There's power in the narrative. Spiritually abusive groups know this so they pressure people into silence. They demonize people who leave and make it so that those who stay will not hear what those who left have learned, or experienced, or think. Abusive spirituality espouses a party line, and silences people who stay. To undo abusive spirituality and take away its power, we must use our voice. Telling our story is painful, scary, and courageous. It exposes lies and breaks us free. Telling our story is liberating for ourselves and for those who listen to us.
It is important to think about the narrative we repeat to ourselves and to others because what we repeat over and over creates a strong neural pathway in our brain. If we repeat over and over our victimization, we create pathways of being a victim. Being a victim carries connotations of powerlessness, loss, and confusion and many other negatives. We may have experienced these feelings, but they are not the end point. We must use caution to not get stuck in the victim stage. The anger we feel is healthy, but we must continue to grow so that the wounds don't fester and rob us of our joy.
We tell a different story as a victim, than we do as a survivor and we tell a different story as a "thriver" than we do as a survivor.
As a victim, we speak a lot of the injustice (and it is injustice) and we are wrapped up in the pain and anger. It is our full identity of the moment. We may feel stuck in a deep pit and not see a way out. We may live in the past. Each time we repeat the story of hopelessness, loss, and confusion we create strong pathways in our brain. The pathway may reflect talk like, “This will never get better. Why bother?”
A survivor will speak of the healing process and their way out of the abusive situation. They feel empowered by trying to take down the group that abused them. The situation is still a strong part of their identity. They are finding their way out of the pit and beginning to gain insight into their experience. But their talk is different, “I survived. I got out. It was difficult.”
A person who thrives after spiritual abuse has a whole different way of looking at themselves and the experience. They may be able to identify the how and why of their personal role in the relationship; they have insight about why they stayed and why the left. They may have gratitude for the experience, realizing that they learned and grew into the person they are today. They have developed a fuller view of themselves; they are able to say “This is a part of who I am, but it only a part of my journey.” They live in the present and visit the past only when it is useful. They may still work to dismantle the group that abused them, or to help those just leaving, but their narrative is hopeful and comes from a place of strength.
Now they speak of what they learned and what they gained since their exit or the triggering event. They speak of their values and carry themselves with more certainty. A thriver makes meaning of the past and appreciates the present. They may say, “I was once a victim, but no more. That experience was a very good teacher and I am glad I went through it.”
Whatever stage we are in, victim, survivor, or thriver, our narrative is important. Finding our voice and using it to say that our experience was wrong takes courage and integrity. Let us continue to learn and grow and speak out against all forms of spiritual abuse. Let us continue to define what is healthy and work to create a world where spiritual abuse cannot exist. May we all experience the movement from victim to survivor, to thriver.
Write your narrative down. Define what good has come about from the experience. Write about what it will be like for you as a "thriver." What will be different?
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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