Emotional abuse

One of the struggles I have wrestled through during my recovery over the last five years has been the idea of revenge or retaliation. It isn’t something I have come out and shared with others. It isn’t something I feel good about at all! It is that deep dark secret I have tried to hide because it shows me the depth of my heart and how sick it is. I have carried shame and guilt for these feelings. I have felt so despicable for the thoughts, but I have also had to come to terms with the fact that my feelings were real, and if I did not deal with them now they would just show up later in some other form.

What do I mean by revenge in the context of my spiritual abuse and struggle with church leaders?

I have been tempted to want to make them pay for what they did to me. I have wanted to tell others how I have been wronged in a manner that hurt and slandered the leaders.  I have wanted to smash windows, flatten tires, destroy property, slap them in public, or pour a drink over their head. The week I was suicidal I even thought about where I could die so they would find the body and feel the guilt over my death.

First, know that I feel horrible for every thought that went through my heart and mind. The thoughts were wrong! They were sinful! They hurt my relationship with those from my past church and they hurt my relationship with God. I have repented of those thoughts and have worked with God over why I ever even had to experience the thoughts and feelings, because while the world might tell me it is okay to think and feel them, just not to act on them (some would say it is even okay to act on them), I don’t feel that God’s word agrees. Yes I had been traumatized and hurt. Yes there are things others did that I consider wrong, but I did things wrong also. I can’t cast a stone at them knowing the sin and issues in my own life.

I haven’t known what to do with these thoughts and feelings though.

They were strongest at first. I was in so much pain from how I was mistreated that pain was all I could think of. My pain, wanting to give them pain. I knew it was wrong but I still thought it and felt it. I would try to force the feelings to go away. That doesn’t work. I would deny it was there. That doesn’t work. I would try to express it through writing or some other means. That at best was a temporary relief. I would lay awake at night feeling sick because of the thoughts. I would catch myself during the day wishing something bad upon someone.

Ultimately I had to deal with my heart. I had to make a choice to forgive. I had to make a choice to love. Even if they never spoke to me again I had to forgive them for me. My pain was eating me up inside and costing me tremendously. I had to find freedom because I was trapped in pain. I had to let go and surrender my right to get even. I had to surrender every vindictive, vial, cruel, hateful, evil, malicious, angry, painful, unloving thought and feeling.

It was hard! Very, very hard!

Today, I don’t live with the burden of revenge in my heart. I do not feel the hatred, but honestly feel love, compassion, grace, and forgiveness. That doesn’t mean that I don’t experience moments where my heart wants to deceive and betray me again, especially if some new negative aspect arises. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have to fight for forgiveness and love. It is a choice.

Every day I choose to love, I choose to forgive, I choose to hope for reconciliation.

The reconciliation likely will never come as the elders have cut me off from any further contact with the pastor, and this week they were supposed to finally present the charges against me  (that should have been given eight months ago), but that didn’t happen. However, because I have chosen love and because I have hope in Christ and the Gospel I have hope that some day their hearts will be drawn to the Lord and they will forgive.

Revenge …. retaliation … hatred … pain … … … I have given them up and am trying to live with my eyes on the Lord.

Back in November I posted about the trap of silence that can occur in situations of abuse. Will a child be believed if they share that their parent is abusing them? Will the victim of verbal or emotional abuse be believed if they speak out, especially if there is no evidence to support their claim?

Another related feeling or experience that victims can go through is feeling emotionally blackmailed. If they speak out, they may be labeled as being rebellious, distorting things, telling lies, seeking to destroy reputations, and causing damage/disunity to families, organizations, friends, etc. Often they are told by abusers that they cannot or should not share because it could hurt the abuser. The abuser has injured the victim in the first place, and then locks them into a situation of silence. This is an especially strong tool because often abuse is perpetrated by those who are close to the victim, so the victim does not want to cause pain or dishonor to the abuser.

The situation where the abuser is in a position of authority (adult over adult) and uses that authority to coerce the other person into silence or to walk out certain behaviors is similar to blackmail. Words are very powerful things. The book of James tells Christians to guard their tongues because they can be used to both praise God, and to hurt man. The responsibility of what we speak is something that should weigh heavy on our hearts. We need to be very cautious of what we say and why we share it, knowing that we have the ability to choose what we say. Things should be shared only with a heart of love, grace, and redemption but often there is so much pain, anger, frustration, and such deeply charged emotions that this is not possible.

Silence is not always the answer though. In fact, sometimes it is the wrong answer because it just covers up the issue rather than bringing it to light so it can be dealt with and so lives can be changed, healed, and brought to emotional and spiritual health. Sometimes the harder, most loving, and most important decision is to speak out, to share the story, and to walk through even more difficult things to have the truth be known. Sometimes it is the only way things change. Sometimes it is the way to forgive. The change may not be for the abuser, it might be for the victim. It might be that the victim has done some things that they need to be held accountable for or has some areas where they need to learn and grow. Whether the truth opens doors for the victim, the abuser, or both to receive help and for healing to occur it can be a good thing. Speaking out often though will bring the opposite result. It will often end any hope of reconciliation and restoration. It can scar the reputations of those involved for years to come.

