Recovery from Spiritual Abuse
- I'd like to repost this one from alt.support.ex-cult and to add to Jan Groe=
nveld's comments, because I know some former eckists have bad feelings about=
Christianity, well...if you substitute things like "good spiritual truths f=
rom all over" for "scripture", that might help.
I'm also going to post a few more things Jan has "shared" from various sour=
ces. It's *so* nice that there are excellent resources out there because ot=
hers do it *so* much better than I could!! <gg>
And I'd like to encourage anyone, just talking with others & sharing experi=
ences, etc., can be a big help - so I'd like to recommend that people join h=
ttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/ex-cult-support - and also /freedomofmind, whic=
h is public. You'll find them *extremely* helpful in getting out of the "ec=
Folks, I know some of you don't believe in God etc ... but bear with this
message and get out of it what you can ..... OK? This article is written f=
Christians who want to help .... but no matter who we are, we can learn fro=
Recovery from Spiritual Abuse
How You Can Help
By Sharon Hilderbrant, M.A.
Recently, I have read two new books that describe in detail the
abusive behavior of various churches and the effects of this abuse
on church members. Churches That Abuse, by Ron Enroth, and Damaged
Disciples (in press), by Ron and Vicki Burks, both published by
Zondervan, relate stories that may be hard for some Christians to
believe. Those of us who work with the victims, however, know the
stories are true.
Churches on the fringe exist in every major metropolitan area as
well as in small towns and isolated rural areas. Some are large,
"mega-church" organizations, while some may be small house-church
gatherings. Most of them look fairly normal to outsiders. That is,
until abused persons begin to leave and tell of their experiences.
Getting out of the group is only the beginning of recovery. Recovery
involves, according to one survivor, getting "the group out of us."
The effects of abuse are long-standing. The following outlines how
Christians can help the spiritually abused in their recovery.
Most survivors will have much trouble trusting. Anyone. Especially
churches. A support system is desperately needed, but survivors will
have difficulty approaching. Help with material needs (housing, job,
food, etc.) is usually much appreciated. Social support via
invitations to events or dinner, or just a conversation about
something other than church or religious issues is very much needed.
Therefore, a safe place for confidentiality, a place to be relaxed
without expectations of appearances or performance, a place to
connect with another caring person (or persons) without becoming too
involved in private lives, is needed. A dysfunctional don't trust
rule was present in the system, by teaching, by practice, or both.
Don't push for trust. Don't push the recovery process. Respect their
Survivors need to tell their story. So they will remember it
themselves, and not deny any part of it. So they can be validated by
others who believe them. So they can use the truth to dispel the
deceptions of the past and discern deception in the future. The
dysfunctional system no doubt had a don't talk rule by practicebut
probably spiritualized and cloaked in scripture as well. The don't
talk rule serves to hide a myriad of the leaders' sins.
It is normal for anyone who has been victimized and abused to feel
intense emotions. The longer the survivors had to endure abuse
without an outlet for emotions, the longer it will take for them to
experience the full range of emotions about it. Depression and
anxiety are common masks for other emotions.
Too much intellectualizing may inhibit the survivor from getting in
touch with his or her emotions. Fear, guilt, anger, grief, rage,
sorrowall must be felt and expressed in their own time. An
overspiritualizing of emotions may have been present in the
dysfunctional system, with certain emotions demanded and others
condemned by a twisting of scripture. The result is a don't feel
your real feelings rule.
Encourage survivors to talk about what happened to them. Listen.
Empathize. Offer words that may describe what the person is feeling,
since they may not be able to identify it themselves at first. Limit
feedback and comments to supportive statements. Keep
confidentiality. Be trustworthy.
Who am I? Survivors typically do not know who they are anymore. They
lost themselves in the church/cult. They need to know they are
lovable. Count them as equal to yourselfnot less just because they
are needy. Assure them they do not have to be perfect. Accept them
as they are. Encourage them. Build confidence, offer choices. Allow
them to have strengths and weaknesses.
