Healing from spiritual abuse has taken years and is an
ongoing work in process. Here are some of the things that helped me to recover
and gain freedom.
Examining the Group
The first stages of healing came through thoroughly researching the group I grew up in. I purchased their old books and read them. I could see that they had lied about their own history. I prayed a lot about what I was learning and its implications for my life and my relationship with the group. Eventually, I decided I could no longer have integrity and continue to align with the group. A few years later I met others, via the internet, who had also exited. I was able to see I was not the only one who asked questions. We shared research and walked each other through the doubts and fears. We were a community.
Therapy as a Lifeline
Prior to, and following, my exit from my childhood faith, I got into therapy. I was depressed and isolated due to an abusive relationship. I needed an ally to remind me that I was of value. We did not talk about doctrine, but we did talk about how I deserved to be treated. The therapist helped me cope with anxiety and loss.
It turned out that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Without therapy, I believe I would not have survived the loss of my social circle. It was very healing to have unconditional support, and someone to reflect back to me my good qualities. She created a safe environment for me to ask questions and let my pain go. It took about three years to get to the point where I was no longer suicidal and even longer to heal the trauma.
Speaking Up and Disagreeing
An important part of my healing was learning to speak up and disagree. One instance in particular stands out. I was with my college group and they asked me to watch a video of Benny Hinn, a charismatic healer with his own television show.
In this video he was describing the first man Adam as a superman. He was saying that because Adam had dominion over the animals, Adam could do anything that every animal could do, fly like a bird, swim under water like a fish, and things like that.
The people who invited me to watch the video, were accepting it and saying things like, “Isn’t that neat?” But it did not make sense to me scientifically or theologically and I said, “I do not believe it. He is wrong.”
I held my ground, and though the others disagreed, we continued to be friends. I was not forced to change to fit in. (Months later, Benny Hinn retracted his statements. He said he did not understand the Hebrew word translated as dominion.)
This first use of my voice empowered me to use it more, and more frequently.
Go to the Source
I stopped looking for outside opinions and just asked God.
After being told to be submissive and obedient to my spouse, I one day asked the question, “Would God make me this smart, just so another person could hurt me?” I prayed about it. “Do you want me to stay? Does it honor you to allow myself to be treated this way?”
As I listened, I concluded that putting up with abuse is not what a loving God would want. Yes, marriage is vow, but ongoing abuse broke the vow. The leaders of the group were saying that the only scriptural reason for divorce was adultery. By their reasoning, I would have to cheat or wait for my husband to cheat.
Through prayer, I decided God was not asking me to wait or to cheat. I discerned that I could choose safety.
Decide How to Use the Text
Through my extensive research I discovered many ways people look at the “sacred” texts. Some saw the text as literature. Some read of miracles and others read metaphors. Some read it only with a lens of devotion.
After seminary, I decided I would have to use the Bible with honesty. I would give people the historical background, insight into the original audience, and I would talk about the manuscripts. (What did the oldest text available suggest?) I would give voice to the voiceless. I would ask the hard questions. In short, I would use the Bible to bring liberation. Along the way, I learned of many other ways to look at the text. People with different backgrounds ask different questions. How would a feminist read it? How would a black woman in America read it (womanist theology)? How would a person facing social injustice read it (liberation theology)? I would do my best to not give a simple, black and white, interpretation.
Because of all my research, I no longer need others to tell me the answers. I gained the tools and the skills I needed to find the information and process it in a way that suits my intellect and integrity.
Make Friends and Fill My Time
After being cut off from family and friends, I struggled to make friends and trust others. Some of the time I trusted too easily, and other times I changed myself to fit in. In the earliest days I did what the people around me did. I was not being true to myself. I was very lonely. I went from having my entire week planned, with people I was told I could trust, to being alone with nothing to fill my time except work. I had to intentionally seek things to do and people to be with.
I started by being more friendly toward people at work. We did common activities like eating lunch together or having a picnic on the lawn in front of our apartments on the weekend. When I started college, I met a lot more people and suddenly got very busy. I learned that common interests and common principles do matter. But I also learned that I did not have to keep an intense relationship with everyone. I learned that people come and go and it is ok. I did not have to be everyone’s close friend.
In the years since I left, I have learned that true friendship allows for people to grow and change. It doesn’t come overnight. Sometimes you have to say, “That hurt me.” Then if the person apologizes, you have the choice of moving forward or not. I’ve also learned that most people are trustworthy, and religion may not have much to do with that.
"Follow your own readiness and your own path to recovery. Keep actively working to find answers to your questions. Keep addressing the issues that trigger you. In time you can create a life with faithful companions, meaning, and purpose."