Spiritual abuse is happening in churches all around us and it needs to be exposed. After all, part of the reason it happens is because people do not recognize it or openly talk about it. –However, for their own good, spiritual abuse victims must “move on.” Victims must get on with theirs lives. If they don’t, they have allowed their abusers to take everything from them. If you are a victim reading this, please do not get upset with me. I am trying to help you get “your life” back.
When I read about spiritual abuse or correspond with “victims,” I have found that a lot of people seem to be “stuck.” This really bothers me. I have decided to write this post in order to share what I have done in the past and what I am doing now to get my own life back.
First off, please do not think I am telling you to forget your bad experience and move on. We all wish it were that easy. I liken spiritual abuse to a very, very bad stomach flu in which the effects last a very, very long time. It takes you by surprise. It makes you really sick, very weak and let’s just be honest and say that you are not that fun to be around. When you first begin to realize that you are sick you ask yourself, “How did this happen to me anyway? How did ‘I’ get infected?” As the realization of your condition sets in, your body’s begins to fight the virus. The best way it knows how to get the foreign pathogen out of your system is to “eject” it by using your body’s natural systems; there are two ways your body does this and neither one is fun. However, your body must perform these operations in order to rid you of the destructive microorganisms that are causing you to be sick. Eventually, after much “ejecting” (the length of time depends on how sick you are) you begin to feel “a little” better. BUT, the recovery process is not over.
You must now begin to put nutrients back into your body. Have you ever wondered why beverages like Sprite and Gatorade make you feel so much better when you are recovering from a stomach flu? It is because they are supplying your body with simple sugars that are easily digested and transformed into energy, thus you “feel better.” As you continue to place nutrients back into your system, you feel better and better. BUT, the process is still not over. You must now rid your home of all the items that might have been “infected” with the virus. You go on a cleaning spree and wash all clothing that could have been exposed to that pesky contagion. At last, you get all the trash out of the house that was associated with your “bad experience.” THEN… you move on. You get on with your life. Who wants to stay sick anyway? Who wants to keep an intimate relationship with a nasty commode? Who wants to wallow in sell pity and puke? NO ONE WHO IS HEALTHY, that is for sure! -So you go back to work, you go back to school, you hang out with friends, you love on your spouse & children and you continue pursuing your passions; you enjoy this amazing gift called life that God created for us!
While crude, the analogy of recovering from the stomach flu is much like recovering from spiritual abuse. I will list the steps to my recovery below using the steps of recovery from a bad case of the stomach flu:
#1 You have to admit you are sick. You must come to the point where you say, “I was abused.” -This step took me years; it was a very complicated process for me. I had no idea what spiritual abuse was. My actions were skewed during those years. After all, I was sick; I needed to stop and admit it so I could begin recovery and get better. *I remember finally stopping myself and thinking, “Something is wrong with me and I need to address it.”
#2 Allow yourself to throw up. I HATE throwing up when I am sick. There have been countless times when I have laid still in the bed, and stayed sick as a dog, because I did not want to throw up. -But after I allow myself to throw up, I always feel better. Begin to acknowledge and opening talk about your abuse with those close to you; you need to throw up. Believe it or not, it is a natural healthy reaction to sickness. If you have limited access to others to talk, try writing about it. Writing about my experience was very helpful for me.
#3 Find a friend or counselor to “hold the bucket” while you vomit. It is very important that you do this. *DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DEAL WITH THIS ALONE! You need a support network. Ask God to show you how to find your support. I know this is tough for spiritual abuse victims. If you are unable to locate anyone local to you, at least visit some of the online sources and make connections. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who share your experience; find some who are further along in recovery than you are. For me, my wife was my primary bucket holder; we held each other’s buckets. In addition, I sought counseling from a professional christian counselor and a few older pastor friends. God used each one of those people to advance me through my recovery process. I do not think I could have made it alone.
#4 Allow yourself to get angry and “grieve” your situation. It’s OK to get really pissed off!!! You were hurt; you were abused. Allow yourself to remember and “process” what happened to you. Stop making excuses for your abuser. You may find yourself bitter. Remind yourself that bitterness is a sin and ask God to help you work through it. YOU WILL NOT WORK THROUGH THE BITTERNESS OVERNIGHT; it is “a process.” Do not put pressure on yourself. The Holy Spirit will let you know when it is time to be done with your bitterness once and for all. Keep asking Him for guidance and help and He will lead you.
#5 Get extremely honest and blunt with God. If you are hurting, tell Him. If you are angry, tell Him. If you are bitter, tell Him. If you have questions, ask Him. God is the God of the Universe; He is completely capable of handling anything we can say or ask. He loves us and wants us to recover; he also knows we are hurting. Rest in the grace and goodness of God and ask Him to help you, but be honest with Him and tell Him how you are feeling. I believe my blunt honesty with God was a key aspect of my recovery process. I was mad, and hurt, and confused, and angry -and I let Him know it. My being honest with Him did not take Him by surprise, but boy it sure helped me.