The more I learn about dealing with relational conflict the more I see how important it is to deal with any issues very early in a relationship. God made us to be in relationship with each other and to walk in unity and peace. Distorted, broken, and hurt-filled relationships do not please him and make our lives very difficult. We need to walk in humility and love. This can only happen as our hearts are changed.

The most impactful book I have read recently was War of Words by Paul David Tripp. As I have been at a place of significant recovery, have confessed and overcome sin, and have a deep desire to live a very different life than I have for the last five years it taught me a lot about how to communicate, and God’s desire to have us communicate words of redemption whenever we share with others.

I recently have been thinking about my journey and how to tell my story so that I am speaking truth, but also words of redemption that do not hurt others and that glorify God. This is a difficult thing in the face of pain and abuse, but I am coming to believe it is very important for some of the survivors of spiritual abuse to tell a story of hope, healing, and redemption instead of only sharing stories of the hurt, pain, abuse, and brokenness. Those things are a part of all of the stories, but for those of us that have found healing and hope we need to share with others how that occurred, and loudly proclaim God’s sovereign ways so that others too can find healing and hope.

Also, there are courageous people who want to help those who have been hurt, abused, disillusioned, and are on the path to walk away from the church or are unwilling to even try a church. I commend these people because they are willing to walk into messy and difficult relationships. I also believe these people need support as few of them have walked the journey of being hurt, lost, or disillusioned themselves. They need to hear the survival and recovery stories of others. They need to gain insight from those who have been in the quicksand and found a way out. They need to know how to communicate and what to communicate to help those who so desperately are seeking and needing help.

I met with a pastor this week who wants to talk and pray through how we can form a ministry to these lost, hurt, and disillusioned people. I am so grateful for his courageous heart. I pray God will use me in this way not only to help the victims, but also to train and educate those who want to minister to them. I hope this pastor and I will be able to work together on this because the Pacific Northwest has a lot of spiritually hurting and needy people and I believe God wants to change that and needs some of us to take a risk to walk into the messy and broken lives of others to show them hope.

A friend is also stepping out to do this with victims of Professional Misconduct and Professional Sexual Misconduct (PSM). She has been a victim of both PSM with a counselor, but he was also a mentor and clergy which resulted in great spiritual abuse too. If you are interested or in need of help with this area you might check out her recent radio interview at http://www.heartshealing.com/radio_interview .

If you have a story to tell, are able to tell it in a redemptive way that brings hope and healing to others I hope you will share your story and be a voice for those who are struggling to find that same path out of their personal hell.

Have you heart of personality and temperament tests and the corresponding profiles? There are a variety of them in existence, but one of the best known is the Myers-Briggs assessment.

This test is based on research that started with Carl Jung. He theorized that every individual had a psychological type that formed the base of their personality. That type is comprised of four components and each of these had two sides to the component. Introversion and Extroversion, Intuition and Sensation, Feeling and Thinking, and Perceiving and Judging. Although there are only two sides to each component things are assessed on a continuum that is split down the middle. In other words two people might both fall on the continuum on the 50% side of being extroverted, but one person might be 56% extroverted while another person might score at 89%.

Jung defined eight personality types. Here are links to some descriptions of them and a link to descriptions of the various profiles.

  • ISTJ – The Duty Fulfillers
  • ESTJ – The Guardians
  • ISFJ – The Nurturers
  • ESFJ – The Caregivers
  • ISTP – The Mechanics
  • ESTP – The Doers
  • ESFP – The Performers
  • ISFP – The Artists
  • ENTJ – The Executives
  • INTJ – The Scientists
  • ENTP – The Visionaries
  • INTP – The Thinkers
  • ENFJ – The Givers
  • INFJ – The Protectors
  • ENFP – The Inspirers
  • INFP – The Idealists

Knowing and understanding something about your personality, your temperament, and your relational styles can help you understand and put conflict, trauma, and struggle into perspective. It can show you things about yourself that might help you understand why others responded to you in certain ways, or why you are thinking and feeling in the ways you are.

For example, I am an INFJ. This is the least common personality type. Therefore 99% of people are not like me in personality, and in a gathering of 100 people there is only one that is similar to me, however they might be scoring different on the continuum and still falling in the same four areas. INFJs are very sensitive to conflict. That is a key to me in  processing the struggles I have had in the two churches where I had problems because the situations started with some conflict that I didn’t know how to work through but I was stressed and troubled just because of the presence of conflict. INFJs are highly intuitive and therefore trust their own instincts above all else. After I was abused five years ago I completely doubted my instincts. This left me in a place of conflict within myself that hit me at the deepest levels and as INFJs are not common I had trouble finding another others who could understand or help me through the process.

