Elizabeth Esther on her blog had a wonderful post entitled, BJU: a System of Learned Helplessness. This is a great post that you should read in full. It ties into something I've shared here and that is the notion of a Day of Reckoning. In my post I talk about the day when finally you are outside of BJU's/churches/parents control and need to make decisions on your own. This "day" is when you finally get to decide for yourself how long your hair will be, if you'll have facial hair, what time you'll go to bed, and what you'll watch on the TV. But it isn't just the mundane. This is the time you'll decide things like, do I believe in God, is my faith real, and am I fully committed to it. It is a time when they'll have to cycle through everything they were taught as a child and finally come to terms with what they actually believe themselves. In many regards this is a natural part of transitioning from childhood to adulthood, in other words, everyone goes through this time, but people at BJU or from isolationist homes tend to have a much harder time. And there was something I was hinting at in my article, but couldn't quite put my finger on it. And that is where Elizabeth's article comes to play. This is it, it is that this system teaches learned helplessness as the norm. From her article.
When you are raised in a fundamentalist environment, it’s like your body and soul are branded with hot iron. What BJU has created is a system of learned helplessness. Did you notice that almost every single action requires prior approval? And even after approval, you are required to check in and check out. On top of that, other people are checking on you. Reporting on you.
I remember that well. That was precisely how my fundamentalist church operated. What happens when you live like this is that you never develop your own decision-making skills. [emphasis hers]
This is exactly right, this is how we were raised. At BJU as a dorm student you pretty much had your entire day dictated to you. I know that current students don't have a wake up bell, but it wasn't so long ago when they had a wake up bell. There is still a curfew when you have to back at the dorm. Students can now skip a couple of classes, but it is severely limited. Chapel can never be missed, and if you stay on campus during the evening you are sequestered into a handful of buildings all of which are monitored by either adult supervision or special student supervision. If you go off campus a pass is almost always required and going off with the opposite sex was close to impossible to all but the most determined.
All of this sounds great to parents, but all this does is delay critical thinking and crucial problem solving skills a child needs to learn. For me it was right after college and suddenly I've moved to a new town, so I needed to find a church, I needed to find a job, pay bills, and buy a car. After I have the job I now needed to know how to interact with people who are unsaved. Parties were a nightmare. So much could be said about how unprepared I was for just about every aspect of daily living outside of the bubble. I hadn't ever had to make decisions like this before. What am I supposed to do when my job requires me to walk alone with a female co-worker.
Some of those things might sound a bit silly, but it shows just how unprepared we actually where when we left BJU. I could quote a lot of Bible verses, and I knew stuff from my specific major forwards and backwards, but how to handle the infinite decisions life will throw at you, that I was unprepared for. Suddenly no one was there making decisions for me. Suddenly it was all mine to make, and would I make the right one. Suddenly it was my Day of Reckoning. And again while that day happens to just about everyone it is especially jarring given the learned helplessness Fundamentalism encourages/teaches/preaches.
You’re constantly seeking prior approval for everything. After awhile, you can’t LIVE without permission. You begin to panic when faced with a decision–how will you ever make this decision without approval/permission from the “God-given authorities” in your life?!
One of the things I had to work on in therapy was not apologizing for everything and also not feeling compelled to explain everything I did. I had been raised to believe every decision Reverberated Through Eternity! and so I was always ready with “Biblical reasons” for ANY decision I made. It was like I couldn’t do something without a Bible verse to back it up. [emphasis hers]
Of course the verse was typically just a proof text often taken out of context, but so long as you have a reference that you can point to in parenthesis than you were golden. But I do believe that it is the learned helplessness that leads to the day of reckoning being so upending. Our parents thought they were protecting us, when really we were just being shielded from learning how to cope.