Self-Care after Spiritual Abuse

I am too hard on myself.

I push myself to be better than I am.

I want to do everything right.

And keep everyone from getting upset with me.

I realize how much I am doing this to myself when circumstances reveal to me just how out of my control things are.

Then the self-condemnation comes.

I feel overwhelmed, discouraged and wonder if I will ever get any better. It never ceases to amaze me how one triggering event can take my brain to a very dark place.

Most people aren’t able to give us the compassion that we need.

Only the safe ones can.

Especially when we’ve suffered from spiritual abuse.

The same scriptures that give others a reason to hope have been twisted and used to abuse us.

The messages we receive from well intended Christians tell us to forgive. To not get stuck in being a victim. To not let bitterness overtake us. Keep reading scripture. Keep praying. Keep serving Jesus. Keep coming to church.

It’s the best advice they have to give.

These are words that encourage them.

It’s easy to conclude that we must be doing something wrong when these words don’t encourage but rather condemn us even more.

It’s been five years since I last saw the man who abused our family.

And I still find myself believing the lie that the abuse was my fault.

And this lie pushes me to try to be a better Christian than I am and results in me being too hard on myself.

And then I just want to give up.

These are hard things to confess.

I thought I was better than I am.

But the wounds of spiritual abuse run deep.

And just when I think I am moving past them something happens to remind me that they are still there.

The quotes below come from a recent airing on The Allender Center podcast on the subject of spiritual abuse.

Dan: “They’re your guardian. They’re your protector. But they also have access to pass through that boundary and then become your abuser. […] It’s back to mind control. You feel nuts. But then it’s likely reinterpreted that you’re just not trusting God or you’re not believing good things.”

Rachael: “And then it almost feels like part of you goes underground, and then a part of you gets to stay above ground. Which means all this pain in places that actually need a lot of tending, need a lot of care, need a lot of love, are so cut off from God, because it’s now moved into that sense of either being innocent or being stained.”

I realize after reading these words that so much of the time my own pain is hidden from me.

There’s another part of me that can operate and function well on the surface.

This part can go to work and perform well.

This part can go to church and smile, stand in front of the church and read a scripture passage and give others the impression that I am doing fine.

But the reality is there is still so much pain hidden beneath the surface that needs healing.

This podcast helped me to understand how important it is to acknowledge my hidden pain when it comes to the surface.

This painful part of me went underground, because when I trusted the wrong person they used it to abuse and manipulate me.

When someone who is ordained by God to serve, protect and help us trample down our boundaries and get inside our souls and do tremendous damage, the fallout is deep distrust of others and ourselves.

We build walls to protect ourselves.

Walls that give the appearance that we are a lot stronger than what we are.

A couple of therapists gave me valuable advice.

They said to just observe others, especially at church.

To give myself all the time I needed to heal.

I forget this advice a lot.

I get impatient with myself.

I allow the words and expectations of others push me to do more and try harder.

And then I find myself crumbling under their weight.

And the pain comes seeping out.

My husband and I prayed yesterday that God would speak directly to us.

That He would help us to see past people and hear from Him.

And I turned on the Allender podcast and God spoke to the damaged parts of my soul.

And I knew in those moments that God sees our pain.

He knows and hurts for us, too.

He cares and prays for us when we don’t know how to pray for ourselves.

He’s angry about the abuse.

He promises to bring justice.

He promises to wipe away all of our tears.

And He said for me to treat myself with the same compassion He gives me.

I feel the weight of the pressure lift off of my shoulders.

My soul is safe with Him.

I can honor my pain by allowing it to come to the surface for Him to heal.

If your soul has been damaged by spiritual abuse, please know that God understands even when others can’t.

He will not abandon us.

Dan: “We would not be doing this if we did not think there was the potential for deep, deep change. But when you have suffered this deeply in this arena, with the stain of that level of evil, where you have actually come to feel and fear that you are as dark and evil as the person who harmed you, it is very hard to believe that you will have your body back, that this kind of shame which is indelible and permanent will never, ever be able to be escaped, and therefore isn’t it better to just try to isolate, go low, escape from involving. To that I say Hell no, hell no that isn’t true, because Heaven yes, there is actually a redemptive process that will bring you back to regain your body.”

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The Megaphone of Pain

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

Every time I finish a blog and press publish, I wonder if it was the last one written about a very painful chapter of my life. I wonder if I will finally be able to move on past it. But then something else comes up and I write another one.

Maybe we never stop retelling our stories.

Maybe they have to be retold in order for our hearts to acknowledge just how broken we are.

Maybe facing our brokenness and pain is the only way we can know just how much He loves us.

After writing here for four years, I have come to realize that it is the painful parts of our stories that we work so hard to escape that are actually where true relief and healing lie. It is when I distract myself from my pain, that I actually prolong healing.

Yet, I still distract sometimes.

But thank God He doesn’t allow me to do it for long.

He arranges situations, people, places and things together in such a way that I am unable to avoid what it is He wants me to see.

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

I had never met the couple who sat at the poolside table with me on a church youth trip a couple of days ago. I can’t even explain how our small talk over pasta turned so personal so quick.

