Part of healing is forgiving yourself for what you did while under the influence of spiritual abuse. This is a very tricky concept because being the recipient of abuse, makes one a victim. It’s controversial to tell a victim they need to forgive themselves. Nevertheless, self-forgiveness is often an important step in healing as a person processes layers of shame, and manipulation, and lets go of toxic teachings.
Forgive yourself for not leaving sooner. People wake up, when they wake up. The point is, you did wake up. It’s like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend whom you loved. Sometimes you stay too long, until something happens that is the last tolerable thing. Sometimes people stay until they know they have enough external support to make it on their own. Either way, you’ve gotten out, and that’s the important thing.
Forgive yourself for letting another person come between you and your God (if you still believe). Start listening to your inner voice and your own conscience. Re-define integrity. Integrity is not defined by following and obeying another human being.
Forgive yourself for the things you justified doing, while under the pressure of undue influence. You would not have done them without an implied threat affecting your thinking. Abusive theology blurs boundaries, takes away parental autonomy, and causes policing among members. Forgive yourself for tattling, for shunning, and for participating in hurting others.
Forgive yourself for how you parented your children while you were being spiritually abused. Spiritual abuse makes arbitrary rules and enforces them through teachings, peer pressure, and punishments. You did the best you could. If you need to, apologize to your children. Move forward. Show your children that you’ve changed.
Forgive yourself for not living up to your potential. Forgive yourself for following rules that denied who you are and what you could do. Forgive and start where you are. Develop your brain, your art, and your skills. Honor your past by fervently following your passions in the here and now.
Forgive yourself for the lost years. One way to approach this regret, is to look at difficulties as your teacher. Reflect on the lessons learned, and say, “Thank you for being my very good teacher.” Spiritual abuse is a teacher like no other. Now you have discernment. Now you do your research. You are a healthy skeptic. Now you express your doubts and your boundaries. You smell trouble a mile away.
Forgive yourself for how you allowed your beliefs to affect your relationships. Sometimes you may have turned a blind eye as a way of protecting yourself. Let it go. Forgive yourself if you’ve shunned people. If you can apologize, apologize. Rebuild. Cherish today.
Forgive yourself for how you judged others. Forgive yourself for your anger. The antidote is to develop self-compassion and mindfulness.[i] The past is over. You cannot change it. But you can heal and let go. Abusive groups teach the opposite of compassion. Judging others, leads to judging yourself, and it inhibits compassion and self-awareness.
What painful events have you held onto? What things have you done in the name of faith that you can you barely think about that make you feel ashamed? These are the areas of your story, of spiritual abuse, to recall and write about. Write, “I forgive myself for…” Be specific. Then identify what you learned from the situation. What will you take with you as a life lesson? What have you already quit doing? Being able to describe what you would do differently, shows you are already learning.
Forgiveness is a step that creates space to initiate change. Forgiving yourself instead of beating yourself up, frees up time and energy. In that spaciousness, there is room to breathe and room to heal. When you feel safe you can stop repressing and start creating a life of your own choosing.
[i] I recommend Managing Your Anger by Russell L. Kolts.
The arrogance of evangelism is ruining our planet.
Believe me, I’ve been guilty.
I was an arrogant 10-year-old, knocking on doors, trying to convert adults to my religion. I felt the blush of my arrogance recently, when my sister asked me, “Was that when you told me ‘I had to be born again?’”
I spoke to her that way because I’d been converted, reconverted, and born again, again. That’s how I was knocking at doors at 10, being baptized twice, flying to far off lands, and how I went to seminary.
I woke up to my arrogance a day or two into my mission trip to Kenya when I thought, “How can I travel half way around the world to tell these people they are living wrong?” I wasn’t there to bring a gift, build a well, or teach at a school. I was there with "good news" but in my heart I knew I was saying, "Abandon your God and worship mine."
I’m inclined to excuse the whole thing as an embarrassing series of “life lessons,” but as a recipient and a pusher, I paid a heavy price because of evangelism. I learned to be condescending. I labeled people. I built relationships on a foundation of my hidden agenda. I never got real. I hid my doubts while presenting myself with certainty. I felt glee at the thought of God returning to kill the wicked. I cut family out of my life for a decade. In short, I was a real ass. I could justify anything by wrapping it in the cloak of serving a higher purpose.
When I was in Kenya, I entered a crisis. There was a history of domination, theft, and cruelty. We were told “Don’t talk politics.” But I could see the effects of white Christian colonialism. As I walked from hut to hut, I was observing the effects of evangelicalism. In the name of Jesus, missionaries had come to Kenya in droves, preaching of God’s love, but leaving wounds across the land. I was a visitor with an agenda, and I was ashamed. It wasn't real love and it wasn't good news I was offering.
Coming to the current moment, I see the arrogance of evangelism played out across the globe, and it’s not just Christians. The damage is done anytime someone says, “I have the Truth.” Name any political conflict or terrorist act of the last 20 years, and if you dig, religious extremists have fueled it.
I am probably writing things you know. If you’ve been beaten up in the name of religion, you get it. You’ve seen how “right” leads to plight.
Once someone feels right, really, really, right, they can justify anything-- expelling people who disagree, shunning family members, killing others in the name of their God. They feel free to invade. They feel free to dictate and to control sexuality. They beat children to break their wills and bring them into the fold. They hide abuses and continue preaching. In the most extreme crusade-mentality, they murder in the name of their God.
Frankly, I am embarrassed by my history of evangelicalism. I am sad that throughout life, my relationships have been tainted by a hidden agenda. I am sorry for the years I wasted. But now I am liberated. I am free to create relationships built on respect. I am free to learn from others and to visit other cultures without trying to change people. I feel relief in not seeking, not promoting, and in just being me.
I healed by forgiving. I asked for forgiveness and I forgave myself. It helps me to laugh at how I used to be. I let people be where they are on their personal faith journey. I do however, educate about spiritual abuse and I offer tips on healing. I share my thoughts and trust that the right people will read them. I scatter seeds of healing.
I healed because I did my research. What I needed to be whole, was not zealotry, but rather, I needed the right to explore information from many places, and assimilate it in a way that makes sense to me. I read widely, and I agree to disagree. I don’t need to change others. I view history as my teacher. I am thankful for the things I have learned. I am grateful for the way my experiences shape and lead me.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1(800) 273-8255