Day 2 of 21 Days of Healing: Reclaim Your Power, part 1

Posted: November 5, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
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First, let me remind you that if you are walking through these 21 Days of Healing, keep working on Day 1. “God loves you with an everlasting love.”

Now for Day 2:

One of the most powerful aspects of spiritual abuse is the “Don’t Talk” rule.

The strongest underlying message of the “Don’t Talk” rule is that if you talk you are brazenly undermining authority, thus proving that you are, indeed, the problem.

I was told blatantly that I was to tell no one about the judgment and ostracism meted out to me. Not even my husband. My experience was squelched by intimidation and shame. I believed knew that if I shared what was being done to me, people would immediately think that I must be or have done something awful because the leadership of the church was held in such high esteem that they couldn’t possibly rain down judgment without just cause.

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love or belonging.” Brene Brown

The intense shame that I felt during those years of silence was debilitating. I could not lift my head when I was in church or when I met church people in passing on the street. I wept. Daily.

And I wondered, if what they were doing to me was appropriate, why couldn’t I talk about it? And the answer was because, even though they wouldn’t tell me why I was being treated like a leper, I told myself it must be to protect my dignity. Because if people found out, they would think so poorly of me.

When I finally shared my story with a few trusted people, I was amazed at their reactions. I received many messages of support and love and encouragement coupled with outrage toward the church leadership for their inappropriate handling of the situation. Their reactions buoyed my self-esteem and gave me assurance that perhaps I was not the problem after all.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it was with the sharing of my story that I was tossed out of the church. I had shared it via a password protected section of my former blog. Of course, at that time, I was still suffering under the shame and loss of dignity from the spiritual abusive circumstances I had been through, and so I went into overdrive to try to salvage my relationship with the church. I took down my blog. I tried to arrange meetings. I wanted to apologize. I wanted an opportunity to grovel and beg. Seriously. I was a mess.

For about a week.

And then I realized that I was letting them rob me of my power. Again.

So I started a new blog. When Church Hurts. And I told my story. And I password protected it. And I shared it with a few people. And I was encouraged. And after a few weeks, I made it public. And I was encouraged some more. And slowly, my power grew. My power to say, “This was wrong. This is wrong.”

And my shame diminished.

And I realized that the reason they didn’t want me to tell my story was because then the shame would be where it truly belongs – with those who did not handle the situation scripturally or by following denominational and church protocols and who simply showed themselves to be spiritually abusive leaders.

A couple of people from my former church who stayed in touch in those first few weeks made comments to me about how I must still be hurting since I am still sharing my story and talking about what happened. To them I say, “I’m not bitter or hurting. I’m doing what God has called me to do – I am vocal about spiritual abuse.”

Sharing my story has been the second most healing part of my journey to healing – after changing my brain as I shared in Day 1. I shared my story incrementally, as I described above and in conjunction with changing my thinking about God.

Share your story. Write it down and give it to others to read. Or sit down with a friend or family member over coffee and tell. It probably won’t be pretty. I was a mess whenever I told my story face-to-face those first few times. But you will find your power as you put the shame where it belongs.

If you want, you can share your story here in the comments.

  1. Retha says:

    I want do your 21-day challenge, starting yesterday. But I would like your opinion on blogging what happened.

    You see, I told on my (Afrikaans) blog why I left my previous congregation. I was there for 15 years when a new pastor came, and soon many stalwarts, starting with elders, were leaving. I trusted the judgment of the (fleeing) congregation. I said it to strengthen and encourage us all, and to tell my side of the story. That issue seemed clear cut: The pastor caused the problem. We can use our gifts elsewhere.

    In my new congregation after that, situation was different. The leaders at the place my gifts should fit (Sunday School teaching) hated me, read the worst into what I did and failed to do, complained behind my back, thwarted my plans so that I came prepared, but cannot do what was prepared, and finally the pastor told me to leave – while telling me I did nothing wrong. The worst is, the complainers did not even want to teach any classes. If A, B and C wants to teach Sunday School classes, but A and B does not get along with C, you could finally say after exploring other options “rather let C go.” If A and B say they don’t want to teach, they want the children’s “Sunday School” to be mostly singing and one adult telling a short piece from the Bible in the large group, and C wants to teach, you are losing a teacher for non-teachers.

