there are resources specifically for MKs who’ve been abused. One that I found maybe 10 years ago is still around : http://www.mksafetynet.net/index.html
      –I think it’s run by religious people, but they can help people too. It has a nifty link for reporting abuse of MKs.

      • Paulo said

        I checked out the link and I couldn’t believe some of the stuff that went on at that Mamou school. My boarding school was pretty lame, but I never had to go through that. Seems like that school just got totally out of control like Kurtz upriver.

        • Charity said

          Kurtz-like is a fair comparison. Horrible…

          I read over the ICI’s “Working Definitions of Abuse”. Some of that stuff happened at my boarding school (though not like at Mamou). And some of what happened was a form of torture, in my opinion. Over the years I’ve retained my memories, but my younger sister admits she has large segments of her childhood memories missing, particularly those of boarding school. It kinda puts life into a different perspective I think to remember those experiences. Affects what’s important to a person.

          The ICI included in the report that they found MKs would also shame and humiliate each other–learned behavior? People are kidding themselves if they think fundamentalist religions don’t actively promote the humiliation of children. Add the third world and isolated locations… A lot of kids around the world are brought up this way. Especially if you take away some of the more extreme forms of abuse.

      • JN said

        Some of that was intense, sick stuff.

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