Context: the situation within which something exists or happens, and that can help explain it.
GRACE is a non-profit organization that works with Christian organizations to recognize, prevent and respond to abuse in these environments. I have benefitted greatly from the educational materials they provide. If you or someone you know has been impacted by abuse in a Christian environment, I encourage you to reach out to GRACE. I believe every church should take advantage of the free educational resources they provide. Every Christian should work diligently to recognize, prevent and respond to abuse. There are no excuses.
This morning I watched a video posted by GRACE titled The Spiritual Impact of Abuse. The video is a conversation between host Pete Singer and Victor Vieth, former child abuse prosecutor and Director of Education with Zero Abuse Project. I stopped the video after only a few minutes in when Victor quoted Viktor Frankyl and said, “It’s not suffering that’s unbearable, it’s suffering without meaning.” The host responded by talking about the role of context in PTSD. He said one of the major symptoms of PTSD is intrusive memories that cannot be controlled. He said we get these intrusive memories, because events occur without context. When we don’t understand the context, the memories keep coming back trying to find a context. He went on to say how the role of spirituality in abuse destroys context.
His words hit home with me. Those of us who suffer with PTSD understand what it feels like for our brains to get stuck in painful memories and the questions of why we suffered. The answer to the why question often determines what we think this means for the rest of our lives.
One of the reasons it has been so difficult to return to church is there are so many reminders of past trauma in these type of environments. I realized after listening to Pete talk about the role of context in PTSD, that the reminders of abuse do not bring the most pain, rather it is the meaning I make of the memories that bring the most suffering.
The last time I visited a church the conversation in a small group was around why we suffer. Before I was abused in a Christian environment, I had had this conversation many times without getting upset. However after having experienced abuse, I left this particular evening overwhelmed, confused and hurting and I haven’t been able to put into words until now why.
When I experienced abuse in a spiritual environment, the sovereignty of God played a big role in explaining and excusing why the abuse happened. Sin makes us humble and more empathetic to others who sin I was told. God is sovereign and does not waste anything that happens in our lives. Because of this, we can ask forgiveness, move on and learn from it all without accountability. After all, God works everything together for our good and His glory.
Recently, I read an article in the New York Times concerning the negativity around news media in reporting Covid cases around the world. The article stated that negative posts are more frequently shared on social media than positive ones. The article made a profound statement. They were careful to report that the negative articles were not reporting falsehoods. Rather, the problem was in what facts they were choosing to emphasize.
The rationalizion that kept me in an abusive environment for almost a decade was not based on falsehoods. The statements made were founded on truths in scripture that were emphasized.
Unwinding the truth from the lies in the huge tangled ball of yarn of spiritual abuse has been overwhelmingly difficult. I have spent several years in therapy to help me do this. The lack of understanding in the church surrounding trauma and abuse has made it even more difficult. This is why I am so very thankful for organizations like GRACE who are working diligently to change this. For every abuse survivor, there is a lot of work required of us to be able to become functioning members of society again. We do this best with safe support. Who better to provide this than a faith community?
The real context of why I was abused is I went to a spiritual leader and asked for help. He took advantage of his position and my vulnerability and abused me. I make this statement not as an attempt to judge or condemn. I make this statement only because it is of utmost importance to my healing that I understand the why the abuse happened. Because when I understand the why, then I can understand what it means for me.
What is God’s plan for my life?
What role has suffering played in this plan?
Abuse is never a part of God’s plan. God’s plan involves lifting burdens, restoring our souls, bringing beauty from the ashes left behind by our suffering. He sees, hears, and knows our pain. He values our tears so much He stores them in His bottle. God’s ultimate motivation and nature is always based on love. And love does not ever abuse.
If you have suffered as a result of spiritual abuse, it is important that you understand the why, too. The why is not you. The why is someone chose to abuse you. Once we understand this, we can better understand what this really means for our lives.
I admit that I still experience the painful sense at times that my suffering was without meaning, especially on the days when I forget the why. On the days when the pressures of life and my lack of control feel suffocating. I probably always will. This is where self-compassion and loving, safe support comes in. But there are also other days when I can see the blue sky, the trees, the birds and a family who mean so much, and I find all the courage I need to keep moving forward.
It’s not anyone else’s place to tell us what our suffering means. This is a journey of discovery we must find ourselves. However, we can come alongside one another and listen, support, love and ask good questions.
As a trauma recovery coach, this is what I am honored to provide. If you would like to take advantage of a free zoom session with me to determine if coaching is right for you, please reach out via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.