Spirituality vs. Religion: The Role of Faith in Life with BPD

October 19, 2010 Becky Oberg

In college, I went through one of the most agonizing experiences a person, especially one with borderline personality disorder (BPD), can go through: large-scale abandonment.

I was diagnosed with depression the summer after my freshman year, and returned to the university on psychiatric medication. People at my church suggested I get counseling through the church. After two sessions, the director of the church's counseling center told me not to come back until I dealt with all of my anger.

Apparently, she didn't understand why I was seeking counseling in the first place. I knew I needed the help, so I began going to the university's counseling center for treatment, while still attending the church.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Feelings of Abandonment

After a failed exorcism, a seven-step confess and renounce your sins to be healed protocol and a reprimand for my lack of faith‚ the last happening while I was already in the psych ward‚ I was forced to leave the church. As a result, people I once trusted with my life would no longer talk to me. What was doubly devastating about this abandonment is that my faith was the center of my life‚ and suddenly I was alone.

Meaning of Religion and Spirituality

There is a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is a set of rules. Spirituality is the way you orient yourself toward the divine. Religion is a way you identify yourself before humanity. Spirituality is the way you identify yourself toward the beliefs in your heart of hearts.

Religion can hurt. In straightforward terms, religion is here are the rules. Follow them and there are blessings; break them and there are consequences. When people focus on the rules of religion instead of the relationship of spirituality, corruption is at the door.

How Spirituality May Benefit A Person with Borderline Personality Disorder

Spirituality can only help. Because spirituality is a relationship between the divine and the individual, it can not be forced onto another person in the way religion can. It can not be taken away; how do you excommunicate yourself? While religion is based on discipline, spirituality is grounded in love.

It took me nearly four years to understand this, and once I understood, I began to heal. Spirituality can be of great benefit to a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, offering a sense of acceptance, of companionship, of meaning and understanding.

Religion is for people afraid of going to hell, observes a bumper sticker. Spirituality is for those who have been there. A person with BPD can understand this. Life in general and especially with BPD can be hell. Spirituality can offer comfort and the ability to survive. Because spirituality is a personal relationship toward the divine, it is always available. While religion can leave you abandoned, spirituality will assure you that you're not alone.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2010, October 19). Spirituality vs. Religion: The Role of Faith in Life with BPD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Becky Oberg

October, 27 2022 at 12:32 am

I have BPD but I'm not like this. Lemme guess you were probably actually very difficult to deal with, lashed out in counseling, got kicked out due to your own behavior and now you write a whole article thinking you're a victim of the big bad church. Anger actually is one of the biggest issues with BPD and the best way to start addressing it is forgiving your past abusers and having a forgiving heart towards everyone while also having boundaries. Jesus calls us to forgive and it really helps heal BPD when you let go of your role as justice maker.

February, 8 2023 at 9:31 am

Hi, I have BPD and consider myself religious and this article has opened my eye on the aspects of religion and spirituality. Yes Jesus does call us to discipline and word together unfortunately that’s a little more difficult for some people. I left the church because I knew something was off. We tend to focus so much on the church and forget the individuals that make it up. If spirituality can help me heal myself and bring me closer to God and Jesus I’m all for it. Also don’t bash someone just because they have different beliefs and ideas not very Christian like I don’t think Jesus (a man who accepts everyone of all backgrounds) would like you using his name like this.

June, 12 2021 at 9:56 pm

Thankyou, Thankyou, I have suffered BPD from my early teens I was diagnosed a year ago, and yes it is a living hell, as it is silent, mercurial, and malevolent beast. What makes it worse you function well, in fact in some areas you shine. So you live in a liminal space between madness and sanity, I have been wanting to re commit to god, and I thought I would google advice for Christians with BPD BIG MISTAKE!!!!!!! The only thing offered was sanctimony and a myopic viewpoint!!!! With one so called Christian eminent on the subject stating" The chance for recovery is not good and we must have compassion on these people with BPD, because god loves these individuals yes even people with BPD" Are you kidding me, I do not want pity, I want a way out to overcome, and to teach, not to be shunned like a helpless animal. Your point is bang on about spirituality, no one can take that away from me as its between me god, in saying that I do want to fully repent, and go to church, but it is god first, as he is the only one that can fully restore my sense of self, and only true solid foundation. On a positive note with BPD it gives you a wisdom and esoteric understanding of pain, few will understand, but god does, and he wants to use that suffering in powerful and unimageable ways, to help others. I read a American Indian proverb "There is great medicine in the abandon" God is using us, ironically to a deeper love with him , and giving us a recondite understanding, to write, create, inspire, teach, and inspire those around us, the esoteric nuances of god. So Again thankyou, "The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and god creates"

Child of God
October, 7 2021 at 11:40 pm

I agree, James. God bless you. You are His, and we with this way of being are special to him. Probably the best way to really test non-BPD people's spirituality is let them be around us. That's when you get to see how much Galatians 5:22 means to them.