They need to know that they are not evil or possessed, not crazy,
not shameful. They need to know that they are not powerless and that
they can recover and grow beyond this experience. Don't make
decisions for them and don't try to fix them. Let them know you
speak for yourself. Be careful of speaking for God. Tell them
recovery takes a long time2 to 4 years, or longer.
What about the group? It is critical that survivors know that God is
not the group. Leaving the group is not equivalent to leaving God.
They must hear that no group has exclusive truth, or is the elite,
or is especially anointed over another for ministry of the gospel.
(It is the gospel that is anointed!)
They also need to recognize that group leaders actually deceived
people, used and abused people, twisted scripture, and fostered
co-dependent and/or addictive behaviors (perhaps immoral behavior,
too) among members. Be gentle as you interpret what was hurtful and
wrong in the group. Remember, they probably have left behind some
people that are still dear to their hearts and do not wish to blame
them. Information about co-dependency and dysfunctional families and
other institutions at this stage may be helpful in confronting
denial. Save Bible reading until the individual is ready to grapple
with it in small doses.
What is God really like?
Just as survivors lost themselves in the group, so did they lose
reality about who God is. They need to have grace explained in depth
and to examine God's attributes carefully. The long process of
recovery involves continually uncovering misrepresentations of God
conveyed by the words and behavior of group leaders, parents and
other authority figures.
Survivors will need to be reminded again and again of the true
attributes of God and the principle of grace. Be genuine. Be
personal. Explain how scripture helps you to understand God's
attributes. If you have received grace, you can speak confidently
about it. Tell what you love about God.
To become reconciled to God requires reconciliation with God's
people. Many who begin to trust God again have much more difficulty
trusting people in any church. It helps to confront the truth about
God's people with statements similar to the following:
* Leaders are not more favored by God over others in the church.
* All struggle spiritually, even leaders.
* All are in various stages of growth (no instant spirituality).
* All make mistakes, none are infallible.
* All can learn to hear God's voice for themselves - no need to
remain spiritual children who must submit to parental leaders.
* All need each other - none are needless.
* All have something to give and are valuable to God.
* All leaders and lay personsare called to live by the same standards.
* All need to have their own relationship with God apart from the involve=
other believersincluding spouses.
* The church is not just one building or one gathering, but believers eve=
Be honest about yourself and your own church. Admit your own
inability to have all the answers. The truth will not hinder their
relationship with God. Remember it is the Holy Spirit's job to draw
them to Himself. Your admission of struggle may help them to learn
to struggle and not give up.
Going to church:
Survivors may need help working through memories and emotions
triggered by going to church. Continually point them to God Himself.
It is not God who has violated them, but people - some well-intended
and some deceptive. Help survivors to see that Christians are
individuals - imperfect - not to be put on pedestals, but to share in
the struggles and the benefits of the Christian faith.
Help them to recognize the distorted thinking - about themselves,
about God, etc.that accompanies traumatic reactions. This is a good
time to use the safety and authority of scripture to confront the
deception created by the group, and to soothe and console. A trained
counselor may be needed for this part of recovery.
All survivors will need help working through memories and feelings
triggered by scripture. Scripture was twisted to the advantage of
the group or its leaders. True meanings of Scripture are healing and
give life. Untwisting takes much work. Make no assumptions of what
they know or understand. Challenge every concept, all usage of
jargon and Bible language for clarification of what it means to
them. They may assume you know their understanding of a phrase, as
if there is only one way to interpret it. Respect their spiritual
boundaries. Be sure they are ready to grapple with scripture. (It is
normal to avoid reading the Bible at all for 12-18 months or more.)
The recovery process I have just outlined takes a long time.
One-on-one support is a long-term commitment. More helpful is a
group support system, where all are assisting survivors in various
aspects. Create a network of Christians who will assist with
material needs, who will provide financial assistance to attend
community events (or a couples' weekend, or a family camp) for rest
and recreation, who will assist with filling out tax forms, or who
will advise on how to buy a good used car.
Help them obtain medical care or tutor their children to bring them
up to grade level. Provide information that will help them learn (or
re-learn) how to function, without fear or shame, in the larger
society. Lend them self-help books to read. Help with professional
counseling as needed. Be available as a friend in a small group of
friends. (Isn't that how Jesus would do it?)