When Controlling Behaviors Backfire

Image from Living LIminal
Image from Living LIminal

by Living Liminal cross posted from her blog Living Liminal

One of the first bloggers I started to follow after experiencing bullying and abuse in the institutional church was Julie Anne. She now writes a blog called Spiritual Sounding Board, but when she first started blogging, she could be be found here.

She wrote this about being sued by her ex-pastor:

“Days after the commencement of this blog, I received a legal summons suing me and three others for defamation to the tune of $500,000. The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by pastors who use bully tactics and we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced.”

I was so grateful that she refused to be silenced, because it was people like Julie Anne who gave me hope after my world imploded around me. Blogs like hers reassured me that I was not evil, or insane, or “just bitter“. And reading the stories of others helped me to understand that I was not to blame for the abuse I suffered at the hands of those who claimed to represent ‘god’.

Now it’s ironic, but many people would probably never have heard of Julie Anne’s ex-pastor, Chuck O’Neal, if it were not for his actions in trying to shut down someone who was creating a safe place for victims of spiritual abuse. His attempts to dictate what could, and could not, be said or written – to control the narrative – backfired. People started reading and sharing Julie Anne’s story as a direct result of Mr O’Neal’s efforts to suppress it.

Whatever he thought he would achieve, Mr O’Neal’s efforts to silence her, only called attention to Julie Anne’s story.

Now, when someone tries so strenuously to suppress information that they end up achieving the exact opposite, its known as the “Streisand effect”.

“The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it.” – Wikipedia

Ironically, the photo was just one of 12,000 photographs taken to highlight the problem of erosion along the Californian coastline. In trying to suppress the photo, Ms Streisand only called attention to it, and her actions created the very problem she feared. The number of downloads of that particular photo jumped from 6 before her lawsuit, to an incredible 420,000 after it!

Attempts to maintain control over others rarely end well for anyone.


I don’t know what was going through the heart and mind of Mr O’Neal, when he decided to use the law against a fellow christian. I can’t imagine why he thought his reputation was so precious and important that he chose to take such an adversarial approach to his ‘problem’. But I just can’t see Jesus using the threat of legal action to silence and intimidate his brothers and sisters. And if Jesus can’t be seen in the actions of his people, then something is wrong.

So here’s my thought for the New Year:

Let’s stop worrying about ‘looking good’, and actually care about being ‘good’.

Let’s take seriously the example of Jesus. He couldn’t have cared less about his own reputation. And couldn’t have cared more for the people around him.

“… He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! … He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death…” Phil 2:5-8

Instead of loving his power, he demonstrated the power of his love.

Let’s commit ourselves to doing the same!

Living Liminal lives in Australia with her husband and three sons, and she is learning to thrive in the liminal space her life has become. She writes at Living Liminal. 

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network


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