Tag Archives: Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse Stunts You Emotionally

19 Jul
Gitarrenverstärker JC 120

Gitarrenverstärker JC 120 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a family member who has struggled with alcoholism for over 2 decades.  Of the many things I’ve learned about alcohol and drug abuse, one is that it stunts a person’s ability to grow and mature mentally.

So if someone began abusing alcohol at age 16, many times, their mental and social skills will not progress until they emerge from their substance abuse.  Even though Uncle Johnny is 42 years old, emotionally he’s still equivalent to the insecure, fearful teenager he was when he started drinking.  That’s why so many who have abused drugs struggle to reconnect socially after years wasted in the twilight zone.

Spiritual Abuse is No Different

While I never abused drugs or alcohol, I was in a spiritually abusive church for over a decade.  After finally realizing I was in a bad place, it took at least 10 years to come to any sense of normalcy for me, my family, and my career.

Along the way, I’ve often been frustrated at my lack of ability to connect socially.  Sometimes I am too quick to assume a personal relationship and I bowl people over by being too blunt or over-sharing personal experiences without really sensing whether someone really wants to hear them.

I’ve been frustrated at how I’ve lost almost two decades denying myself the chance to develop skills or careers.  In the past, I was too busy trying to “build the church”, or “reach out to the lost” and felt selfish about taking time to continue my Classical Guitar studies.  I have a lot of talent, but I’m really no better a musician than I was 20 years ago.

I sold so many belongings that I should have kept.  At the time, I assumed God would see my sacrifice and be there as I gave time and money to causes I thought were spiritual and everlasting.  Now I wish I still had my Roland Jazz Chorus amp to make the music that I love.  I wish I hadn’t sold off all my valuable baseball cards to pay for a missions trip with Campus Crusade.  The many hours of free labor I gave to church and para-church ministries while my own family struggled.

The time I let my boss (at the Christian bookstore) bully me and demand I quit my second job, because he worried that other businesses in the area would think he didn’t pay his employees enough money (he didn’t).   The time I let a pastor guilt me into leading worship for many more months than my schedule allowed…all the while hoping and praying that God would see my sacrifices and have mercy on me and my family.

Hoping that I was building an eternal reward, by denying myself in this life.

Right Back Where I Started

At times I’m angry at the years lost.  Other times I’m just sad that I passed up so many great opportunities, both professionally and personally, because I thought I was serving a greater spiritual purpose.

At the time I thought I was running the race to be embraced and rewarded by The Father.  But in reality, I was serving other people and their dreams while mine got pushed to the back of the line.

I find myself exactly where I was 20 years ago, unsure of how to navigate middle age, because I never got much of a chance to live life and grow through my experiences without someone telling me to question my heart and lay down my desires to some higher purpose.

But that’s what abuse does to you, it freezes you.  It stifles and chokes you and tries to convince you that you’re moving forward when all you are doing is sinking,  sinking into a hole that is harder and harder to climb out of the longer you’ve stayed.

How Smart People Get Sucked into Cults

14 Apr

I was a few months into my new job and really enjoying my position and co-workers.  I was taking a quick break and jumped on a computer in the break room to check email.  After checking email, I decided to click over to the SGMSURVIVORS board for current and former member of the cult I used to be a part.  I was just about to wrap it up when one of my newest co-workers came up and enthusiastically asked what I was reading.   AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!  Do I just kinda fudge it and say nothing while I quickly close the page?  Or do I just tell the truth?

I hesitated and she asked “What?”-you know, the kind of one word question that says “did I just say something wrong to you” sort of what.

I breathed deep and said, “I was checking on a Survivors blog  for former members of an abusive church I used to attend…..a cult.”

My co-worker looked surprised and said “But you’re smart, how did you end up being a part of a cult?”  Without getting too deep into the details, I explained that I was raised Christian, and while at college I attended some churches to try to stay involved with my faith.  Unfortunately, I ended up at a church that seemed so friendly and nice at first;  but after being involved for years, came to realize that they would suck people into their relational network, only to threaten to take it away if you dared to disagree with church leadership.

It took me years to admit it….but it’s true.  I was part of a cult.  And you know why it took me years to admit it…pride.  You see, only gullible and naive people get sucked into cults, right?  I mean, if I admit that I was part of a cult, than what does that say about me?  That I’m gullible and naive, of course.  And what intelligent person wants to admit that there a sucker…I certainly didn’t.

Emotional Creatures Are We

The experience of getting sucked into a cult has taught me something-we are emotional creatures first, rational creatures only when forced to change.  This is a generalization of course, but I think it holds true and is why thinking people get caught up into cults.

From my experience, I can look back now and see how the church I attended would Love Bomb visitors and then exploit the relational needs or vulnerabilities of these folks.  They would draw their new-found recruits into a deeper relational network composed of only members of the church.  Once someone became intertwined in the church, that’s when the additional demands (both doctrinally and practically) would be trotted out.  At this point, I am forced to make a choice.  Do I reject this new doctrine/demand and risk losing  my new-found relationships, or do I try to make a go of it so that I can continue to enjoy the relationships that I now depend on for support and self-worth?

It’s this exploitation of our emotions that makes leaving a cult so hard.  It hurts like hell, in fact.  All of the sudden, people you thought you could depend on are treating you like you’re a criminal.  Or acting as if you don’t exist anymore.  All the while, you thought you were building relationships to last a lifetime, only to see them washed away in one fell swoop.

It’s then that you realize that all the phone calls, the meals when you were sick, the invites to hang out as couples all hinged on you being a part of the “best church” since the New Testament was written; maybe even better.  Now that you’ve voiced some concerns, or pointed out an area where they do not practice what they preach, you become “persona non grata”.

And that’s it in a nutshell.  It almost doesn’t matter what the particulars of the belief system are.  It’s the fact that you will be punished through your relationships, with cruel efficiency and forethought by people you love.  It’s this threat of relational banishment that holds current members in fearful check, while those being banished find themselves overboard and drifting on a sea of emotional turmoil and confusion.  Have I mentioned it hurts like hell?  Well just in case you missed it, it hurts like hell.