Walking away from a secretive, religious sect: 'I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t fit in'

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Laura Conti grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian sect, often referred to as The Truth. But her questions and boundary pushing made her an outsider, so she eventually left. She told Insight what it was like growing up in that environment, and finding her place in society.

Insight, guests share their experiences of being the odd one out, from the loneliness and confusion to the empowerment of daring to be different. Watch it here.

Growing up in regional New South Wales, Laura Conti’s family was deeply entrenched in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian sect. Though the group has no official name, it’s often referred to as The Truth. Fitting in with the sect meant strict adherence to a specific, conservative interpretation of the Bible.

“Very strict dress standards for women, a rather big obsession with modesty,” Laura explained to host Kumi Taguchi on Insight. “Things like TV and radio and pop music are frowned upon … I lived a very closeted life.”

While many of her experiences in the sect were positive, by the age of eight Laura already felt like she didn’t quite belong.

“I was different, I asked a lot of questions,” she said. “I had more curiosity, and perhaps a little more creativity and flamboyance than others around me … I didn’t feel comfortable, and I didn’t feel like I fitted.”

Laura
Laura aged 15.
Supplied

As Laura got older, it wasn’t just that she was questioning the teachings and traditions of her sect – other members were starting to question her place in the group, too.

“I was an outsider … I made a lot of decisions along the way that challenged the norms, that pushed the boundaries,” she said. “And often the response for that is anger and shunning and shutting down and shaming.”

Social psychologist, Professor Jolanda Jetten, said close knit groups often have firmly held beliefs, and someone different in the community can be seen as a problem.

“If there is someone amongst them who doesn’t subscribe to the norms that they have … a black sheep can threaten the cohesion of the group,” Prof Jetten explained.

She said an outsider can also reinforce the values of a group, by defining who does and doesn’t belong.

Laura said she tried very hard to belong, but by the age of 19, she no longer felt welcome in the sect. Leaving her community behind, she found herself the odd one out for a second time – trying to navigate the wider world as a teenager who had never worn jeans, had a haircut, heard pop music or watched television.

Source Insight

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