    The way I was dealt with in the congregation I am still a member of on paper, if I were to tell it, would speak of lies and misleading and rudeness and injustice – not one problematic pastor as in the previous church, but collective guilt.

    But I worry that, if I blog this, I will start to be known as someone who can only gossip about the church, who use what I say to break down. I worry it will count against me if I find another church. What do you think?

    • Ellen says:

      Thank you so much for asking. Here are my thoughts:

      1) Why do you want to tell your story? I first told my story because there was so much shame in not telling. I had been ordered to not tell anyone, which spoke shame into my heart and mind. By telling, I discovered that there were people who love and support me and who could speak truth into my life – that I was not a terrible, shameful person but that the church leadership who had abused me were the problem. Shame cannot survive when it is spoken (which is why I was told by the church leadership not to tell – they wanted the shame to rest on me rather than being held accountable for the truth.)

      I continue to tell my story because I know that others need encouragement. To see that they are not alone, that there is healing and hope.

      2) I don’t use any real names in my story. It’s purpose is not to gossip or hurt those who hurt me. As I said above, my purpose is to help others who have been wounded so I am very careful about using aliases for the people I write about.

      3) I don’t actively share my blog with local people. They can find it if they look, but I don’t put it out there on my personal facebook page, so the only local people who read it are those who have actively looked for it (a few people from the church who I’m sure want to keep an eye on me) and a few friends I have made because they, too, have suffered spiritual abuse.

      4) I am very careful to tell the truth. While I am sure the truth has been skewed by the leadership of my church, I tell my story very factually and without emotionalism or judgment. I try to keep from negatively labeling the people in my story – other than saying what they did caused me to question my standing with God and therefore, was spiritual abusive. Just telling the facts allows readers to reach their own conclusions.

      5) There is always risk in sharing your story. People will judge you. Some positively and some negatively. That’s why I encourage people to think about their arena. If the people who would call you a gossip are in the cheap seats, why worry about them? If you are trying to win a position in a new church and they would judge you for telling the truth, is that really a church you want to be involved in?

      I hope this is helpful to you as you consider sharing your story.

  2. Retha says:

    Thank you for your thought. Here, for what it is worth, is a short version of my story. For what it is worth, here is a short summing up of my story:

    I am an enthusiastic, loving Sunday school teacher for children. I’ve done it for 2 decades. I’ve even taught Bible clubs where children come voluntarily, whether their parents bring them or not. (Parents usually bring their children to Sunday School.)

    Usually at Sunday school I took my class, someone else organized, and everyone was happy. Last year I came in a congregation where the Sunday school was in chaos. Some days nobody was prepared for the large group(everyone thought it was someone else’s turn) and we just sang. (We sometimes sang songs with names like “superstar for Jesus” and “supercool for Jesus.” I cared about little kids because God loves even the non-stars and not-so-cool. My faith had only one superstar – Jesus.)

    We seldom had small groups, where children are personally known and can personally discuss the message, and can each pray. Often the same lesson was prepared twice in the large group, while other lessons were ignored. Child attendance was plummeting.

    So, except for just getting in and teaching, I also started organizing, suggesting structure (small group time, someone telling who is responsible for what each week) and when I taught large group, I went by that structure. The children’s attendance went up, but the teachers started complaining behind my back.

    I worked hard despite teachers not co-operating, sometimes in ways I suspected might have been deliberately sabotaging my plans. (I am open about my plans – they will know when they go against it.)

    Some of them accused me of silly things. For example: (1) the other large group leaders are never there on days they do not teach large group. And days when I taught large group and wanted the secretary/ chairman of Sunday school to do announcements, if they have any, before the lesson, they were absent. I was “absent” one day when I did not teach large group (I was a few rooms away, praying for the Sunday school). Someone accused me of not wanting to be involved, of distancing myself from the Sunday School. That was serious double standards. (2) I asked questions to the children in the large group and because the same children (the oldest children in the group, who have church parents) always raise their hands first, I kept on giving clues to encourage the younger kids/ less churched kids to also learn the answer. A teacher who is a mother to one of the oldest girls blamed me for having a grudge against her daughter for ignoring the girl’s waving hand.

