Saturday, August 1, 2009

Guest Post By Provender: Spiritual Abuse is Invisible Trauma

Alcatraz - Hospital Bed
photo by JoscelynAllen in flickr
Recently, I added a quote by Ron Henzel to my Spiritual Abuse quote of the month on Provender, and it’s a good one. It speaks to the heart of the issue of spiritual abuse:
The manipulation involved in Spiritual Abuse is especially cruel because it takes advantage of a person's deepest needs and highest ideals.

After you’ve gone through a period of spiritual abuse, you are at first only interested in survival, and then recovery. It takes some time to look back and take stock of what happened. Even after you’ve done that, you don’t always appreciate the huge toll spiritual abuse takes on your psyche. You know you’re hurting. You know the hurt is magnified by memories of unjust incidents and painful words.
Still, I’m not sure how many victims realize that spiritual abuse reaches right into the depths of the spirit and hurts the most vulnerable parts of our being. We trusted. Our trust was seized and used against us. We loved. Our love was grabbed and twisted into servitude. We hoped. Our hope was dangled in front of us with promise after promise, not always spoken. Those promises were yanked farther away. We yearned to be nearer to God. Instead, we were led along a walkway to a human idol and told we were nearing God, as the burdens grew heavier and more unbearable.

I’ve been on sites where victims of spiritual abuse cry in pain. They don’t know if they will ever again trust. They no longer know for sure if God is real. They long for intimacy with Him but can’t find it. I’ve been on other pages where victims are cynical and even hostile toward believers and churches. The pain and bitterness ate through their souls and left an empty hole. Some start anti-Christian web sites and spew hate-filled words like weapons at the church.

None of this surprises me any more. What they endured was a searing hot poker at their most sensitive spiritual skin. Some do heal. They may have to deal with disfigurement and scar tissue, but they manage to get back to a place where they can open up to God again. For some, that takes years and years. Some seem to waver, going back and forth, believing and not believing. Hardly daring to believe.

Others go from one abusive situation into another. Some have been drawn to more than one other abusive situation after a first one. How any of those victims survive, I will never know.

The point I’m trying to make is for those freshly out of a spiritually abusive experience. If you haven’t been able to recover right away, don’t be bewildered about it. Don’t wonder why you can’t pray, or keep rehashing unpleasant experiences, or wake up fearful, or constantly worry about people in your old group. You’ve just been through something extremely high on the stress continuum. Spiritual abuse is like losing a spouse or being in a fire or discovering the betrayal of adultery. It’s like a fatal car accident, a child’s life-threatening injury, a diagnosis of cancer.

People don’t talk about spiritual abuse. There are some good books on the subject but they don’t hit the bestseller list. There are good sites out there on the topic, but often you have to dig for them. There are groups that help in recovery, but churches rarely talk about them.

Because spiritual abuse is something you aren’t exposed to much before it happens to you, it may seem like it’s not something big, that you should be better by now, that you are silly for being paranoid or frightened or angry or obsessed about what happened. But you’re not. You’ve been through something that scarred the most vulnerable part of you. It’s going to take some time.

So what can you do? Read about spiritual abuse to see how common it is. Talk about what happened to you and don’t let the Don’t Talk Rule silence you. It’s not sin to talk about it. In fact, it promotes healing to do that. Find others who have been through it and talk to them. If you don’t think you can pray, try praying again later, when the wounds are less raw. And remember to take care of yourself because you’ve been through a lot, even though no one around you can see it.

Click here to read Provender's guest post "Twisting Scripture".

Further Reading:
Weaning Myself From Religious Addiction


The Cult Next Door said...

Provender has amazing insight on the effects spiritual abuse has on the mind and soul.
Spiritual abuse is truly the invisible hurt.
How many churches bring the subject to the forfront to warn of the dangers of an abuser in religous setting? not many.

Hillary@Quivering Daughters said...

"Still, I’m not sure how many victims realize that spiritual abuse reaches right into the depths of the spirit and hurts the most vulnerable parts of our being. We trusted. Our trust was seized and used against us. We loved. Our love was grabbed and twisted into servitude. We hoped. Our hope was dangled in front of us with promise after promise, not always spoken. Those promises were yanked farther away. We yearned to be nearer to God. Instead, we were led along a walkway to a human idol and told we were nearing God, as the burdens grew heavier and more unbearable."

WOW. What true, sad words. I can relate to this in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

Spiritual abuse is so extremely painful. I am a survivor. This left me feeling as if my soul were raped and my body molested. I love him for his care and then it got twisted and sick. I think the hardest thing is that when you are an adult you think you should be able to know whats going on and stop it but .. it is so powerful how your mind is decieved and your thoughts are conflicted and then you do the things you don't want to do and you wonder how and why it happened? The scars are deep and pain is very real and very bad. Time is the best healer and those that speak out against this. Most churches reject the victims and embrace the abuser. Even if the abuser is defrocked the church hates the woman victims. This doesn't happen in most other cases of professional misconduct but in this people don't want to face the reality of how easy it is for a spiritual leader to use his position of power to get things he wants. Its so damaging. I am ten years away from my experience. I am healed a great deal but it still reaches into me at times when I least expect it.. and it is a searing poke in my heart. The tears come .. and I let them.. and i go on. I am grateful to be alive.
Thanks for the post.

authenticallyme said...

