by 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.
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