The third technique used in spiritual abuse is intimidation. The purpose of intimidation is to have power and control by making the victim feel immobilized and fearful. Intimidation is bullying. It is a show of power meant to scare and to silence. It is effective against the recipient and against all who observe. Intimidation is used to both tighten the ranks and to exclude.
Acts of public intimidation rely on having a scapegoat. Someone or some group has to be demonized, mocked, or held up as a negative model. By ridiculing and shaming the scapegoat, it enforces group norms. Identifying enemies causes people to cower, to stay silent, and is an effective way to build group pride and identity. Public intimidation might include things like preaching against certain acts that the group calls sin. Homosexuals have received the brunt of such preaching in recent times. People of other faiths also receive this kind of vitriol. It creates a black and white world view. Us against them.
Intimidation prevents people from making their own decisions about medical care, raising children, and how one’s time and resources are spent. By speaking of good examples and bad examples, people are pressured to follow along and set aside their own critical thinking skills. People may risk their own lives during a medical crisis by not seeking help from doctors. They may be harsh and abusive with their children, justifying it as a necessary part of raising them in the faith. They may feel pressured to tithe or give money that they could use for food or other necessities.
Public intimidation includes the “discipline” of members, under the guise of keeping the group clean, or under the guise of strengthening their faith. Excluding or shunning someone is the ultimate act of bullying. It hurts both the shunned and the shunner, but it sends a clear message. For those who remain, the message is to obey. This kind of obedience requires shutting down of normal human affection. One must shut off all questions about fairness, justice, or kindness, and blindly comply. For those who are kicked out, the message is to repent, but repent does not mean to feel sorry. Repent means come back in, fall in line, repress all independent thinking, and do the group’s work.
Private intimidation includes closed-door meetings. Closed-door meetings can prevent a dissenting voice from being heard. Votes can be taken that shut out leaders who have a different opinion. A lack of transparency is a way to control what is happening.
Private intimidation includes hearings and counseling sessions that are used to correct an individual. Usually the person is physically outnumbered while being denied having others who could provide moral support. The hearing is done under the pretext of caring, but is really manipulative and condescending. Such “caring” has no interest in hearing the person’s story or thoughts, but rather is punitive, invasive, humiliating, and focused on imposing the group norms.
Even prayer and scripture reading can become tools of intimidation. Sacred texts can be misused and used as a means of shaming. In spiritual abuse, scripture is used with little or no consideration to its context. Verses are cherry picked and used to the advantage of the leadership. Rarely are the historical context, the manuscript evidence, the original language, or the voices of the oppressed considered. A literal interpretation can lead to violence. Prayers are used to bring someone in line, when the motive is coming from the place of asking God to "help our dear brother or sister to see the error of their ways".
Once a person understands that the group is the problem and that he or she is being intimidated, it becomes possible to take away the bullying power of the intimidation. The person who is being scapegoated can take back power by no longer following the expectations of the role. If the group is excluding, they expect the person to miss them, to become depressed, and to come back groveling for forgiveness. But the person can simply move on and pursue a life full of meaning. If the group is shunning and avoiding, the person doesn’t have to cower in shame and avoid eye contact. He or she can smile and greet the person and make them feel embarrassed for being cruel. The point is, the scapegoat doesn’t have to be or act as the group expects.
You do not have to follow their rules. You can choose to leave or fade away. You don’t have to go to their closed-door meetings. You can request that they stop harassing you, and if needed, warn them that you will seek legal help if they speak about you or continue to come around. You can take back the power. Don't let them continue to intimidate you.
Breaking free from intimidation can come in many ways. You can make your own decisions about health, raising your children, and investing your financial resources. You can speak out against the group, or walk away and ignore them forever. You can discover, learn about, and use the sacred texts in all new ways that match your integrity. You can make friends of your own choosing; gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, or atheist, it’s your choice. You can be welcoming and inclusive and reject that “us against them” teaching. Freedom from intimidation can mean learning enjoy life and not worrying about being a pure and perfect person. The more you live life on your terms the less the group’s intimidation can affect you.
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