Getting over “Get over it”

empathy

I belong to a wonderful private Facebook group. What makes this group part of my daily social networking addiction is what we all share in common. We are all former members of a fundamentalist Christian cult.

We share our stories, really bad jokes, get brutally and often profanely honest, connect with old friends, and generally support one another as we all work through what growing up in a very controlled and toxic environment has done to us. Personally, it has helped me finally have a place to share with those who truly understand what my past was really like, something I’ve not been able to do completely until I found this crazy cavalcade of cult survivors.

Every so often someone joins our group, and is dismayed by the raw and painful emotions they encounter there. They don’t quite understand the anger and the pain displayed, often by people who escaped the cult years ago. And so they usually end up offering the same advice: Get over it.

I really hate that platitude.

How does one “get over” discovering that everything they’d been taught about God and religion since childhood was a lie? How does one get over needless deaths or prolonged illnesses brought on by church teachings? How does one get over being inculcated into a “religion” that fostered rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, forced divorce, abandonment of every sort—that created and insisted upon poverty?

How does one “get over” losing family members who will no longer have anything to do with you, because you walked away from “God’s True Church”?

How does one “get over” all the things, and all the ways, that have nearly broken us, when patching and sewing back together all the cracks, rends, and damage done to us is such an agonizingly slow process?

While it is true that time can soften the memories and ease the pain of past traumas, “getting over it” is an impossibility. Life-altering events forever change us—even positive ones. But it seems to be the negative events that we have such a hard time with. Maybe it’s because we suppress the emotions they bring up in us, and don’t share our stories, because we’ve encountered too many “get over it” responses. Maybe it’s because our culture and our churches tell us that we must forgive, must be strong, must move on, must stop “living in the past.”

So we try to do those things, by hiding our anger and anguish. Which only leaves us feeling fragile, stuck and alone.

Everyone wants to feel like they belong, even just a little bit, that they matter, that they are understood, that they are cared for who they are right now, where they are, how they are. Everyone needs compassion—or its more personal sister, empathy.

I sometimes wonder if being empathetic is becoming a lost art. Other people’s pains and struggles can make us feel uncomfortable, yes. And hearing of the pain of another can also make us prideful, insofar as we make the terrible mistake of assuming that we know what they really should be feeling and doing.

When that happens, the other person—the person who only needs to be heard and maybe even a little respected—finds themselves dismissed. Declared (however subtly) lacking and weak, they turn away, feeling just as bad, if not a good deal worse, than they did before they reached out.

Empathy does the opposite. Empathy doesn’t cower at the brutal honesty of pain. It doesn’t write off the sufferer as immature just because they fail to take pre-formulated steps to wellness.

Empathy embraces the person and the pain they are wracked with. It lets the sufferer have freedom to heal in their own way and time: it does not rush them, or immediately formulate a solution for them. It allows him or her emote, to vent, to feel like someone finally gives a damn about them.

People who are empathetic—empaths—often understand suffering up close and personal. They are coming from a place that is true to Jesus’ ancient and beautiful teaching of “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” They know how to do that. They know what that means.

All of us need empaths in our lives. They are, to me, a divine blessing, tools in the hands of a loving God, gifted to us so that we can feel less alone, less afraid, less misunderstood, less like giving up. Their examples of kindness and patience, and their capacity for loving so beautifully, are something that I strive to emulate.

I want to show others the love that I have been shown. If you would join me in this nurturing and passing along of empathy, maybe together we can bring a little bit of healing into the world.


Sylvie King Parris is a comment moderator on this blog, and an admin on the Unfundamentalist Christians Facebook page. She blogs at It’s a Mis-fit.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Diane U

    I’ve not been hurt the way you and your group have, but I have been hurt. Hence one of my mottoes: Meet people where they are.

  • Jessica Joslin

    Wow, just wow. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. How deeply profound and moving. I’ve considered myself an empath for years and am only just truly coming to terms of what that means and how deeply it affects me. Some of the things you said I would swear you picked right out of my head. Thank you again! <3

  • Matt

    Well said, Sylvie! I hope that I am an empathetic person. I’ve found that one just gets so much more out of life facing pain head on, rather than running from it.

