When you’ve been harmed in the name of God, the path to wholeness is long and slow. Last time we talked about how your perception of God is damaged when God-talk is mixed up with abuse. Even if your head believes He is good, your heart experiences Him as the enemy. But recovering from spiritual abuse is possible.
Just imagine how appropriately worked up you would be if someone harmed your child while leading them to believe you caused or condoned that harm. That’s how God feels about the harm you experienced in His name.
The path to healing from spiritual abuse not easy. Even outlining this journey in an article such as this is dangerous, because it might make recovery seem like a straight line. It’s not! There’s no checklist. It’s complicated, confusing, and convoluted. Stops and starts, forward and back, dead ends and side trips – that’s all normal.
And yet from my own journey and that of others, let me offer you hope and assurance that wholeness is possible. Here are some signposts that will help along the way. None are simple, but they will be powerful in your journey forward.
Uncover the Lies
You heard lies as part of the harm you experienced. And there are also lies you came to believe because of what happened even though no one actually spoke them. Many of these lies are especially dangerous because they sound close to things that are actually true.
As one person wrote to me, “I’m not sure I recognize the lies as not being true; what I hear in myself I feel holds truth.” That’s part of the sinister trick. It’s part of how abuse in the name of God can be so powerful. A lie isn’t dangerous until you believe it. And you believe it!
The lies become easier to identify when you start paying attention to and asking questions about your own thoughts. There are specific messages your mind tells you that lead to feelings. Start listening to those messages in your head that are underneath your emotions. When a mental message feels dark or harmful, don’t assume it’s true; question it.
This is one of the powerful benefits of journaling. Getting something down on paper helps to make it real. It gets the ideas out of your head and makes it easier to evaluate them.
And once you identify something as a lie it begins to lose its power. Then you can identify a truth to replace that lie with. You may need to soak in that truth a good while as your brain pathways become renewed. When you’re ready to do so, Scripture is a powerful source for such truth. And so are other healthy people (see below).
You will need to examine your personal story with honesty and compassion. If you’ve thought about your story at all, you’ve probably seen it with shame and self-contempt. You’ve been hiding not only from God and others, but from yourself. Notice that about yourself, and choose honesty and compassion instead.
You may have to repeat “honesty and compassion” to yourself countless times. It may be hard to learn to be kind to yourself. This is not excusing ongoing bad behavior, but it’s treating your heart with gentleness, looking under the surface and coming to understand.
As one person wrote to me, “I am learning to recognize why I may have done the things that I did in the past, not with excuse, but with understanding.” That’s looking at your story with honesty and compassion.
And by the way, that’s how Jesus looks at your story as well.
Connection with People
Why would you want to seek connection again when it was people who harmed you? As one person wrote, “I try to trust, but I am always waiting to be hurt. I struggle with loneliness, and this only causes me to distrust even more.”
And yet healing comes through connection. No person can “fix” you! But growth and wholeness come through being connected with a few others who are safe, and who can be present with you in this process.
Connecting and learning to trust is a slow process. Those who have been deeply harmed often struggle with black-and-white thinking; I either trust this person completely (and then get wounded again), or I don’t trust at all. But healthy human connections develop slowly. Trust is built one small deposit at a time.
As you go through the push-pull of learning to have healthy human relationships, your soul experiences a real and lasting healing. You develop your own ability to sense who is trustworthy and who is not.
Connection with God
Oh, here’s the rub. Your picture of God became distorted, remember? And yet He’s the One who truly brings healing and wholeness.
If your father abused you, was absent, or was harsh, you’ll see God that way and recoil when hearing “God is your Father.” If a man violated and exploited you, the usual male references to God may be a big stumbling block. Or if someone in spiritual authority manipulated and took advantage of you, the idea of submitting to God’s authority will feel very dangerous.
If my words can mean anything, let me assure you that God is patient. Truthfully, He is the only One who will never harm you or leave you. Coming to know that for yourself will take time.
If the god you imagine at a feeling level is one who is vindictive or controlling or absent, who is just out to use and abuse you, who uses a bait-and-switch on you, who is just as likely to steal, kill, and destroy as anything else, then I invite you to stop believing in that god. I don’t believe in that god either. Start fresh.
Patience and Persistence
This journey takes time. As one person wrote, “I sometimes get frustrated with myself for not being further along in the recovery process.”
Let me encourage you that there are no medals for speed. It takes as long as it takes.
That said, just don’t give up! Recovering from spiritual abuse takes time and energy. There may be times you struggle to believe anything better is possible. That’s OK. Just get up the next morning and take one more step.
The comments I quoted in this article are from some of those enrolled in our online course Sexpectations. For many enrollees, spiritual abuse has been a big part of their story.
And for you, regardless of what’s been done to you or what you’ve done in response, there is hope. If anything sexual was part of how you were harmed in the name of God, I invite you to join our Sexpectations course and take another step toward your own experience of wholeness.
And if you’d like some individual help, let me know confidentially here.
Your Turn: What point are you in your journey to healing from spiritual abuse? Do you sense any of the above points as being where you need to take your next step? Leave a comment below.
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- Recovering from spiritual abuse is usually a long and difficult process. But it is possible! That process takes uncovering the lies you believed, looking at your story with honesty and compassion, and developing an entirely new idea of God. Tweet that.