Personality types are not the end all of understanding ourselves. The Bible does not directly speak about them, and they are based on humanitarian theories and beliefs. As such, I advise looking at them with discernment and caution, but also with eyes and a heart to see and learn something new. This tool can help you understand yourself, others, and relationships in new and insightful ways.

Have any of you seen others ways that tools like personality tests can help in the recovery process from trauma, abuse, and spiritual conflict?

Have you reached a point where you desire to stop thinking about your past story? Have you struggled to stop thinking about it, resolve it, and get it out of your head? Have you reached a point of acceptance that your story is your story with all the good, bad, and even the unresolved parts?

Here are some steps you might think and work through to take a new step forward.

1. Disconnect from your story – How do you identify with your story? Do you think it defines you, or is it just one aspect of who you are that can be seen from different perspectives? If you think the abuse/trauma/situation you went through or find yourself in is ‘who you are’ then you are giving it control. You are making it the source of direction, power, and focus in your life. Can you adjust your attitude and viewpoint so that you can regain control and perspective keeping any “victim” through patterns at bay?

Some of us like our stories, they give us something to connect with and identify with. For some of us the story gives us a history, uniqueness, distinction, and it can actually become a point that feeds our ego, or gives us a level of control both in situations and even over other people. Only you can decide if you are ready to disconnect from your story and take the next step.

2. Decide if you want to be free – Sometimes sub-consciously we are choosing not to disconnect from our problems and our past, after-all, they are our story. You have to decide whether you want to be free.  Do you want your ongoing mind activity, mixed up feelings, stress, sleeplessness, depression, etc. to end, or you are holding on to it because it is giving you an ego boost, a level of control, or an excuse to stay set in our ways.

Take time to connect deep inside to your core thoughts and feelings. Be honest with yourself and find out if you really are at a point to move on, both forgetting and forgiving. Until you are ready you will not be able to be free. Your problems may be giving you something to do in life, or they may be keeping you from pushing for something different. Are you allowing them to hold you back, or are you choosing to believe your story can actually enable and empower you to be used for something greater?

3. Let go – When we are ready to let go we reach a point of resolve in our heart and our mind to no longer let our story, other people, or circumstances control and dictate our lives. It isn’t just about reaching a point of letting go and being left with empty hands, but it also is reaching a point of taking hold of a new future, a new direction, and a different ongoing story.  Letting go is about leaving what was and embracing to move forward to what will become. It is the first major step in creating a new and different story.

4. Accept your story and your current life – Acceptance means you no longer resist the situation (either the past or the present/current). It doesn’t mean you don’t try to grow, change, and learn from it, but you stop fighting, denying, and avoiding what has already happened and you don’t blame or manipulate the situation. Accepting allows us to let those things that occupy our minds and battle within our souls come to a rest. You won’t have to battle yourself, others, or your past any longer, because instead you allow the memories, thoughts, feelings, and facts to become real, have a place to fit in the painting and fabric of your life, and as they blend in and become part of the bigger picture they lose their prominence as something that stands out, becoming blurred and incorporated into a large and beautiful piece of art.

No matter your faith stance or religious beliefs these steps can help you move past the power and control of your past so you no longer walk with a victim mindset and live in powerlessness. I personally believe that if you incorporate Christ into each of these steps allowing him to have control, to provide freedom, to be what you grab onto when you let go, and give you the strength and surrender to accept your story and life …. Well then you will see a new life, a life that is truly different and transformed. No matter how you walk that journey I hope and pray your life will grow better and you will find beauty, promise, hope, and transformation for a hope-filled and incredible future.

One of the struggles that victims of any abuse may suffer from is being trapped in a web of silence. Consider the child whose father has started sexually abusing them. Telling anyone about the abuse speaks against their own father. It could hurt him, damage and change the family, bring insult or accusations against the victim, or the victim may not even be believed.

The same is true with spiritual abuse, but in some ways that trap of silence is even worse because as a Christian your integrity and character are brought into question if you speak out. Some Christians will tell you that it is wrong to speak anything about a leader that could damage their reputation or ministry. What then is the victim to do? Are they trapped in silence forever? Do they have to only tells pieces of their story, hide their identity, or walk without honesty and transparency to protect others who did them injury? It is a very difficult situation to sort through how to love others, be honest, not walk as a victim in destructive silence, and not do things that cause others hurt and pain.

Some of the questions that might be asked regarding breaking the silence are below. I do not believe there is a right answer about how, when, or if you should or can break the silence but there are situations where it should happen.

