Sunday, June 22, 2008

When you can't leave (Spiritual abuse: part 2)

It's been a while since I posted part 1 but here at last is part 2. I'll still be using "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" as my source. Following the pattern set up by the authors, in part 1, I focused on "the unhealthy dynamics that dictate how people function within spiritually abusive systems." In this post, I'll discuss "the dynamics that create walls around abusive systems."

"Certain characteristics of spiritually abusive systems make it immensely difficult for people caught up in them to leave. Because of the focus on religious performance, things look good to those on the outside. The system acts like a "spiritual magnet" pulling in people from the outside. Inside, however, the system acts like a black hole with spiritual gravity so strong it is very hard for people to get out."

Following are listed those characteristics that create an inward pull that keep people trapped in abusive systems. These are taken from chapter 6.

"The following characteristics are what make these abusive spiritual systems so difficult to escape:

5. Paranoia. In a place where authority is grasped and legislated, not simply demonstrated, persecution sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system. Why? Because of the evil, dangerous, or unspiritual people outside of the system who are trying to weaken or destroy "us." This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, and makes it more difficult for people to leave - because they will then be outsiders too.

6. Misplaced Loyalty. A misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. We're not talking about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to a given organization, church, or leader.

Once again, because authority is assumed or legislated (and therefore not real) following must be legislated as well. A common way this is accomplished is by setting up a system where disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is construed as the same thing as disobeying God.

There are three factors that come into play here. First, leadership projects a "we alone are right" mentality which permeates the system. The second factor is the use of scare tactics. The third method is the threat of humiliation.This is done by public shaming, exposing, or threatening to remove people from the group.

7. Secretive. When you see people in a religious system being secretive - watch out. People don't hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate.

Conclusion. When these characteristics exist in a church or Christian family system, the result will be spiritual abuse. It will be a closed system, with rigid boundaries that prevent people from leaving."

In my blogs on spiritual abuse, I've only touched on the highlights. I really recommend studying this topic further by reading this book or studying any of the other resources available. In a previous blog, I recommended some of these additional resources.

I don't know that I'll be adding any more to this series but then originally I wasn't planning on writing a series on this topic. What I've discovered is that this is a broad topic that has affected and is still affecting a multitude of people. It's heartbreaking that the gospel that was meant to be bring freedom and joy has instead been used to enslave and devastate.

Spiritual abuse can thrive only in the darkness of lies and deceit. My hope is that as the shame is removed and people begin to discuss this type of abuse, those that are still bound will be set free and healed of the negative affects and begin to enjoy the freedom that is available in Christ.


Katherine Gunn said...

Hmm... the church I left exhibited all these characteristics. And from what I have heard, they are getting worse... It is hard to leave. And even after you have left, it is hard - it takes time - to sort out the truth from the lies. The most important thing to remember if you are a victim recovering or someone who is helping a victim recover is - it takes time.

Thanks for posting on this subject. :-)

Aida said...

Katherine, you are right that it takes time. After I left the abusive group I was part of, I wanted to return and almost did. It probably took a year or two maybe even more before the ties were severed and the desire to return was gone.

I remember feeling very confused and finding it difficult at times to make decisions. It is a process and time must be given for Father to remove the unhealthy mindsets and replace them with truth.

I'm glad you're out of that group. I hate that it's getting worse but I believe groups like that will only get more and more inward focused and controlling as fear increases.

I really never planned to post this much on the topic since I'm far from being an expert but my heart breaks for those who are still in bondage and hurting. Perhaps this will be an encouragement to some of them that healing is possible.

Warming to Zero said...

It's been a year since we left a group that exhibited all these characteristics. My question is what to do about friends still tied to the group. They don't admit to there being a problem, but if they were like I was, and I suspect they are, they churn over and over all the things they see that don't match up to Christ's ideal and are on a spiritual roller coaster. When we first left there was a struggle, and though I see them from time to time, it's as if we must not bring up the topic of our former group. What is the best way to deal with those still caught in the group that you care about? Or should we just wait until the leader eventually spits them out, too?

Katherine Gunn said...

Hmm... this is a very relevant question to me. I have been wrestling with it over the past 18 months since I left. I wanted to go in with a 'baseball bat' and start destroying 'spiritual boxes.' I even asked God if I could, *Smiling* He said, "No. Those that are leaning on those boxes for support will fall and be hurt. But you can use a screwdriver and a wrench and dismantle them." My blog is a screwdriver. The other thing is to just pray that God would help them see what they need to see to get free.

Aida said...

Warming, I understand how difficult it is since I also had to deal with that same issue when I left. You want them free so much and you feel as though you've got to warn them but, from my experience, Katherine is right.

I left with a group and our friends were told not to talk to us. I had some very good friends in the group that thought of me as their spiritual mother and it hurt that they were still there. One day I cried out to God about the loss and that night they called me and began to ask questions. I didn't bad mouth the leader. I told them they could hear from God and to follow their heart. Well, the next day they called all excited and told me they were out.

I can't guarantee that's what will happen with your friends but I do know Father has ways to get them to see the truth. The fact that they still continue to see you is a good sign.

I believe it's best to be sensitive to their wishes and not discuss the group. They're not ready to leave yet and, if you try to force the issue, you'll only drive them further into it. I believe Father has placed you there as their bridge to freedom. Continue to pray for them and, as you have opportunity, get together with them. Seeing your freedom and joy will do more to draw them out then talking about it will.