Are You Still Following These Religious Rules?

healing self care Oct 01, 2023

I remember (this is Rachael) being very confused during my decades spent in evangelical churches because on one hand I was taught that the concept of grace was very important. Supposedly there was nothing I needed to do or be in order for God to love me (as long as I followed the formula to gain salvation, of course). On the other hand, the church culture taught me there were actually a ton of rules I needed to follow. Here’s just a few:


Though my theology has changed drastically in the last two decades since I was taught these rules, I've found that they are still imprinted in my brain, despite having intellectually dismissing them.

Does my story sound like yours?

That's because we were trained to believe that our safety within the world, our religious community, and within ourselves was to follow the rules exactly. And our brains don't just erase these rules, either, because their job is to run efficiently by creating habits. Our brains strive to keep us safe through these learned rules as they unconsciously are fed to us, day and night.  

The hopeful part is that there is always room to retrain our brains!

You also don’t need to eradicate these old rules in order to thrive (notice the old religious rule there that taught you that if you ever found sin in you, you must try to rid of it). You simply need to begin new tools to C.A.R.E. for yourself when they present themselves. Here is what we mean:

C = Curiosity

Curiosity is the best way to open your mind and allow small shifts to occur without your old programming coming in to shut you down

You begin by simply noticing that you're having a big reaction to something. Usually when you are bothered like this you get harsh with yourself and start trying to fix yourself or the situation in some way.  Instead, we want you to try to get curious.  You can do that by simply telling yourself something like this:

  • Isn't my reaction interesting right now?
  • Hmm, I wonder what else is there.

You want to pause and dig into what just happened instead of proceeding on autopilot and letting your old conditioning run the show.

A = Assess

This is where you're going to start digging in to gather more information about what is underneath that big reaction by asking yourself these questions:

  • What spoken/unspoken rules am I following right now?
  • Where might this rule have come from?
  • How does this rule make me feel?
  • Do I still want to hold onto this rule? 

This could look something like this:

Okay, I know I'm really worried my friend is disappointed in me since I haven't been in church lately. I'm going to go through these 4 questions.

1) What unspoken rules might I be following:  I need to be accountable to my brothers/sisters. I should please everyone. I owe everyone an explanation. I should uphold unity at all costs. I shouldn't be rebellious. I shouldn't forsake fellowshipping with others. Disappointing others means I've done something wrong. etc.

2) Where might this rule(s) have come from: I learned them in my church community.

3) How does this rule(s) make me feel? Bad, guilty, ashamed, threatened, anxious, powerless, and defensive. 

4) Do I still want to hold onto this rule(s)? No. I really don't want to be so paralyzed by what others think of me. I feel stuck trying to be perfect but the problem is everyone has a different standard of what that means so it is impossible to attain anyways. These rules are not helping me anymore.

R= Reframe

This is where you begin to establish for yourself the new rules you want to follow instead. You might want to brainstorm a whole giant list and then narrow it down to one you can focus on. Going back to the previous example of fearing what others think of me, I'm going to brainstorm some new values I want to live by. 


  • I can make choices that are right for me, even if others disagree.
  • It isn't rebellious or wrong to think differently than others.
  • I can learn to comfort myself instead of always going to others for comfort

E = Engage in acts of comfort

When you set about to release yourself from old rules one thing you can always expect is for it to be uncomfortable! That is because your brain has been wired for safety. So when you slowly begin to alter your behavior, your brain will think something is wrong and try to get back to what it thinks is safety (following those unspoken rules). That is why it is so important to proactively plan ways you can comfort yourself when it is difficult. Here are several ideas to try:

  1. Spend time in your sacred space (or in nature, a fav coffee shop, somewhere special)
  2. Message a friend for support
  3. Move your body: dance, sing loudly, yoga, walk
  4. Ask yourself what you need right now
  5. Create an empowering playlist to listen to
  6. Write a supportive letter to yourself, leave sticky notes around your house

There are so many creative ways that you could nurture yourself with. Keep trying different things until you land on something that feels truly soothing! Remember, you are not trying to eradicate your old rules, you are simply caring for yourself by gently reframing them.

Don't forget, these unspoken rules WILL pop up because you're a human and that is how our brains work. You're not doing anything wrong! You simply need to C.A.R.E. for yourself gently when they do!

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