Tips for recovering from a spiritually abusive church

We had an interesting little discussion on my Facebook page yesterday. I've been thinking about the journey of recovery and how it is a winding road fraught with detours, tangents, dead-ends, mistakes. And that is OK!

It's easy to get caught up in false ideas about "closure." There is no "closure" in the sense that life can go on in the same way it always has. When you experience trauma--physical, emotional OR spiritual--the wounds might heal up. But the scars remain. It's a new normal, a new reality. I've found that recovering from a spiritually abusive church happens in cycles. I revisit the same pain but in different ways. Each painful experience exposes a new layer of hurt that needs healing.

The key for me has been in finding language to express the pain and thereby expunge it. When you can name the shadow, it has less power over you. Your journey may be less word-centered. But whatever journey you're on, just know that it's OK to be You're not "on the clock." There's no timetable or deadline for recovery. Sometimes you'll deal with things more intensely (this happens for me when another child dies from religious "child-training") and sometimes you'll walk away from it all to explore other areas. It's all OK!

Here are some other tips from our Facebook discussion with my comments in brackets:

  1. Naomi suggests learning to grow beyond absolutes. Recognize there are gray areas and learn how to live in the gray. Work on balancing community needs with individual needs [survivors of spiritual abuse often put others' needs WAY above their own--to their own detriment]. Learn when to dig in and when to let go.
  2. Stitching Seams shares that she needed to step away from Bible reading. "When I read the Bible, I hear the voices of every preacher, Sunday school teacher, high school teacher, BJU professor, etc. who ever spoke about the passage - I don't hear God. So for the past year or so I've stopped reading daily, and when I do read, I read aloud so it's my own voice I hear. I put different inflections on the verses, and read a different translation, praying that God will allow me to hear His voice, and no one else's."
  3. Joanna says it's important to surround yourself with people who speak love and grace into your life. "Until you can silence the inner voice [of condemnation] you need voices around you repeating and repeating love and grace and hope into your life. [You need] people who will give you room to be angry and wander off a bit and come to your new conclusions on your own time."
  4. Sarah says reading different Bible translations is helpful. "The Message, as cheesy and paraphrased as it is, does help me read the Bible as a whole without getting caught up on the proof texts that were used to beat others down."
  5. Frances offers encouragement for following your personal/professional goals and gifts. By doing so, "you get affirmation from the world that you are a valuable, smart, awesome person. Use your talent in a way that is appreciated."
  6. Katherine urges restraint in throwing yourself into a new church. "If I could have changed one thing, I would not have thrown myself back into church after leaving the ICC [newly emerged survivors are very susceptible to joining another similarly abusive environment because even though it's harmful and dysfunctional, it feels normal]. Visited church, yes. Wholeheartedly joined, no. It was my choice (sort of, I thought I would go to hell if I wasn't in church) and people at all the churches I attended were kind, but I didn't really start dealing with my crap until I left church."

Do you have any further thoughts, ideas, tips to share?

Do you have questions? This is a safe place. Feel free to share.