The sixth technique used in spiritual abuse is minimizing, blaming, and denying. The leadership creates an atmosphere where it is difficult to hold them accountable for their teachings or their behavior. They deflect and shift responsibility by minimizing their actions, blaming their victims, or denying all wrong doing. In essence they say, “It’ not us. You are responsible for this.” It is impossible to criticize, or to point out inconsistencies and wrongdoing without becoming the focus of intense scrutiny and other forms of spiritual abuse, such as intimidation or isolation.
In healthy spirituality there is accountability and when mistakes are made, the leadership admits them and action is taken to reduce their reoccurrence. They will say, “I am responsible and I am sorry.” When the situation is grievous, there are checks and balances in place to help protect the group and its members. In some cases, permanent removal of leadership is required.
An example of minimizing is when a group speaks badly of someone who has left by implying that the problem is the person. They minimize by saying, “He made that a big deal. He should have let it be and just prayed about it.” “She should have trusted God to take care of it. She lacked humility.” They minimize whatever it was that brought on the crisis, including legitimate concerns like child abuse, financial misappropriation, or immoral behavior.
In some groups domestic violence or child abuse is tolerated and when someone raises a legitimate alarm, they are advised to be obedient or be submissive. This minimizes the danger and the lasting harm that can happens from living in a household where violence is occurring. Leader may say things like, “I can’t help because I do not want to be responsible for breaking up a marriage.” They minimize their own culpability in looking the other way. They minimize the impact of their advice.
An example of blaming is when a group predicts the end of the world or the return of Jesus, and then nothing happens. Rather than saying we were wrong, they often set a new date and then blame those who believed them. They say, “The brothers took it too far. We never told them to sell their houses and quit their jobs.” They also might deny their false prediction all together by saying, “We never said that.” They may shift the blame by saying, “Our enemies lie about us and claim that we falsely predicted the end of the world.” They outright lie and deceive about their own history.
In some faith communities, members are judged if they do not demonstrate charismatic gifts. Faith is held up as the answer to everything. If the person is poor, or sick, or gay, it is because they lack faith. If they do not speak in tongues or otherwise display the “Spirit” it must be because of their lack of faith. They are prompted to show more faith by praying harder, donating more money, or attending healing services, etc. In these same groups there are often frequent reminders of sinfulness. If the person continues to be poor, or sick, or gay, they are blamed; it is presumed that the problem is him or her and not the teaching.
To heal from spiritual abuse, it is important to recognize when minimizing, blaming or denial is happening. If the group has expelled you, expect them to do anything but accept responsibility. They cannot say, “She left because we sided with her abuser.” So they have to say, “She was prideful and had a bad attitude.” They will not say, “We lie about our history.” So they say, “That was the past; it doesn’t matter. You’re the only one who sees it as a problem. You are presumptuous.”
It is important to hold onto your reasons for leaving. Don’t be swayed by pressure to return that lays the blame on you. Do your research. Verify whether or not the group did predict the end of the world. Use their words to demonstrate the truth.
If you are lesbian, transgender, or gay, it can be very healing to look at the reasoning of groups who are LGBT friendly. See how they look at the sacred text. Explore the context and the original language of the text. Your understanding will be expanded and you can make a private decision that works for you.
Reframe the ways the group has personally affected you through their acts of blaming, minimizing, or denying. Just because the group puts a label on you as a way of dodging responsibility (such as calling you apostate), it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. People often leave because their integrity will no longer allow them to stay. It can be healing to recognize that blaming, minimizing, and denying are abusive techniques used to control the group. You no longer have to play by their rules or accept what they say.
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