#6 Allow yourself to take a break and get some rest; do not try to be superman. Just chill out with your family and other people who love you. If you are a leader, DON’T BE. Take a break and get some rest. Give yourself time to recuperate. Discuss with your counselor or close friends what your recover process might look like. I was pastoring a church plant during this season and stepped down. I can not stress how important it was for me to take a step back from ministry. When you get really sick, your body needs time and rest to recover. Recovering from spiritual abuse is no different.
#7 Allow yourself to throw up some more; make sure all the “crap” is out of your system. You may need that friend or counselor to “hold the bucket” again. As you detox from the spiritually abusive atmosphere, you will begin to remember more and more. You will also begin to “connect the dots” as you think back on certain experiences. The more you detox, the more you understand what happened to you. As you undergo this process, you WILL need to throw up again. It is OK, let your recovery run it’s course. GET THE “CRAP” OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM; do not wallow in it. –You do not want to keep and intimate relationship with the toilet forever!
#8 Get some “nutrients” back into your system. Take it slow, but be deliberate in getting those nutrients -so you can get your strength back. Begin to re-enter “safe” spiritual atmospheres. Ask God, your friends and counselors to help you find them. Begin reading your Bible again; not to find scripture in order to prove your abuser was wrong, but for your recovery. I personally recommend the Gospel of John and the book of James. I also recommend a very readable translation like the NIV or NLT. Remember, you are not doing any intense Bible study. You are simply reading God’s Word and allowing “Him” to speak to you. His Word will bring healing to you.
#9 Rid your house of anything that could still “carry” the virus. Divorce yourself from all spiritually abusive atmospheres. ***DO NOT RETURN TO THE ABUSIVE CHURCH!!!*** There will be times where you will want to; resist that inclination. Stop listening to anyone affiliated with the abusive ministry. Limit contact with those who are “still drinking the Kool-aide.” You are not strong enough to rescue anyone right now; you need to be protecting yourself from re-infection. *Many people recovering from an abusive church actually return to the same abusive church or find another one. When they do, their likelihood of getting out becomes even lower. I have seen this with my own eyes. BE CAREFUL!!!
#10 Consider forgiveness. Yes, it is that time. You will never be able to totally recover or “move on” without forgiving those who hurt you. I know, I know, this is a tough one… –BUT IT IS ESSENTIAL. No one can make you forgive, not even God Himself. Your recovery must progress to the place where “you” want to forgive. This is a big step, but it is also a very liberating step. Continue to seek God and let it come naturally as He works in your heart. *There is so much more I could say here. If you would like further teaching and explanation in this area, please visit this link: Forgiveness Teaching
#11 Eat some solid food and continue to build your strength back. Well… you have finished puking, been drinking clear liquids for a day or so and you finally got the house cleaned up. You are “feeling better” and beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Continue to build your strength back. Examine your relationship with God. Make sure your life revolves around “Him” and not the “institution” of a local church. Never let anything be a substitute for your relationship with God. Study the Bible for your self. Have your own prayer life. Know what “you” believe, not just what some pastor or church tells you to believe. Work towards becoming a “mature” christian. -Then look for a healthy church, if you have not found one yet. You need to be around healthy people. You need to be in a healthy atmosphere. You need to be planted in a medium where you can grow and get strong. Ask God to show you how to do this, and he will!
#12 Refuse to take on the “victim” mindset. Refuse to surrender your life! You “were” a victim; do not “remain” a victim!!! There will be a temptation to “be a victim.” RESIST!!!!!!!!! God has sustained you. He is healing you. He is bringing you to a place of recovery. DON”T YOU DARE GIVE IN TO THE VICTIM MINDSET! God has a purpose for you -and it is not to be a victim. Acknowledge your past, but also acknowledge that with God’s help and the help of others you are overcoming your past. You do not have to be a victim of spiritual abuse for the rest of your life, but “you” have to make the choice not to be.
#13 Engage in life. What are ” your” passions? What are “your” God-given dreams? What do “you” want to do with this precious gift called “life” that God has given to you? Wrestle with those questions and figure them out. If you were in the abusive atmosphere for long, you might have never asked these questions before. Don’t rush wrestling with these questions; it might take some time. However, when you figure the answers out, PURSUE THEM!
#14 Allow God to use you to help others. Help others heal and get on with their lives. The truth is, if you have made a full or nearly full recovery from serious spiritual abuse, you are in the perfect place to help others who have been abused. You have experienced something that cannot be described with words. – And you just don’t know what is feels like to be there, -unless you have been there. I feel those of us who have recovered from spiritual abuse have a responsibility to help others. You don’t need to be a pastor or counselor; all you have to do is “hold a bucket,” be a friend, remind a precious soul that God is still there or just sit and just be an expression of God’s love to someone who is hurting. After all, isn’t that what the Church is supposed to be about anyway?