“It would just make my heart soar if someone out there saw this and she said to herself ‘be strong, trust yourself, love yourself.’ Conquer your fears. Just go after what you want and act fast, because life just isn’t that long.”
In 2013, as I was watching The Office finale and listening to Pam speak these words, I was moved more by her emotional performance than the actual words. I had been taught to believe the exact opposite: don’t trust yourself because the heart is deceitful. In fact, as I listened to her words, theological alarm bells were going off as I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, ‘typical secular dogma.’
Many years later, however, Pam’s words finally became relatable.
Why My Former Self Couldn’t Relate to Pam’s Journey
For almost a decade, I took a legalistic approach to Christianity. The Jesus in my head had high expectations of me and demanded my constant vigilance when it came to self-awareness of my thoughts and motives. Whenever I thought myself too anxious, too selfish or too doubting, this Jesus would chastise me.
I knew that this Jesus was actually just my own internal critic and not based on the actual Jesus, but my perfectionistic tendencies were just too strong. So strong in fact, that they prevented me from listening to my heart, which was trying to tell me that viewing Jesus this way wasn’t healthy.
Pam Tries to Endure Roy’s Disrespect
In my early 20s, I was actively involved in a loving community of Christians who frequently reminded me that Jesus didn’t demand perfection and instead wanted me to let go. However, as hard as I tried, I never could quite conceptualize this kind of Jesus, so I found myself in a relationship with “Roy Anderson.”
While my “Roy” wasn’t an actual person, he had a similar effect on me as Roy had on Pam Beesly. He criticized her, bossed her around, and ultimately, trapped her in a state of obligatory, desireless loyalty that she subconsciously broke in flirtations with Jim Halpert.
Despite this subconscious disloyalty, Pam still valued loyalty in theory, which became apparent when she rejected Jim at the casino night. She felt obligated to marry Roy because she valued loyalty at all costs, even at the cost of her happiness.
Pam Becomes Hostile
I don’t think I would have responded well if people had told me that my way of interpreting Christianity was harmful to my mental health, so I’m glad they refrained.
Pam’s experience was quite a bit different in this regard because people did notice her struggle and did try to open her eyes.
In the Ten Percent Happier podcast, Dan Harris interviews Adam Grant about “The Joy of Being Wrong.” Grant mentions how the psychologist, George Kelly, viewed hostility as the emotional reaction you have when you find out one of your beliefs is wrong.
Is this not what Pam was like whenever she was confronted with the truth that Roy was not a good fit for her? For example, when Jim shared his opinion on Roy’s reaction to Pam wanting to attend art school, Pam retorted, “Excuse me, I’m ok with my choices!”
Consider also when Jim tried to open Pam’s eyes to the fact that she liked him by talking about how their grilled cheese on the roof experience was kind of like a date, and emphasizing how he didn’t leave her at a hockey game like Roy. Pam was so upset that she walked away.
To be fair, Jim could have been a little gentler in both of these situations, but I think that even if he had more tact, Pam would have reacted this way because, like anyone, she doesn’t want to be wrong.
Pam is Finally Honest with Herself
Like Pam, my journey away from “Roy” was subconscious at first, and I denied it for as long as I could because acknowledging my lack of loyalty would have filled me with guilt. Once I finally acknowledged it, though, I felt whole, like I was no longer hiding from myself. I no longer professed one belief while deep down, believing another and not admitting it.
The truth I was suppressing was that while the community I was a part of viewed God as unconditionally loving, my attempts to view God this way were proving fruitless and my mental health was suffering as a result.
I equate my moment of honesty with Pam ending her engagement to Roy. This was scary for Pam for two reasons: One, Roy would be livid; and two, she would miss his companionship because there were, of course, good parts of the relationship.
While I knew I would miss the good parts of conservative Christianity, I decided to leave that faith, finally admitting to myself that my heart desired something else. I then saw before me two paths: one led to a more relaxed form of Christianity. The other led away from Christianity altogether.
I tried the former but ended up settling for the latter. What’s important is I broke free from my legalism and finally was honest about my desires regardless of the backlash from my inner critic.
Pam Gives Roy a Second Chance
Just like Pam gave Roy a second chance, I didn’t completely leave Christianity after my moment of honesty. Instead, I decided to dip my toe into liberal Christianity. This type of Christianity was more flexible, so I figured my inner critic would be silenced.
Similarly, Pam thought that if she was more assertive, Roy would be more respectful. It seemed to work, at first, but as soon as she confessed having kissed Jim, Roy exploded and nearly assaulted her.
Similarly, I discovered that my “Roy” was still lurking beneath the surface of my newfound liberal Christianity. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t unwind Jesus from judgement. Word association proved to be a powerful force because the name Jesus and other Christian words and phrases triggered in me the same inner critic.
Pam Officially Cuts All Ties with Roy
While I haven’t yet found that “freedom in Christ” that everyone talks about, I’m ok with that for now. I’m currently trying out a different form of freedom outside of Christianity.
It’s not the path I wanted to take, but at least it finally silenced most of my inner critic’s religious legalism. Most importantly, my critic no longer takes the form of some backwards conception of Jesus, asking for loyalty while berating me at every turn.
Like Pam said her final goodbye to Roy, I stood up to my inner critic and broke a ten-year vicious cycle of religious legalism. While I still feel guilty sometimes for not being able to remain loyal to my faith, I know that changing your mind and admitting your mistakes isn’t a sign of weakness. It means you’re brave enough to stand up for what you want even if it means disagreeing with someone to whom you’ve pledged loyalty.
Listening to Your Heart
The heart isn’t always right, but if you’re always denying it, you may find yourself pledging loyalty to an unworthy partner or a backwards philosophy. I used to live a life where I believed the heart was never right. Ever. And so, I found myself enslaved to my inner critic.
Now, I try to trust myself and love myself because life just isn’t that long.
What is Your “Roy?“
Even if you haven’t struggled with religious legalism or a bad relationship, you probably have a “Roy” in your life – something that think you are obligated to adhere to even when the negatives outweigh the positives.
If you feel comfortable doing so, please share your experience below.