  • Reg Borrow

    Wonderful Sylvie. Will post this on the SA Recovery fb page to share with others who will welcome such a well said piece.
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spiritual-Abuse-Recovery/170742302956299

  • http://livingliminal.blogspot.com.au/ Living Liminal

    So totally with you on this one! “Just forgive and move on” was thrown in my face so many times it actually drove the wounding deeper. To invalidate and dismiss the very real pain is to add to the abuse. And to do it in the name of God is iniquitous!

  • missmerry

    You can never ‘get over’ this … it is like an amputation. You learn to live with the loss… you relearn how to cope, to function, to maneuver and do what needs to be done…but it is not a broken arm. It is a permanent change in the way you relate to the world and your intimate existence. It changes you in ways you can never understand but only wonder upon. But the change; once faced, embraced and forgiven; can empower you to become more than what you ever thought possible. You are deeper, purer, stronger, and at the same time more fragile, more cautious, more aching for what should have been. Our life; a paradox. But, darling, we are fierce. And God-who-IS-Love is surrounding with LIFE and hope.

  • Carlotta Holman

    Sylvia, I’m sorry for your pain and suffering. I’m thankful for your article. It is honest and thoughtful and articulates the pain exquisitely. I think it was a John Shore piece I read that said abuse as a child breaks the “danger/warning system” that most people learn as children. And, since that system is broken we look back and see I could/should have done this, how did I let this happen, why didn’t I make it stop, how could I have been so stupid/naive/gullible? For some of us we are able to repair the warning systems, but maybe not always fully trust them. It is so much worse when the damage is wrapped up in your beliefs in God. That inner warning that does say “no, this isn’t right” is overridden/dismissed by the adult/s saying you’re wrong (that’s satan’s voice you’re hearing). To disentangle the lies and trust our inner voices again is a long complicated journey. To you, the members of your private fb page and to others who have suffered like this; I pray for light and joy and peace in you lives.

  • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James Jarvis

    One of the things I remember clearly from high school English class is the last sentence from The Great Gatsby “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I have always been haunted by that sentence and it’s implication that we will forever be shaped by our past and that our past both good and bad makes us who we are. Only by honestly facing our past can we know who we are and only by reaching out with empathy can we come to know others.

  • http://outsidethegoldfishbowl.wordpress.com Peter Stanley

    As a former member of the Worldwide Church of God I can so relate to this!

    • Michael Shaffer

      Peter, I come from the same place! Even after all these years the effects of losing everything my life had been built around since I was 11, still stings and affects me daily.

  • BT

    A fascinating thing. I understand both sides, having grown up fundamentalist and nearly rejecting all faith later on as a result.

    You never really “get over it” and probably shouldn’t. It’s good to remember the damage done and push back against it when you can. It’s good to offer others an alternative view of faith.

    But you have to “get over it” in some sense so that what you’re offering isn’t just a rebellion against those darker days. You can’t let anger or hurt be the driving motivation in what you do or the lenses through which we view others.

    Best advice I got: get over it…and don’t.

  • JenellYB

    The just get over it, forgive and forget and move on reactions to those deeply wounded, often through abuse by someone(s) trusted, and often in power over the victim, that in effect is a dismissal of the injury, and dismissal of any others accountability toward acknowledging and addressing the abuse/abusers, is a puzzling thing to me, and disturbing. It is common not just in this context of abuse connected to toxic religion, but many other situations as well. It is also very common in families in connection to child sex abuse by family member/s as the victim often ends up treated as the trouble maker excluded for disrupting family unity. Its a nasty phenomenon, and deeply painful for victims of it, it is a making them a victim all over again.

    • Fusina

      Yes. Exactly. I am dealing with this sort of thing with a therapist currently. My mother told me I needed to move out of the family house because when I was gone the family got along better.

      The worst part? She doesn’t understand why I don’t like her.

  • Fusina

    I am currently in therapy. Thank you for this. I don’t go to services at my church because the priest there is a “get over it” sort. But it is my church, and she won’t be there forever.

  • Cheryl Hults Meakins

    When faith and abuse get married there is a heck of a spider web to untangle. Abuse becomes the editor of scripture and God’s true love and life. In my journey I have found that I could not move forward until I could name the wounds of my past. How can we forgive if we don’t have full understanding of what we are forgiving? How do you release pain if you don’t know why you hurt? Yeah, it takes a life time. You’ve got my empathy. I get it.

