There are many stages of recovery that we move through following spiritual abuse. One of the stages is marked with an obsession of sorts, with the group you have left. This is normal because it is a part of the grief and loss. During this stage you may spend much of your time ruminating on what was said, what was done, and the faults of the organization you have left. Again, this is normal. It allows you to identify and name the wrongs that were done. After all, you are victim. Telling the story of your wounding helps you to take back your power.
In the next stage one can become an activist, working to bring down the person, people, or group that grievously wounded you. It is a great place to be. You meet others who are doing the same work. Your focus is on preventing others from joining the group or falling prey. You have identified errors, cover ups, and outright lies that are perpetrated by the group you left; these facts solidify your resolve to never return. In this stage your identity moves from victim to survivor.
For some being an activist becomes the new obsession. The scars become the identity. You have healed, but your story reflects your wounding. Many hours each week are devoted to bringing down the abuser. In other cases, people jump in, like I did, right into a new religion before the wounds have healed. Instead of devotion to the old ideology, there is a fixation on a new set of “truths.” You have a sense of doing better but find yourself in a rebound situation. You cannot wholly love your new lover, until you have healed from your former lover. As much as you loved the old way, you love the new way, whether that way is activism, or new fanaticism.
The stage I want to discuss is the stage where you move from a survivor identity into a place of resolution and balance. This is sometimes called becoming a thriver.
What it is like to wake up someday, and not have to blog against your abuser? What happens when you no longer eat, drink, and breathe the retelling of your spiritual abuser? What is life like when you don’t feel compelled to warn others?
What is it like to be religious, but not dogmatic? What is it like to be a moderate believer who says, I don’t know? What is it like to love God privately, and be okay with skipping services to spend time with others?
Thriving is a place where your story of abuse is just that- one story that is a part of a larger tapestry called your life. Thriving is a place where there is a balance in self-care. You are taking care of your needs. Your relational needs are met. Your spiritual needs are met. Your sexual needs are met. Your intellectual curiosity is nurtured. You take time out to play. When there is loss, it’s grieved, not wrapped up in a blanket of Utopian promises, where the loss is minimized by unproveable promises.
Balance means you spend time with family; family is not neglected because of your work or your religious practices. Balance means you can talk about a variety of interests. You can invest in your talents; do art for art’s sake. Create beauty because it is beauty to be enjoyed. Sing when no one listens.
Balance also means you have uncovered and explored a number of practices that heal you, comfort you, and console you. You spend time in quiet, to grow in awareness, not out of fear of God or because of addictive religiosity. You put on beautiful music and calm your soul after a hard day. You listen for the birds’ voices, you breathe in air and fill your lungs. You enjoy paradise here and now.
You build yourself up, and out of your store of mental wealth and beauty, you can love others. Love them without agendas. Love their imperfect self. Laugh and cry with them. Be fully human together. This is the kind of thriving stage of healing, I hope you attain. Then you can say, “Life is good.” The tapestry of your life will be full of stories, full of narratives, and full of adventures.
Many try to blame #SpiritualAbuse on another group's understanding of scripture, but this is not the case. Spiritual Abuse is a complex web of control obtained through techniques and teachings.
When the second group says you were abused because they did not adhere to scripture "properly" what they are implying is that they have the proper understanding. This should alert us to possible issues of rigidity. Rigid views of Scripture often are precursors to spiritual abuse.
Any group that thinks they have the Truth, can then move on to controlling members' behaviors, information, thoughts, and emotions.
Healthy spirituality allows for differences of opinions, lets people diverge in behaviors, lets them do their own research, and allows them to feel their losses and loves.
When I left the JWs I was recruited by an equally abusive form of Christianity who said, "They had the wrong view of scripture."
I don't buy this line of BS any more. A group can teach erroneous interpretations, but if they are loving and allow members freedom to learn and decide, that group will avoid inflicting further harm.
I most appreciate teachers who say, "This is one way of viewing this, others have viewed it this way too."
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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