The Pygmalion Effect


I don’t feel proud…anymore.  I may look it (been told that my whole life), but I don’t feel it.  I think the proud look comes from charm school.  😯

You laugh? 
I’m serious.  😐

I can’t remember how old we were.  I think I was eleven and my sister was twelve.  I believe it was before junior high…?  No, I was not a debutante, but my mom did want us to learn how to sit, stand, and walk properly. I remember learning introductions, table settings, and proper gift-giving etiquette. Actually, I didn’t mind charm school. It was only a couple of weeks during the summer and I was very much a girly-girl. But, my sister…I think she hated it.

And yes, this was the old “Pygmalion effect” at its best. High expectations for high achievement. It worked. My sister and I are very high achievers. Another glimpse into our performance-oriented upbringing. Another way to measure ourselves from the outside.

Of course, these things aren’t wrong as far as making a good first impression goes or when needing to be on stage.  But to live life this way…to believe the outside is more important than taking care of the inside…again…self-righteousness…duty before devotion…

Some say (how’s that for being vague?)… Some say growing up in a performance-based religion is the root of many nervous/depressive conditions.  A toxic faith poisons the spirit. 

“All of us would like to enjoy a healthy spiritual life. But the sad truth is that many of us, and many churches today, are barren because of hazardous additives. We have believed a different gospel—one laced with legalism, performance-based religion and salvation by works—when Christ alone is our only source of life.

Jesus Himself referred to these toxins as “the leaven of the Pharisees” (Luke 12:1). He told us that the Pharisees’ brand of religion, which looked good on the outside, was deadly—and contagious.

Have you been infected? You can take your own pH test by examining these…characteristics of a religious spirit.

~A religious spirit views God as a cold, harsh, distant taskmaster rather than an approachable, loving Father. When we base our relationship with God on our ability to perform spiritual duties, we deny the power of grace. God does not love us because we pray, read our Bibles, attend church or witness, yet millions of Christians think God is mad if they don’t perform these and other duties perfectly. As a result they struggle to find true intimacy with Jesus.

~A religious spirit places emphasis on doing outward things to show others that God accepts him. We deceive ourselves into believing that we can win God’s approval through a religious dress code, certain spiritual disciplines, particular music styles or even doctrinal positions.

~A religious spirit develops traditions and formulas to accomplish spiritual goals. We trust in our liturgies, denominational policies or man-made programs to obtain results that only God alone can give.

~A religious spirit becomes joyless, cynical and hypercritical. This can turn a home or a church completely sour. Then, whenever genuine joy and love are expressed, this becomes a threat to those who have lost the simplicity of true faith.

~A religious spirit becomes prideful and isolated, thinking that his righteousness is special and that he cannot associate with other believers who have different standards. Churches that allow these attitudes become elitist—and dangerously vulnerable to deception or cult-like practices.

~A religious spirit develops a harsh, judgmental attitude toward sinners, yet those who ingest this poison typically struggle with sinful habits that they cannot admit to anyone else. Religious people rarely interact with nonbelievers because they don’t want their own superior morals to be tainted by them.

~A religious spirit persecutes those who disagree with his self-righteous views and becomes angry whenever the message of grace threatens to undermine his religiosity. An angry religious person will use gossip and slander to assassinate other peoples’ character and may even use violence to prove his point. Jesus, in fact, warned His disciples: “There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor” (John 16:2, The Message).”  ~J. Lee Grady

Still working on peeling back the layers of legalism…

9 responses »

  1. Oh, yes, I was once there…. but I am breaking free.
    I loved this post! I’m glad you visited my blog… it allowed me to find yours. Thank you!

  2. So true, and it’s usually hard to see in ourselves when we have a religious spirit. I can see many of your characteristics in my past life–hopefully not so much now. Jesus is the thing and the whole of the thing. Not that correct doctrine isn’t important, but it should tag along, not be the purpose. Jesus is the purpose.

  3. Welcome, Cindy. It is hard to see. I think denial has a LOT to do with it. We think we’re “doing” what’s best when really the purpose is Jesus and showing the love He’s commanded us to show. Yes, I agree…correct doctrine is important too. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  4. I so agree. This “religious spirit” also goes by a much harsher name: spiritual abuse. It is all over the church and crushing the souls of men at an alarming rate. It is pure evil. There is nothing in Scripture that I know about that God deals more harshly with. These things cannot (in my mind) be stated strongly enough. SO glad you are!! Even to our little corner of the world. hm. What is said in secret will be shouted from the rooftops…

    Love you!

  5. I’m not sure why I didn’t put the two together, Annie. Religious spirit and spiritual abuse…I’ve looked into spiritual abuse for years but never really understood legalism as the same. I must have thought it was just a “misunderstanding” of the teaching or a desire to “be good”. Hmmm…but Paul calls it an anathema in Galatians.

    Yeah. We do need to speak out and not allow the grace of God to be trivialized. Thanks for commenting, Sparkle. I always pick up something new from your thinking. 🙂

  6. Really good, Michelle. As well as all the comments. I wish I had understood this better when I was raising my kids. (And why doesn’t anyone write this in their “parenting” books!) Now I can only ask my Redeemer to redeem the many well-intentioned mistakes I made with them. Which I do. Everyday. Ask Him.

  7. Thank you, Charlotte. I remember hearing once, “Well, how will we make our kids behave if we don’t tell them Jesus will be angry with them?”

    Makes my head explode.

    We have so many well-intentioned words. And like you, I pray God will help to make clear what I screwed up. I do try to reteach as I learn. And I hope my kids see my changed life…as time goes by…

    Thanks for commenting…blessings to you. 🙂

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