Is it okay to share the truth? Is there a way that truth can be shared in love?
Will this hurt anyone? Is there a way to tell it that will not hurt them?
Why should I share this? Does truth need to be spoken? Does sin need to be confronted? Does illegal activity need to be revealed?
What is the heart behind telling the story? Are you seeking revenge/reconciliation/protection for others/clearing your name/damage toward another? Does your answer to the last question bring up any red flags regarding why you may want to speak out?
Is there proof regarding the story?
Will others believe the story?
Are you ready for the reaction from others who may be upset by sharing the story?
Do you have anything to hide? Is there any part of the story that you do not want to come out?
Is there a venue for sharing the story that is correct? Would the smallest audience possible be the best place to start?
Are you ready to love, forgive, and find reconciliation with the abusers? Are you willing to go to whatever length necessary to resolve the situation?
 Are you in a right relationship with God and do you have Scriptural support for your decision?


Recently in a conversation with a counselor about the situation at my last church they came to understand that I felt completely trapped in silence because I do not want to hurt that pastor or that church, while at the same time I am struggling with a great sense of being powerless regarding how to move forward and take the next steps in my recovery and healing. As he processed things he came to realize that what I experienced is similar to rape (if you don’t know the effects on the victim are very similar to rape or incest and recovery is often similar too) and one of the keys for recovery for a rape victim is recovering a sense of power over their lives and circumstances. I have learned that people from that church went to serve last night at a local organization I have served with regularly since leaving that church. I have not yet had to face a group of people from that church but that day may come. Do I need to be the victim and be powerless in that situation? How could I respond in both truth, love, and grace if faced with it.

These are tough questions, but worth wrestling through as the answers reveal a lot about the heart, the areas that still need healing, where you are finding hope, and if you are truly forgiving and moving on.

I recently read this story by Steve Brown which also reminded me of the movie Seabiscuit. These stories remind me of those of who have been hurt, abused, broken, disillusioned, and battered in the church. Because of our experiences are we now believing we are bad or broken? Have we forgotten what God has made us for? This was definitely part of my story for the last four years, and at times I could even see it in myself but I couldn’t escape from it until others walked along side me and helped me out of my entrapment. Are you believing you are bad or broken? There is a way out! Are you at a point to help others out so they can find the freedom, love, grace, and healing power of God? If you are, please reach out to those around you because you are desperately needed. There are far more people around you who need your help than you probably realize.

“I once had a German shepherd. His previous owner had beaten him.  His name was Calvin, and he was one big, strong dog.  He just didn’t know it.  I gave him the name Calvin because I thought it would help him with his extremely bad self-image.  It didn’t.  In fact I’ve never seen a dog expect punishment more than Calvin.  It wasn’t that he had done anything wrong; it was just that he had somehow gotten the idea he was a bad dog and that my sole purpose in life was to beat up on him because he was such a bad dog.  No, I never hit Calvin.  I didn’t raise my voice to him.  I praised him, petted him, scratched behind his ears, gave him treats, and did everything I know to foster a good self-image.  Nevertheless, Calvin flinched every time I came near him.  Do you know what happened?  He became the bad dog he thought he was.  German shepherds are supposed to protect and defend their owners – Calvin ran and hid under the bed.  German shepherds are supposed to lie at the master’s feet – Calvin wouldn’t come near me.  German shepherds are supposed to be strong and courageous – Calvin was a weenie.  I really believe Calvin felt sort of uncomfortable and abnormal because I didn’t do what he expected me to do – punish him.” (Scandalous Freedom by Steve Brown, p222-223)

Seabiscuit is one of my favorite movies because it represents such a real image of life, especially for anyone who has been abused, rejected, or battered emotionally. I am not a horse racing fan, but the overall message of hope and promise in the movie really touches me. It is a story about three men and a horse who are all banged up and broken. Like us, these men and this horse have walked through hardships and they show the scars and pain of that. Seabiscuit had been bought and sold repeatedly, had failed to perform, and had taken to heart that failure and worthlessness. He was actually trained to lose so he would help others win. He was frightened, bruised, and defiant until trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollack come along.

Here are some quotes from Tom about Seabiscuit.
Tom Smith: “You don’t throw away a whole life just ’cause it’s banged up a little.”
Tom Smith: “You don’t throw away a whole life just because it has a few bumps.”
Tom Smith: “He just needs to learn how to be a horse, again.”
Tom Smith: “He’s so beat up it’s hard to tell what he’s like. He’s forgotten what he was born to do. He just needs to learn how to be a horse again.”

All of us get beaten up, bruised and damaged in the course of life. We need to believe that we are not defined by that. We may be misunderstood and mishandled, we may even lose our way for a time, but God has created us with purpose. God doesn’t “throw away a whole life just ’cause it’s banged up a little.” He believes our lives are worth redeeming. He believes we are worth another chance. We may have to learn how to be a man/woman again, but he is willing to walk through that with us.

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