Friday, May 24, 2013

What do spiritually abused Christians struggle with?

The subject of spiritual abuse can be a heavy one.
But so can the results of such abuses.
I've struggled myself with some of these things.
So I'm writing about them for my children.
So they might understand what this is, and know what to look for when they are looking for a place of worship for their own families.
So they might know where their own personal struggles stem from, and where to find resolutions.

I also feel it's extraordinarily important to shed light on this subject.
Light exposes sin.
Light gives a way out of darkness.
Light cleanses.
Light refreshes and causes growth.

I appreciated the list of things that are outlined in the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse
The authors have compiled a list of ten profound areas that abused Christians struggle with.
The first five, in order, are:

1.  You develop a distorted image of God.
For instance, your understanding of God is one of "a God who is never satisfied, who keeps setting higher and higher goals and is eager to let you find out how much you've missed the mark. "
Or, you see Him as "a mean, vindictive God, who is waiting for us to make a mistake.  Then He is able to do what He would rather do anyway, which is to point out all our failures, or to punish and humiliate."
Maybe you think of Him as "an apathetic God who watches when people are hurt and abuse but does nothing to help because it would mean having to challenge an authority figure or structure.
Or how about "a God who is a kind of fickle baby [who's] mood can be manipulated by our slightest mistake."
Then there is the view where He is "the utterly Holy God.  He is like a spiritual burglar alarm, ready to go off anytime you think about sin.  One man told of a bible teacher who drilled into him the idea that the Holy Spirit 'flees to the farthest corner of the universe whenever you commit the slightest sin, because you've broken His heart.' "

"How many churches teach that your place in heaven will be determined by how many good works you've done here on earth?  How many teach that while your salvation is not dependent upon works, your position close to or far from Him is dependent upon works?  How many teach that Jesus' promise of rewards (Matthew 25:31-46) was more than just entry into heaven or dismissal into hell, but a better place in some eternal hierarchy?  God is the one who gives good gifts simply because He loves us (Luke 11:13), not because of our performance."

2.  You may be preoccupied with spiritual performance.
"At a recent Christian conference, it was evident that what was being taught was not growth in relationship, but adherence to a "formula."  This conference put every possible area of life into neat little Christian packages:  'If you do sch and such (read your Bible, memorize Scripture, pray a certain way or for a set amount of time, etc.) God will always be pleased, and the result will always be a nice, packaged orderly Christian life.  People left the seminar resolving to try hard to do the formulas.  Those who were successful--which tended to be the already naturally disciplined, strong-willed people--were fortunate to be allowed to attend an advanced seminar.
What about the unsuccessful?  They were destined to return to the basic seminar over, and over, and over again.  Some people were seven-time repeaters.  The speaker told the audience, 'If you follow these principles and they don't work, call me and tell me about it.  You need to know, though, that you'll be the first one for whom they didn't.'  No doubt this statement got a lot of people trying very hard to do the formulas.  It probably kept even more people from calling."

"Preoccupation with spiritual performance often results in a tendency toward extremes of self-righteousness or shame.  Self-righteousness (a sense of spiritual superiority based upon your own behavior) and judgmentalism (a sense of spiritual superiority based upon someone else's behavior) indicate a performance-based lifestyle.  
Another indicator is perfectionism, or a need for situations and relationships to be "just so."  This is often accompanied by a high level of anxiety based upon external circumstances and an urge to control what people do and how things turn out."

3.  You have a distorted self-identity of yourself as a Christian.
"People who have been spiritually abused tend to have a negative picture of self, or a shame-based identity. This can be seen in several ways:

  •  Lack of understanding or even awareness of New Testament texts that elaborate on our identity as new creations in Christ.
  • Confusion between guilt and shame.  Guilt is a valuable signal indicating a wrong or bad behavior.  Shame is an indictment on you as a person.  You experience guilt when you do a wrong behavior; guilt is a good spiritual nerve ending causing you to right wrong behavior.  You feel shame even when you've done nothing wrong;  you feel defective as a human being, and like a third-rate Christian undeserving of God's blessings and acceptance.
  • Shame is the prime motivator;  i.e, the dilemma of your negative picture of self can only be solved by good behavior.
  • A high need to hang on to a negative picture of self in order to explain negative behaviors.  This is true of spiritual systems that teach or insinuate that even though you are saved, you're still 'worthless' before God, 'just a sinner saved by grace,' 'a worm' and not a person."

4.  You may have a problem relating to spiritual authority.
"Being spiritually abused can lead to "toxic faith."
Toxic faith is a destructive and dangerous relationship with a religious system, not with God, that allows this system to control a person's life in the name of God."
"Those who have experienced the misuse of power develop ways to defend themselves from being abused again.  They tend to the extremes of compliance or defiance when faced with someone else having authority....This is designed to prevent hurt but it won't."

5.  You may have a hard time with grace.
"This springs from the shame-based identity, which tells you that you don't deserve to be treated this way.  You find ways to push away the grace the grace extended by God and the gifts from other people, so that you end up going without.  Or you accept them with such an overwhelming sense of owing that you find ways to 'pay back' God and others for what they've done."

Wow.  Several of these areas, when I first read them, really sent chills up my spine.
I GOT it!  I understood exactly what that meant.
It was like the authors had been peeking into the depths of my heart and understood things that I could just never put my finger on!
And wait until you see the final 5 areas that abused Christians struggle with.
I bet you've seen it......just never put the pieces of the puzzle together!!

"To the praise of the glory of His grace,
which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of His grace
which He lavished on us."
Ephesians 1: 6-7

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