Have you suffered spiritual abuse? What helped you heal?
Posted by: newday4U ()
Date: March 09, 2024 09:29PM

Have you, like me, suffered spiritual abuse?
If so, how did you heal? What helped you?
And, what is your spiritual practice and/or belief now?

I'll start with some definitions of spiritual abuse that I found helpful. This first is from a talk by Ken Garrett for the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), "Regaining Your Footing: First Steps of Recovery From Spiritual Abuse":

"Spiritual abuse is the use of inappropriate, excessive influence, pressure, coercion, or control to change a person's beliefs, feelings and behaviors. The control of behavior and decision-making results in the member losing autonomy and freedom, and instead experiencing heightened vulnerability, manipulation, coercion and bullying by abusive leaders and the system they build...
"Spiritual abuse happens in any group that exists so its members can explore and grow in a metaphysical or spiritual atmosphere, studying spiritual theories (love, wholeness, faith, enlightenment, etc.)...
"Spiritual abuse is distinct from other forms of abuse in that it is totalistic in nature: it is control of behaviors and thoughts and emotions."

Michael Langone, Ph.D., discussed spiritual abuse in another talk for ICSA, "Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Relationships and Groups":

" Spiritual abuse occurs when someone is treated in a way that damages them spiritually. As a result, their relationship with God -- or the part of them capable of having a relationship with God -- becomes wounded or scarred."

Another aspect of spiritual abuse is the promise of attaining a direct mystical experience (such as enlightenment, Christ consciousness, etc.) but the promise comes with a built-in requirement that is either next to impossible to fulfill, or one in which the member can't ever tell if they have fulfilled it. Some examples might be the enjoinder to "be humble," the "no illicit sex" rule, the exhortation to "work always for your salvation," the requirement to "conquer the mind," and so on. The effect is to divide the member internally into "good" and "bad" selves, and to distrust one's own inner voice, intuition and conscience. (My paraphrasing from Stephen Gelberg's "On Leaving ISKCON")

Some signs of spiritual abuse are listed by Dr. Langone:
-lack of joy
-profound sense of missing your best friend
-disillusionment about God and spiritual things
-uneasiness, lack of trust, or even fear of those who care about "God things"
-cynicism or grief over "good news" that turned out to be too good to be true
-tiredness from trying too hard to measure up

Doug and Wendy Duncan describe the pain of spiritual abuse in their ICSA talk, "Reawakening Your Spirituality After a Cult Experience" as including these "obstacles to spirituality":
-anger at God
-fear that God has forever left us
-inability to see God's love and mercy
-inability to trust our instincts, discernment or anyone in authority
-uncertainty about who God is and what a healthy concept of and /or relationship with God would be

What has helped you to heal from the devastating effects of spiritual abuse? I'll share some things to consider that I have found helpful.

Gillie Jenkinson, Ph.D., talks about how the cult's beliefs are introjections. "Like a lump of unchewed or undigested food in your gut that doesn't nourish and also isn't eliminated but takes on a life of its own." We've swallowed these beliefs and behaviors whole, without critically thinking about them or examining them. They are often negative and manifest as "shoulds". Part of our healing, then, is to examine these, keep what nourishes us and toss out the rest.

Doug and Wendy Duncan speak about the need for us to heal the "emptiness of the soul" after we leave a cult. They offer a list of tasks to guide us:
-find a safe place to process and to rethink and rebuild your belief system
-learn to trust your mind
-rethink and go through the cult's beliefs; salvage positive aspects and identify cult-induced fears
-identify triggers and redefine them
-explore healthier views and teachings about God

So much of this is still a work in progress for me! I've experienced all of the aspects of spiritual abuse I've listed, and much of the signs and obstacles as well. It was very helpful to look at cult introjections because so many of them were mindless or based on what seemed to be near-superstitious thinking when I examined them.
There were many to examine at first; now one will crop up from time to time into my awareness to be dealt with.

I'm still working through what is for me a healthy concept of God, and what does my relationship with God look like now. I've basically quit the morning rituals that I practiced for years and I'm not sure what will replace them. I'm coming to realize that in this day and age there may be no one organization that can offer a packaged answer to the concept/relationship question. At least, maybe not for me, nor for those of us who have suffered spiritual abuse. Maybe the answer for us lies in creating an individualized, personalized belief system cobbled together from bits and pieces of teachings and practices from various spiritual traditions that we've found to have deep and profound personal meaning. I'm keeping an open mind...

And that leads me to the last question and the one I am most interested in seeing your answers: have you been able to create for yourself a meaningful spiritual life and relationship with the Divine?

If so, would you please share it?

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