    They hated me enough/ rated Sunday School lowly enough to actually once even replace Sunday School with a berate-Retha meeting.” As in, the supposed-to-be-small-group-teachers, plus the large group teacher who was on duty, organized in the large group (while I was a few rooms away praying for the Sunday School) to let all the kids go into a class with one teacher so the rest of them could call me from the class where I prayed for the Sunday School, to have a meeting to accuse me of things like “distancing myself” for being aside and praying, and of having grudges for not always letting the child whose hand is waved first answer.”

    One told me she wished there was less competition between teachers – I never tried to compete, I tried to get a situation where people knew what lesson was up for next week, where we work on a plan, where everybody’s gifts are used and not just the song leader.

    In the end some teachers told the pastor – not me – they don’t want me there any more, they will go if I stay. The pastor did not ask me what is going on. He just told me to go.

    I ask them what I did wrong, and the pastor said I did nothing wrong, it is my Aspergers that means I do things in general in ways they don’t like. My Aspergers never previously caused any Sunday School to get angry with me.

    I felt ashamed: Who gets stopped from teaching Sunday School to children? Someone in the church even asked me: “Have you harmed a child?” when hearing I was chucked out of Sunday School. No, I teach children to give them goodness, to tie them to a loving Christ. I don’t harm children. I was chased out because the devil got into* some so-called** Sunday School teachers, and they started hating me and twisting what I do and say.

    Afterwards I tried to find out who complained what, and why I was let go. I tried to invite people to talk it out with me, but I just got silence. Everyone told me not to ask them for answers.

    * Devil got into:
    I am not sure how literal I mean that.
    ** So-called: People who don’t want to teach either small or large group, but instead sabotage it, deserves the word “so-called” before the title of Sunday School teacher.

    • Ellen says:

      Oh, Retha, your story sounds so much like mine – just yours was Sunday School and mine was worship/music. I would say that your church was/is very toxic and you are best to distance yourself from that environment.

      People who are not willing to sit down with you and lovingly discuss the situation are not functioning in a Christian manner and there is nothing you can do to change them. From what you have said, you can know in your heart that you made every effort to seek a God-honoring conclusion to your story and if others do not have the same goal, it is best to walk away.

      Thank you so much for sharing what happened to you here. All of our stories help others to understand spiritual abuse and to know that if they have or are having the same types of experiences, they are not alone.

      Perhaps, like me, your new calling is to help others.

  3. Retha says:

    In the paragraph of the berate-Retha meeting, something was unclear. I will be very thankful if you can replace the second sentence there with:

    ” As in, the supposed-to-be-small-group-teachers, plus the large group teacher who was on duty, organized in the large group (while I was a few rooms away praying for the Sunday School) to let all the kids go into a class with one teacher so the rest of them could call me from the class where I prayed for the Sunday School, to have a meeting to accuse me of things like “distancing myself” for being aside and praying, and of having grudges for not always letting the child whose hand is waved first answer.”

  4. Retha says:

    There is one thing I have to correct. I said:
    “In that time the other teachers never even said as much as “we are sorry to hear about your father.” ”
    One of the teachers heard of these comments and disliked it. On this part, she said: “Thanks for calling me nobody.” And on that point, I think I can now remember her giving condolences once – I probably forget in in my unhappiness about the death of my father. Is it possible that some others did too, and I also forgot? Anyway, I withdraw that point.

    Could you please delete the whole “being chucked out” paragraph, and this comment?

    • Ellen says:

      Hi Retha,
      I think I made the changes you requested. I usually use the wordpress app on my iPad and couldn’t edit from there so finally got to my computer. Sorry for the delay.

      I so admire that you are quick to correct when you realize that you have mis-spoken! If only everyone were so quick to correct their wrongs.


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