At Faith to Faithless (and many Ex Religious groups) the word “coming out” is used to refer to letting family, friends and even the whole world (coming out publically) about being someone who left their faith. This term “coming out” originated in LGBTQ communities but is often used by apostates as many face similar issues around stigma, rejection and isolation.
Is the time right?
There may never be a “perfect time” to come out, it will always be subjective. Many young apostates have never had to have a conversation as difficult as coming out to their family or friends, and some, particularly from more collectivist cultures, may have never opposed the power dynamics that exist in their house at all. This means that it can be hard to see a future where the healing process has begun or you have moved on, and this in turn can affect whether you think the time is right.
A checklist to thing about, if you’re reliant on your family, might look something like this:
- Am I financially reliant on my parents?
- Will I be able to stay elsewhere, even if only for a while, if I need to leave?
- Do I have a support network around me that accept me?
- Am I at risk from physical violence by coming out?
Especially if you are at more risk from physical violence or homelessness, consider contacting the appropriate authorities or saving up some money to move out. Often the worries people have about coming out are not about physical or mental health related danger, but of not wanting to hurt loved ones.
There’s no pressure to come out as an apostate, but people who do come out often talk about their need to live honest lives, and not feel like an alien in their own skin. It can help you build a real and more honest relationship with your friends and family or to live much more authentically. It can also help you begin the process of healing from mental health trauma that many apostates build up through an unhealthy upbringing.
Is there a process?
Coming out may happen many times through your life as an apostate as you meet new people, and it does get easier over time, as you begin to feel empowered in your identity or through taking on new identities and ideas. However the first few times coming out may be very daunting, especially if you are telling close family and friends. So when you are feeling a little more sure and ready, tell people you really feel you can trust first.
For some this may be a family member they have known and trusted all their lives, teachers, partners or even their doctor. By coming out to a few people you trust, not only will you prepare yourself better, but you will also build a support network of people around you. It may be a good idea to get a feeling for someone’s views on religion and apostates before you tell them.
How do I tell my family?
There are many ways to tell your family, you may want to start with one parent and then the other, or tell your whole family at the same time. You may decide to come out face to face, or write a letter. All these decisions have positive and negatives to them and depend on you and your parents. Speak to a friend you trust about your options and help them help you think them through.
One important point is to be prepared to come out even when you are not ready yet, this includes going through the checklist above and making some minimal preparations. This is because many people do come out by accident, sometimes it can be very difficult to live a double life, especially if you are isolated and do not know other apostates from your faith community. This is why it is very important to have a safe space to be able to vent in. Check out the “Communities” section above to find a community you may feel comfortable in.
The circumstances around which you tell your family about your faithlessness will have an impact on how it is digested, so make sure you and everyone you are telling is comfortable and can talk freely.
One idea to ease the process is to plant some seeds beforehand. This could include writing a letter to them first, or it could include a longer term plan of seeding the idea that you are becoming much more religiously “liberal”.
It may be awkward to say, “I’ve left my religion X” or “I do not believe in God” or “I’m not longer a Hindu/Christian/Mormon/etc” or “I am an atheist/agnostic/deist/etc”. Many people decide to start with a brief description of their journey. If you feel it is appropriate to your relationship with your family, it may be worth mentioning how certain values have guided your decision, for example a love for knowledge and an inquisitive mind.
What will happen?
Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster, perhaps some shock and perhaps some outrage. Alternatively your family may have already seen some signs and know that you no longer believe in their faith already. This can be a very big deal for your parents, even if they are not very “practicing” or are more “liberal” themselves, and it can be difficult to digest. Don’t try to argue with them to get the to accept you, that rarely works. Instead, show them you are happy and healthy. The key thing for you to have is some level of emotional support from your allies to take comfort in if your parents are going through feelings of guilt or mourning.
If your parents do not immediately accept you, don’t worry. Remember, it may have taken you a while to come to terms with your apostasy. Give the process some time. Of course there are situations that are unworkable, but in our experience many seemingly unworkable situations do tend to heal over time, with some work from both parties.
Unfortunately there is a very large amount of discrimination globally to people who have left their faith and remained without religion, and it can make it hard. Remember this: you should never be ashamed of who you are, and always try to find people to surround yourself with who love and cherish you for who you are.
You might not want to talk to a family member or close friend about things that are so very difficult and/or personal. If this is the case and you are struggling, you could try one of the following help lines:
Samaritans 116 123 (UK) (available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts)
Saneline 0845 767 8000 6pm – 11pm every day (practical information, crisis care and emotional support)
No Panic 0800 138 8889 10am – 10pm every day UK Freephone (for people experiencing panic or anxiety problems)
Aanchal 0845 451 2547 (24 hour crisis line for Asian women experiencing domestic abuse)
NHS and other services: If you need to you can contact your GP on the usual number during surgery hours. Outside of surgery hours you can call NHS Direct 111, and the team will direct you to the most appropriate care.