She was a pastor’s daughter with her own broken story to tell. Betrayal. Loss. Deception. Lies. Our stories collided as each of us shared. She did not appear bitter. Rather, it was clear she had worked hard to forgive her father for not being who she thought that he was. She did not judge me either. Instead, she and her husband voiced condolences over what I had experienced and prayed for me.

Lately, I have been exhausted and overwhelmed by so many stories of abuse in the church. With every story I read, I am reminded of my own pain again. Sometimes I just cannot go on reading. Sometimes I just want to put the past behind. To move on into what God has in the next chapter of my life. I had hoped this church youth trip would be an opportunity to take a break and maybe even start fresh.

But pain rose to the surface again. A deep sorrow over how my choices had hurt another pastor’s daughter. The overwhelming emotions caused me to a hug the stranger in front of me and tell her how sorry I was for what she had been through. I felt my heart heal a little more. The pain began to fade away. Other emotions followed. Grace. Love. Mercy. Peace. Redemption. Gratitude.

Why does He love us so much?

Why does He keep pursuing us even when run away?

I don’t know.

But He just does.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1‭-‬5 ESV

Broken Trust 

I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord , have spoken!

But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord , have spoken!

Jeremiah 23:3‭-‬4 NLT

Recently, I was asked by an author to review his book on spiritual abuse. I had never heard of F Remy Diederich before I received his email, so I did not know what to expect. However, after reading Broken Trust,  I found myself wishing I had been able to read this book several years ago. I believe his work to be one of the best and most practical that I have read on the subject. I highly recommend it if you or someone you know has been spiritually abused.  I also highly recommend it if you are in any kind of ministry.  I believe every church needs to understand spiritual abuse and the toxic system that produces it. We like to think that because it hasn’t happened to us that it won’t, but it’s closer than we think – in our hearts so prone to wander away from our God. 

It’s interesting to note,  that recently in a conversation with a friend, I was voicing my frustration over how hopeless hearing about spiritual abuse can make one feel. I struggle to read other victims accounts and even watch television shows about abuse involving the church, because it reminds so much of the pain of spiritual abuse.  It’s not that I don’t care about other’s stories, it’s that I care so much that I cannot bear to think that this kind of thing continues to happen in the one place on earth where we should be able to find safety in – the church of Jesus Christ.  I find myself feeling angry, powerless and overwhelmed at times, especially when I hear how the church wrongly handles abuse cases. Statistics show that the majority of churches when made aware of a victimization of a member by clergy, actually bring more pain and confusion to victims.  Victims who need their churches for support after suffering from spiritual abuse many times are misunderstood and are left to struggle alone.  In a Baylor study conducted in 2015 of 280 women who were victims of clergy sexual misconduct, 92% did not feel supported by their churches after the abuse was exposed.  When I read statistics like this, it’s almost impossible not to feel hopeless, alone and afraid to trust. I long for the church to reveal the love of Jesus Christ, to teach the truth, and bring healing to those who are broken, but in the abuse advocacy world many times all I can hear about are more painful stories of abuse in the church. They are stories that need to be told. The truth must be brought into the light to be healed. However, I long to hear more stories of evil being overcome with good.  I am encouraged to say after reading Broken Trust, I see this good at work. 

As a victim of spiritual abuse, my voice was taken from me. Not only by the pastor’s abuse, but by other leaders in the church when I revealed the spiritual abuse to them. As Remy points out in the book, once victims of abuse begin to understand that those placed in a position to lead them have brought them harm instead, they discover that they have a lot they need to say.  We long to be heard and understood. However, the church struggles to just listen without telling us to quickly forgive or attempt to minimize the damage in an effort to protect the institution.  However, Remy does not stifle the voices of those who are hurting because of spiritual abuse, he listens and brings comfort as a wounded healer who has suffered in the same ways as we have. He acknowledgedes the damage that has been done and the evil that has occurred. His loving compassion is a healing balm to the victim’s  soul and reveals the love of Jesus Christ.  

Not only is Broken Trust a source of encouragement and healing to victims, but it is also a great resource for pastors and churches.  Remy does not charge into the church with guns blazing. He does not harshly criticize or condemn. He tells the truth gently and lovingly from a pastor’s perspective about the spiritual abuse without excusing, minimizing, or normalizing it.  He causes his readers to dig deep to the root of the problem, and work towards true healing for all involved. It is rare to find such a balanced and unifying approach in today’s world that is quick to point fingers and polarize. The church desperately needs this approach towards so many issues today.  

Lastly, Broken Trust has been another step in the process of healing from my own shame.  This book has helped me to see clearly the importance of placing responsibility for spiritual abuse in the right place.  Spiritual abuse is not 50/50. When sexual abuse is involved, it is not an affair. It is always the responsibility of the pastor to guard and protect the flock. When pastors use their position of power to meet their own needs through abuse, when pastors take advantage rather than serve, it is never a victim’s fault. Healing can only come by recognizing this truth and not feeling ashamed for someone else’s offense. It can only come when we have grieved over the damage that has been done and all that we have lost.  It can only come when we let go and decide to trust our Heavenly Father to make things right. 

Finally, Broken Trust helps me to find what I was looking for so desperately when I went to an abusive pastor for help; hope and healing through a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

This book is a MUST READ! 

Liz