From personal experience I understand the inner workings of spiritual abuse. It begins slowly and is truly understood once you leave the abusive situation. This week we will share stories of women who have survived spiritual abuse.
I am a survivor. I do not define my life by that experience but it has left a permanent mark on my spirit. I joined a group of radical young Christians when I was an undergraduate. I loved this group because they represented the family that was absent from my life while I was away at college. I was a young college student and a mother and I wanted to belong to something that would ensure that I wouldn’t make mistakes in life. I needed answers. I needed guidance. I desperately wanted to be approved and shown the way. I looked around at so many families in church and I felt that they were the perfect representation of success. I wanted that life too. I reached out to them and they accepted me. They cared for me. They taught me. They walked with me hand in hand, teaching me. They called it discipleship. Their teachings were very different from mainstream churches but the basic premise was that because God had led me to this spiritual family, I should submit to their authority and only then would I be okay.
I began to notice the signs that my former church was spiritually abusive once I decided to leave and move back home. I was done with school and ready for the next phase of my life. My Pastor told me I needed counseling before I made the decision, pastoral counseling of course. When I refused he said I was being immature and leaving the covering of their authority.
Spiritual authority? Who came up with that idea?
There is no man, woman, pastor or child who is capable of guiding you in life better than you are capable of making the best choices for yourself. The reason why spiritual abuse is so rampant is the fact that we are taught from birth that we are dirty, sinful creatures and that we need something or someone outside of ourselves to save us from ourselves. We seek approval from spiritual leaders and instead of serving our spirit or a higher power, we become servants to them.
I have watched as my friends made decisions based only by what their pastor advised. These same friends advised me to do the same. “You better go find someone who can hear from God better than you!” a friend once told me. This statement, along with another friend who told me, “There are different levels in Christ, wait until you get on my level,” completely pushed me away from organized religion.
While I am a firm believer that everyone should have something to believe in, giving away your personal power to believe you can make the best decisions for your own life will lead to spiritual abuse.
Unless you are forced into a spiritually abusive situation because you are under aged and have no choice but to obey your caretakers you have the right to walk away from anyone who says they are in charge of hearing from God for you.
But some of us want to give away our power because we don’t want to take responsibility for our lives. We hand our power to those in “official” positions because we desire to be good and righteous, we want to have the best lives yet we have no idea how to ensure that will happen. We follow others, hoping that their way will become the “right” way for us too. When we begin to think for ourselves we see other choices but if the choices are not agreed upon by the ones we respect the most, we fall in despair because we don’t trust ourselves and their opinions mean everything to us.
You know you are in a spiritually abusive situation when:
1) Someone says they are your authority and can hear from God on your behalf.
2) Your decisions are not your own and must be approved by an official or group of people.
3) Your spiritual group believes they are the chosen ones, set aside from all others in your belief system.
4) You determine your self worth by how your spiritual group feels about you and your decisions.
5) You are told not to associate with other members of society who do not belong to your group.
6) When you try to leave you are shunned or harassed or told that you are walking outside of the will of God.
Why would anyone succumb to spiritual abuse? It’s simply a lack of trust in the ourselves. We should trust ourselves more. We feel like we can’t make the best decisions for ourselves but we can. The ability to transform our lives into what we want it to be lives within us.
We don’t believe we are able to trust that small, inner voice so we don’t sit still and listen. We only think that others who are more holy or appointed can hear direction, but we are wrong. There is no need for a middle man to assure us of our path. We need not seek approval. We give our power away when we believe that anyone has the authority to tell us what we should do with our lives. Our spiritual leaders are their to affirm us and not map out every step. Our spiritual leaders should direct us toward listening for our own guidance when we feel we have lost our way.
We have ears to hear but we don’t use them because we have been trained that we are not worthy to reach understanding within ourselves. This is not true. The truth lives with you and in you. The answer is the force helping you to breathe. You breathe the power of this inner guidance every day in every moment. Trust yourself. You know the way.
Take a look at this week’s feature stories.
Cindy, a spiritual abuse counselor shares insight on the cycle behind the abuse. Read here
Erika tells her story of being raised in a spiritually abusive environment and gathering the courage to walk away. Read here
Both of these stories were shared so that if you are not content with where you are, if you feel like something is wrong with what your leaders are telling you, if you even feel the slightest nudge to get away you will know that you can survive.
Everyone’s life journey is unique and should be respected. There is no way that I can guide you or tell you what to believe. I do know that when it’s right, it feels right. When something is true, there is no control. When someone truly loves you, you do not have to do things their way all the time. They respect and trust you to make the best decisions for your lives and they support that.
Find a group that feeds your spirit and empowers you. Find a place to grow where you can be yourself and not judged and corrected at every turn. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, our beliefs can change at any moment due to any number of influences. As for today, I choose peace of mind over anything else anyone could offer.