December, 23 2018 at 7:58 am

I am in shock of how church treated you. Most churches I know are also inept in the knowledge or even acceptance of mental illness. I pray you find yourself doing great today and living a happy life.

October, 14 2018 at 11:13 am

I believe that all sickness and disease is spirtual and there for need spiritual healing through jesus Christ. The word of God to us all is. he will never leave us or forsake us
This is so true.....
It is also written he came to set the captives freel and to set free all who are bound .his word is a light on to our path to show us the way he also said Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible,
«Isaiah 48
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

August, 31 2017 at 2:40 am

My uBPD mother decided to "become a Christian"two years after I accepted Christ at the age of 24. She condemned my choice over and over until it became clear I wasn't "going through a phase". Suddenly, she and dishrag stepdad became SUPER-Christians seemingly overnight, spending all her time chain-smoking, watching the televangelist channel, and trying to break the Bible Code. What never changed, however, was her BPD. She just used God as another weapon in her control arsenal. The two of them joined church after church, all of them Pentecostal, and left every single one on bad terms with the leadership. After joining every single pentecostal church in the entire county, they had to move to a different county where no Christians knew my mother. Word had gotten out that she was a lunatic, a "Jezebel spirit", who controlled her husband and forced him to leave church after church when each congregation began sensing something was "off" about her.

March, 22 2015 at 7:15 am

In my way of thinking spirituality has always trumped religion... well, for the most part anyway

November, 18 2014 at 8:36 am

I came across your blogs while looking for something else. Thank you for sharing your heart with others in this area. My sister and I suspect our mother has undiagnosed BPD. It's helpful to learn about this and especially from someone who's been there.
Sorry to hear of your experiences in the church. As a Christian in a wonderfully accepting church, it saddens me to hear of these kinds of experiences. I'm glad you came to an awareness about the differences between religion and your "relationship" with God.

May, 21 2014 at 11:36 pm

Loved this!
Thank you for sharing your experience.
i just announced yesterday to family and friends that i've been diagnosed witg BPD and so far. Only two people (not related) have given their support. I've also had it hard with religious people until, like you, began my spiritual awakening.
I'm not a christian or religious but I do believe in Jesus.
God bless you and thank you for making us feel that we're not alone :)

April, 4 2014 at 5:32 am

Glad I found this and I can concur 100%. I've ran the gamut of different Christian groups and trust me, there are a few in each group whom I cannot even talk to or even get email replies from anymore. Shame. I never asked to be like this but some don't seem to care. Still church shopping I guess. Even my own family doesn't understand and gets very frustrated with me.

March, 1 2014 at 1:24 pm

I'm glad to read this,
cause, one day, one christian told me that i betray jesus while i changed my mind during the pledge of joining the church
and i understand that i betray the church, instead of the christ...
so in the church there is this misunderstanding who drive me crazy....
i just hope that i can understand this now,
and that like you wrote,
God and Jesus never abandoned anyone...
thanks a lot,
like your words

Carole Jackson
February, 1 2011 at 12:47 pm

I have been diagnosed with Borderline Peronality Disorder only a few months ago. I am a Christian and the Church has always been an important part of my life.I am also a Methodist Local Preacher and have been through the grace of God since 1985.
However my suitability to continue fulfulling this calling has recently been called into question by my current minister who feels that the Church cannot be seen to accept me as I am and allow me to retain my LP status. He insists that I "get better" first!
While i don't rule out the possibility of miraculous healing i am abundantly aware that having experienced these problems for most of my adult life they are unlikely to disappear overnight,,and consequently I have to learn to live with them.
I,m just me and do not really understand why suddenly thats not enough?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Becky Oberg
February, 13 2011 at 1:09 pm

The best explanation I can think of is a line from the 1990s cartoon X-Men--"People fear what they don't understand." I think this is especially true in churches because religion is supposed to offer comfort. When people don't understand something in the place they feel the most comfortable, they become afraid and judgmental.
I hope that your pastor learns to accept this, as even clergy aren't perfect and are just as real as the laity.

November, 1 2010 at 3:37 am

Hello Becky, This is the second time I am writing you. The first one was very detailed, but your provider wrote back saying they couldn´t find the question or something, so I know you didn´t get it. I hope you get this one. Frankly, I won´t go into detail until I hear from you but suffice it to say that your story moved me. I am bipolar and understand much of what you wrote about.
Please write back should you receive this. I feel we could both help each other.
God Bless,

Becky Oberg
October, 29 2010 at 4:04 am

I'll see what I can do.

