When God is a Toxic Parent

The Nightmare by Sulamith WulfingFor more information about toxic parents and your inner child, read: Discovering Your Inner Child: Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy, a book by Asha Hawkesworth

When people turn away from religion, it is often because they have been spiritually abused by a representation of God who is a harsh, vengeful, uncompromising father figure who will punish them for eternity if they step out of line—a line drawn, conveniently, by others. People who have experienced such a God may reject all spirituality, and just mentioning the word “God” can cause them to run far, far away.

No soul should be oppressed, much less by a definition of God, and every soul instinctively wants to express what it is and how it is, no matter what that looks like. But if we believe in a God who is a toxic, judgmental parent, we are living in fear. We are afraid to offend “him” and we are afraid of losing “his” love by our thoughts, feelings, and actions. When we live in fear, we hide our true selves. We hate our true selves. We are convinced of our inherent “badness.”

What is a toxic parent? A toxic parent fails to meet the physical, mental, or emotional needs of their children in some way. They also fail to provide a safe environment for their children. This can mean that the child is physically abused or neglected, but it can also mean that the child is mentally or emotionally unsafe in the home. A person who is convinced that God’s love could turn to hate and rejection on the basis of who they are, how they feel, and what they do is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually abused. When God is a toxic parent, it can crush us.

Being raised by real, physical toxic parents is difficult enough and requires a lot of healing in some cases. But when the ultimate authority in the Universe—the being who created you—is portrayed as a toxic parent, what hope do you have? How can you ever gain such a figure’s approval? How can you ever be good? How can you ever be lovable, imperfections and all? The answer is: you can’t. So the children of a toxic god either run away and leave this “spiritual home” behind, or they continue to live in fear and believe in their own inherent worthlessness.

We all have our own view of what God is, but when we create a personality for God, we do two things: first, we declare that God is separate from ourselves, and second, we project our own ego onto God, effectively making God in our own image. When this happens, God takes on the complex, contradictory qualities that we embody. For example, the God of love becomes capable of hate. The God of forgiveness becomes capable of vengeance and holding a grudge. God becomes arbitrary, unhealed, and a slave to “his” perceived emotions, becoming angry at us and threatening to send us to our room if we don’t think or behave the “right” way. In short, this God acts a lot like a toxic parent—even an addicted parent.

The psychological impact of having God as a toxic parent in your life is profound. Your ability to be gentle with yourself, love yourself, and be happy depends on healing this relationship and knowing, for yourself, that God would never treat you this way. However, you treat yourself this way if you accept this view of God. Ultimately, you must decide if you are worthy, lovable, and precious, and you must stop using God as an excuse to beat yourself up. God will not punish you, but you can.

Certainly, there are people in the world who act as enablers for God the toxic parent. When God reflects our own ego back to us, it feels like a validation. Some people want that badly, but it’s not enough for them to have it for themselves. They want you to validate them, too. If you subscribe to their vision of God, they feel empowered. But God has no favorites and needs no further empowering. God is the perfect parent, male and female. God is unconditional love. God is forgiveness. God is the sweet embrace of eternity and joy and complete unity, because there is no separation between us and God at all.


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