I was just talking this over with my counselor today. I came out of much of my spiritual abuse over 4 years ago. I still have a few people in my life, however, who still ring spiritual abuse i my ears when they speak. For the most part I can disern truth now (it is amazing how far Ive come there), but I realized after being shamed adn preached at with the bible just yesterday, how low I actually sunk within 24 hours. I said to my counselor however that at least I realize that there still exists within my inner being, a foudnation of shame, which gave this other person power over me momentarily. It is so hard to escape the words that were said. What is scary is that a part of me still struggles to NOT believe they are true!

I also beleive that if I get divorced, God will have to rain consequences down on me, and that ultimatley I wont be loving God because I wont be doing this: (Jesus said,):"If you love me, you will do what I say."

I know it is sick, but I am just in agreement with what you say about people so NOT understanding or REFUSING TO ACKNOWLEDGE what spiritual abuse does to our very inner, sacred being. I recognize, at least for myself, my shame originally took hold in my childhood as one of my parents was very critical and shaming toward me (that parent was also shamed as a child, worse than I, I imagine..). Since as a helpless child we are forced to see a bigger being (God) thoruigh the way our parents enlighten us, or DONT enlighten us, I really think childhood can be the beginning of spiritual abuse for many who end up on the step of a church or entity that carries on abuse as well.

Thanks for listening; I hopped on over via Molly's blog (im listed on her blogroll under "UNconventionallyauthenticallyme'.


Moriah Conquering Wind said...

Blog looks interesting. Glad to have found it. Will be reading more in days to come.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this site and what you are doing here. I'll recommend this when I eventually put up a "Recommended Sites" page on my blog,

which highlights what appears to me to be devastating church/spiritual abuse at Mars Hill mega church (8000 people) in Seattle, ruled by Pastor Mark Driscoll.

I too have been spiritually abused. The abuser was my pastor and my (licensed!) therapist... this went on for two years and it nearly killed me (soul murder), my marriage and relationships with my adult daughters, as well as friendships. Unlike one of your commenters, I have found that the Professional Misconduct world (comprised of the perps, the licensing boards, the courts, etc...)is just as harsh to its victims and those who seek redress/justice as the church is... always blame the victim and support the "professional."

I came across an excellent web site last night:

They have a lot of really good stuff about authoritarian leadership, church leadership in general, mind control, the tithing lie, “super apostles,” legalism vs grace, the importance of discernment and how cults work.

My heart was grieving deeply last night as I recognized yet even more how many churches and pastors have really become unhealthy as they’ve veered off the New Testament track regarding how “churches” are to function, and as I thought about for the thousandth time how easily deceived and biblically illiterate are most Christians these days. It deeply grieves me, and I’m sure it breaks the Lord’s heart.

Thank you for what you are doing here! I will be back to check it out more.


(PS, I removed the post on my site which you have linked on the right sidebar because I added that content to the end of my About page. Perhaps you might want to re-link to the most recent post on my site. And thanks for including my site!)

axel g said...

It's vital to share cult experiences.

I've come across spiritual manipulation while staying at buddhist monasteries...

Alice said... website after being voted out of a 31-year Baptist church membership, because I got a divorce after 31 years of abuse and let the x live in my house. I fought the system for 18 months to try and stop the pastor (of disaster) from "counseling" any more women, because 2 of the women wanted to commit suicide because of his counseling skills. My name was put up on a big screen, followed by the words; "Conduct Unbecoming a Child of God." I was called to a meeting of deacons (16 "men"), not allowed to have a woman with me and asked: Are you still having sex with your x? I have oer 17,958 hits on my website. Love to all.....feel free to contacat me:
I have a poetry site, also: (Sanctuary of the Soul is my book)

The Cult Next Door said...

@Alice...what a terrible experience!
Thank you for being a voice for those that are to crushed to speak out!

Anonymous said...

Spiritual abuse,like abortion, sucks the life out of you.

Anonymous said...

I lived that abuse for 17 years. I thought it was all my fault. I wasn't good enough. I wasn't spiritual enough.... I thought I was the only one that was living this type of horror story. I was suicidal. I mean really suicidal! I did not know where to turn or who to go to. I had been taught to isolated myself from my family and my friends that were not of that particular church, because they were "all heathens and were going to burn in Hell."
My emotions had shut down and depression had set in. The last resort was, I was going to give God one more try, just one more chance.If He didn't come through, I had a plan and I was going to put myself out of the misery. So, I cried out to Him. I said, "I thought you said you wouldn't give me more than I can handle." "Well, guess what? I have reached my limit. So you better do something or I will." That was it. I waited 24 hours and my husband, the man of God, the teacher, the "spiritual" one, decided I wasn't good enough for him and he left. I locked the door behind him. I am firm believer. I have a personal and wonderful relationship with the Lord. But, I still can not go into a church. I don't slam Pastors or churches of any kind. I am just not able to deal with it all again. I am sure that God understands. So if anyone reading this, thinks they are alone. You are not. If you think no one is listening God is.