Day 1 of 21 Days of Healing: Change Your Brain

Day 1 of 21 Days of Healing: Change Your Brain November 15, 2014

Eilean Donan Castleby Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts

While my most recent church experience involved over a decade of abusive conduct toward me, the church I attended before was also fraught with spiritual abusive. So for nearly 20 years, I had been beaten down, kicked in the corner, and had my standing as a Christian questioned.

As an educator, I had an interest in brain research with regard to teaching and was aware that there was significant research being done with regard to how our brains are “wired.” This year, the school where I teach is focusing on an area in which some of us as teachers and many of our students are changing the way we think about the ability to learn. Because research shows that if we change the way we think about something, it will have an impact!

So, I began by writing down all of the things that were running through my brain (and had been running through my brain for a very long time):

These people can come between me and God, me and Jesus.
They can separate me from His love – their judgement and condemnation. The number of people who turn against me or turn away from me is an indication of how unsuitable I am to Jesus.

Notice that I had no thoughts about my family, my relationships with people in my job or outside of my church. My brain was completely focused on the people who were communicating to me that I did not measure up.

As I look back on this list, I am struck by how debilitating spiritual abuse is. To have no thought at all about the other important aspects of my life was an indication of how all-consuming a spiritually abusive environment is for those of us who are immersed in it.

I wrote in my journal that day:

These thoughts that I am having is fear, and fear is lack of faith in God. Lack of trust. Lack of belief. Which means that I have been putting my faith, trust, and belief in people rather than God. Trusting people for the love that only God can give. When I think about this thought, I can feel the stress in my body – the fear. I am sure my blood pressure is elevated. My heart is beating faster. I want to run, I want to stand and fight, I want to defend myself and prove them wrong. I want to fight the battle with the people who are against me.

It was important for me to identify the impact that the things that I had believed for many, many years had, both on my brain – my thoughts – and on my body. I had suffered with stress related illnesses since my first abusive church and the day that I sat down and wrote how I felt both mentally and physically about what I had been led to believe about myself and my relationship with God was revelatory.

In my journal, I continued to write:

But this is NOT who I am. I am not dependent on people for my position with God. I am loved so deeply by God that I can’t even begin to fathom his great love for me. Here he is, holding me in his hands with such great love and tenderness. I do not need the tenderness of people – I have the tenderness of God! As I hold this thought – that I am in God’s hands. He is holding me and loving me like crazy – nothing can separate me from his love. My thoughts know this – they know that no matter how hard my abusers try, they cannot overcome this great God. Though their abusive messages still try to scream at me, I am held ever closer in the hands of God. He cradles me and calms me. I curl up in his palms and close my eyes and begin to rest – and my abusers – their voices – turn into dust and fly away. They cannot stay when I am calm and peaceful in the hands of God. They try to stand in the presence and power of God but when I rest in His peace and comfort, they cannot stay.

As with many victims of spiritual abuse, scripture was, in many ways, something to be avoided because it had been used to justify the way that I was treated. But now, on that first day, as I thought about the messages of fear that I had received – messages that told me that my relationship with God was at odds, that I wasn’t good enough for Him and that I could never measure up, that I was the problem, I determined to focus on what God had to say about me.

I started with this verse:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

I focused on this verse. I wrote it on post-it notes and repeated it to myself throughout the next several days. Whenever I would start to think about the negative, damaging, terrible things that were being done to me by the church leadership and the people whom I counted as friends (being tossed out, being shunned and ignored, etc.) I would tell myself the truth of this verse.

All of the efforts to make me feel abandoned by God began to be thwarted that day.

If you are struggling with spiritual abuse, please consider taking your thoughts captive. Contemplate the messages that are foremost in your mind. Write them down and then identify what those messages truly mean.

Then tell yourself the truth. If the message is that you don’t measure up, remind yourself that God is your salvation and that because of that you will trust and not be afraid. If the message is that you deserve to be abandoned, remind yourself that God will never leave you nor forsake you.

It has long been said that it takes 21 days to break or develop a habit. Commit yourself to 21 days of focusing on what God has to say and forgetting the abusive messages that people have been sending you. Our purpose is to please God, not people and He alone examines the motives of our hearts (1 Thesss. 2:4).

If you want, you can walk this journey with me and post your thoughts in the comments.


Part 1


Ellen is a member of the SASBN and she blogs at When Church Hurts

More about Ellen:

Several years ago I was the victim of a most heinous form of abuse unlike anything I had ever thought possible. Not having been raised in a Christian home, my first experience with Christians and pastors had been one of joy, grace, fellowship, love, and delight. When faced with the horrors of having the very essence of who I was as a woman of faith stripped from me in what I can only describe as spiritual rape, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. This was church, after all, and I believed that everything works together for good for those who love God. Somehow, it didn’t make sense that everything was not working together for good. When I was finally able to resign myself to the fact that God was not going to “work this out,” I made my escape and sought a safe haven. 
Little did I realize that I was going from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Oh, how I tried to beat back the flames! Oh, how I prayed and pleaded for mercy, for grace, for a chance. “But hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will toward” Ellen. 
He who began a good work . . . had forsaken me . . . and the silence was more than deafening . . . it was defeating. So intertwined were we, that as God went missing, so did Ellen. But I am nothing, if not tenacious.

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NLQ Recommended Reading …

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If this is your first time visiting NLQ please read our Welcome page and our Comment Policy!

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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M Dolon Hickmon

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  • Astrin Ymris

    It’s often struck me that the Religious Right’s doctrines and policies reveal a profound lack of faith in God’s ability to distribute justice and mercy on His own.

    My own theology is: I believe that God exists and that God is good. Therefore, I have faith that there is no eternal damnation. I have no idea what happens after we die, but I’m willing to trust God to manage the details.

    It works for me! ;-D

  • Bob

    Try opening a bible in equity with love lusting for the whole truth – the sum of Gods word is truth, not what you wish for it to mean.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    “Gods Word”???

    The Bible has been edited so many times by so many different men (not God/gods) that it’s foolishly naive and uneducated to proclaim that the entire Bible is the word of God.

  • Bob

    Actually, you’re not accurately representing the truth… and in TRUTH I tell you, that it’s exactly perfect the way it is wit all it’s apparent flaws because we know the chain of custody & there’s proof within the texts… but then again you’d have to actually know the bible, without reading your subjective opinion into it….

    Do you even know the BASIC bible story as to why Jesus had to come using only the OT?

    O BTW, there’s a way, using ONLY the Hebrew in Genesis 1, 2, 3, to write the whole bible exactly as we have it today… sure there’s some books not here today, but for the most part – it’s word for word or close enough without changing the meaning to quote almost if not every verse in every book.

    It’s uneducated to be uneducated and yet proclaim something you know nothing about – you’re a TOOL, who thinks himself wiser than God… and if there’s no God, what’s the point to reason?

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Ride the Ban Bus, Bob. You have attacked two other commenters and like most fundies cannot construct an actual argument. You went straight to personal insults, which is not allowed here. This is a recovery community and we like to keep it that way.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    You want to tell me about the love of Christ?

  • Jewel

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this series. It came at a perfect time for me when I am trying to heal from (yet another) abusive relationship. I realize that my ingrained thoughts and beliefs are what is keeping me in this repeat pattern.
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey and giving me hope that there is healing on the other side! 🙂