  • http://createdmemories.smugmug.com/ FKCole

    How did you even begin to find people? Anyone who went to Word of Faith Family Church by Bob Tilton? Bad things happened there. Or event he Faith movement? I had so many things happen to me and I would love to share.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Actually it was a bit tough to find people who would understand. I’ve been out of my church group since the early nineties, and it wasn’t until a few years ago, that I met anyone who had an inkling what it was like to be in religious recovery. Where was that? John Shore’s blog, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/. His blog led to our facebook page, and eventually this forum. How I found the private facebook group, related to my former faith, was actually a fluke. An old friend from that church, found my blog and we reconnected. She led me to the facebook group.

      As for sharing your experience, that is part of why I wrote what I did, as well as other stories on my personal blog, to share, to help others see what it was like to grow up, and live. You, of course can share things right here, in the comments section, if you feel comfortable doing so. The commenters and contributors here are amazing..funny, smart, insightful, eloquent and supportive. (You really are!!!)

      If you don’t, I certainly understand. Its tough and often scary to open up about stuff that is so personally painful. You may instead want to send us a story through our submit section, or you can even message me through my blog, which will offer you more privacy, if you so choose.

      Whatever you do, I am betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that there are people out there who so get your experience with Word of Faith, because…they lived it too.

      We journey through life, seemingly alone at times, but its learning how much we are connected, how much we understand and can support one another, that makes the journey possible. Thank you so much for commenting. Thank you everyone for your kind words and support

      • http://createdmemories.smugmug.com/ FKCole

        “How does one “get over” discovering that everything they’d been taught about God and religion since childhood was a lie?” Wow did this resonate. Recently at the ripe ole age of 38 I discovered…gasp… I am an evolutionist. I could not believe the evidence out there and yet, here I was thinking God just poofed everything into existence. I felt stupid, duped and betrayed. As for my story, I grew up WoF. I had a demon of lust cast out of me, was beaten so much and told I had a demon of rebellion, apparently I was a host. I tried so hard to put God in a box and command him to just let me die as I had seen people command Him to do so many things before. It didn’t happen. I am happy now but undoing the stuff in my head has taken some time and I am not even close to being done. I still watch carefully what I say for fear it will happen – you know, ” life and death are in the tongue”. Now, I seem to want to abandon all faiths and that is causing contention at home. I feel like there is so much suffering in the world and the only thing that matters is continually tripping out churches to entice others to come and hear the glamorized pastor not caring about the hurting souls because again, we have what we say so if you are hurting, keep it to yourself because that only gives place to the devil to cause more. I could go on and on.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          I don’t doubt we could spend hours, sharing stories, three pots of coffee, a bottle of wine, and a platter of nachos, and still be on preliminaries.

          May I offer a bit of advice? Take a break from religion for a while, well at least the participatory part where you attend worship services and follow religious rituals. This piece here offers a coupld of alternatives. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2014/05/church-beyond-church/ You are not the only one questioning everything, and wanting to give religion a rest.
          God isn’t going anywhere, not going to stop adoring you…ever, even if you decide she’s just real, not going to sic disaster and punishment on you. God wants you to heal, and to discover peace and happiness with who you are.

          What I did? I took time to reflect on what I’d been taught religiously, and what I could and could not accept as valid or beneficial to my life anything not fitting as either was to go to the dustbin. I also began studying religion, really studying it, seeing how diverse all the myriad of faith disciplines were, and surprisingly where the similarities lay. For me three things remained in my “mucking out the drawers” of what I’d always thought to be true…yeah, just three God existed, God did not have to be defined by any set of parameters we can dream up to be God, and the ancient law of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is one of the greatest purposes we can strive for. From there I rebuilt.

          Oh,I’ve always been an evolutionist, despite people trying to tell me to the contrary. I just kept that to myself. I know now that Pastors are just people, sometimes with egos the size of This peach water tower, near where I live, also known as that ginormous butt by the freeway. http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2086/2082940384_bd41d13098_z.jpg
          Its ok, to be angry, terrified, confused, crass, defensive, curious, depressed, whatever emotions it will take. Those emotions and means of expressions are a gift.

  • GordonKS

    Great article! So glad to make the connection between you and ‘allegro63’ ☺. Must check out your blog!