October, 24 2010 at 6:56 pm

Here is a better explanation of how religion is an important aspect of faith.
"Religion serves a unitive purpose. In uniting the person to God, religion unites people together. However, many religious people forget religion's purpose. They like to puff up their egos, reveling in their ability to live according to the Law. Seeing themselves as better than the rest, they forget that grace only comes to those who realize they are sinners. The tax collector, realizing he is a sinful man, does not focus on himself, but focuses his gaze and hunger on God - the source of salvation. Justification comes to those who do likewise." Fr. Robert Barron on Luke 18:9-14…

Caroline Lighthouse
October, 22 2010 at 10:05 am

Hi. I would like to share some of my experiences with you, and let you know you are not alone. I became dissociative at age three, and did not become integrated until fifty years later as an adult. My faith greatly enhanced my healing journey. I wrote a book about my experiences and it has just been published. It is called, "Coming Present: Living with Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder and How My Faith Helped Heal Me" by Caroline Lighthouse. That is my pen name. I want to help multiples to seek counseling toward integration. I used a technique called "attachment-repair" that was developed by Peter Cummings, LCSW, here in San Diego, Ca. I also found a Christian therapist, who had some experience with treating multiples. It took me nine years to get integrated but it was worth it! Perhaps you can find an experienced Christian therapist where you are. Maybe reading my book will be a comfort to you. I wish you the best! Claudia Kelly (aka Caroline Lighthouse)

October, 22 2010 at 7:09 am

Oh Becky, I am terribly sorry for all you've been through, and especially having felt abandoned by those whom you loved and trusted.
My faith has been the foundation for my healing. It gives me courage when I need it, faith when I lack it, and hope when I feel there is none. With these powerful gifts I have been able to attend to all that is necessary to heal, grow as a person, and grow in my faith.
At one point like you I used to separate spirituality from religion... because I knew that people hated religion... the "R" word. But as time went on and years of therapy my approach to life changed and hence my approach to religion changed.
Faith is the divine gift that you receive from God. "Religion" however is your practice of the faith. They go hand in hand. A clear analogy would be Healing is what the medical establishment does for you, but achieveng the healing means that there are rules you have to follow, prescriptions you need to take, things you need to avoid, and things you need to do.
My heart breaks every time I hear about people's bad experiences with bad doctors, bad pastors, bad teachers, bad people. This does not mean that medicine, religion, learning, or living is BAD, it just means that we need to be patient with others and to perservere. If you find a bad fruit, then toss it and go look for a new one.
I am so glad that you have kept your faith in spite of all your troubles. I truly wish you all the best and much healing. :) xoxox

October, 21 2010 at 8:51 am

Hello Becky,
Your story touched my heart. It is unbelievable what the "do-gooders" do in the name of "religion." I can see why most all wars have been fought in the name of "religion." I was raised as a Methodist, but was never really into it. Oh sure, I watched people like Billy Grahm and turned my life over to Jesus Christ. I have never had a problem with God or Jesus Christ.
But like you, I am spiritual, not religious, big difference! The site I mentioned above you might find interesting. It´s a spiritual site featuring yoga techniques using meditation and various add ons periodically to expand consciousness, etc. It´s for any level of expertice. From the novice with no practice, and so on.
By the way, I am bi-polar. I have been practicing this meditation for 1&1/2 years, and have not been this stable in many, many years!. Feel free to write if you want. Love & Light, nirmal

October, 21 2010 at 7:41 am

I enjoyed your blog. I am working hard on my spirituality and feeling that God loves me, no matter what. Unlike you though I have a very supportive congregation (Jehovah's Witnesses). Over 100 people who know I have the disorder and don't condemn me for it. This support system helps, but I still need the connection to my creator, the only Father figure I can totally trust and feel approval from. So I understand what you are saying. Sad part is the people who should love me most, my family have condemned me just for setting boundaries important to my mental health. Emotional abuse and rejection from my father. He died May 29th. Although I know I loved him, I didn't like him and feel a total sense of relief that he can't hurt me anymore.

October, 21 2010 at 6:59 am

As a Christian, I can only say "amen" to this because oftentimes Christianity "feels" religious even though it is actually a relationship with the God we know in Jesus Christ; and that God will not abandon us.

Holly Gray
October, 19 2010 at 10:33 am

I love this post. You articulate so beautifully the need for acceptance and nurture all human beings have. Sadly, mental illness so often guarantees a certain amount of misunderstanding and rejection.
"Spirituality is the way you orient yourself toward the divine."
I really like that. And I see what you mean about spirituality being something that can't be taken away, versus religion which is something that can and does reject many people.
Thanks for posting this.

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