A Collection of Essays

Spiritual Abuse…

Dear Reader,

I think one of the hardest parts about telling a story is that it opens us up to various avenues of judgement.

What will people think? What will they say? Will they miss my heart and intent?

It’s easy to let these questions swirl in your head because the truth is people will miss our heart. They will assign their own reasons as to why we are sharing our story. Reasons we never intended to be there. I think that is why so many of us do not share our stories – we fear the opinions.

I caught wind the other day that someone was calling me a “broken” person. That I lacked forgiveness. They assigned broken and unforgiving to my story. At first, I felt foolish – what if people believed this person? What if they thought I was only sharing from my brokenness? Then, I realized my story was not for them.

I also needed to remember that this person benefits from calling me broken and unforgiving – it deflects from the issues at hand. It makes it easier to dismiss the very real things that have occurred for the sake of preserving the system. My story is not for them.

My story is for the people who say – me too. I get it. I have walked in your shoes or I am knee deep in it now.

I want you to know I see you – you are not alone. My story is for you.

I mentioned in my last post that we held a meeting with the head pastor, Mark, and a few elders after Charles had sent that awful email.

I also mentioned that Mark was visibly angry during that meeting. I remember vividly him fidgeting around in his chair, arms crossed with a sour look on his face.

I had asked the elders during that meeting if they could give me examples of what they thought I needed to work on. There were so many character issues in Charles’ email that I genuinely wanted to know how to grow and learn. I never want to be the person that walks around blindly to my own behavior.

Mark took this as an opportunity to share some of his views about me – to be honest I do not remember all the details, but one thing DID stick out to me.

He said – can you tell me one person you do not have issues with? He was somehow implying that I did not get along with anyone.

He said your life seems to be riddled with conflict – you are the only one who keeps saying there is anything wrong. If no one else sees it than maybe you are the problem.

I remember one woman present at the meeting telling Mark that I did not have any conflict with her. But other than that, I cannot tell you what happened – I think I just shut down. It was bad enough to feel like no one really understood where I was coming from. Even worse to feel like it was all in my head. Or at minimum that I was the pot stirrer and source of the problems.

I left that meeting defeated. Confused. AND frankly, just over it all. We had left church and it was time for me to move on.

Unfortunately, though I had to go back to the church building the following week to help facilitate a group I had signed up for prior to this incident.

I hated the idea that I had to walk into that building. I was nervous and ill.

I remember my heart pounding and praying to God that I did not see Mark. His office was downstairs, and our meeting was being held upstairs in the lunchroom. I had hoped that somehow, we would avoid one another.

BUT Mark came up to where we were meeting. To this day, I have zero clue why he did. None. There was no reason for him to be there.

He walked right up to me and leaned in for a hug. LITERALLY this man who just days prior told me I was the sole source of all the problems within the church was trying to hug me.

I did not want to make a scene, so I felt obligated to hug him back. I mean for crying out loud we were at church. WHAT would people think if I stuck my hand up and said – NOT TODAY.

After he gave me a hug he left and went back to his office.

I texted him later that day after our class had concluded and told him he was not allowed to do that. That I was not ok with him at this moment and I needed time and space.

THIS was all so confusing.

I think he sent back a text saying he respected that and would give me time. He would later tell me that no one had EVER done that before to him.

I want you to know that this was NOT a red flag to me at the time. I genuinely just thought he had moved on. He professed to be a person that moves on quickly and lets things go.

He told the church so often that biblically we are called to LET IT GO. Move on. Just love people.

AND guess what I decided that I was the one who needed to catch up. I was the one who needed to forgive. I was the one who needed to confess all my conflict issues.

I took on all the blame and it cemented something in my heart: I WAS NOT OK HOW I WAS.

I needed to be different.

I needed to change.

And more importantly I was not a good Christian. I thought that because I still hurt so deeply from this whole experience that I lacked faith in Christ.

That somehow my faith was weak because I hurt.

I see now that it is ok to hurt. It is ok to grieve and need time. That letting something go means acknowledging what hurt us in the first place.

Now, I am not saying we do not forgive or move on. I am just saying that it is ok to hurt and work through things. Sometimes this is a process that takes time.

It was clear from Mark’s response that he was not going to see things from my perspective. And that is ok. He does not need to.

BUT the biggest issue was that I was did not see what was really going. I had brought forward some legitimate concerns – those concerns may not have all been correct BUT they were worth hearing and working through.

Instead I was made to feel like the problem. Then, I was made to feel like there was no problem at all.

This is classic SPIRITUAL ABUSE.

I do not say that lightly or without regard for the weight those words carry. BUT there is no other way to describe what happened to me.

I have spent many long hours in counseling to be able to acknowledge that this happened to me.

I also found books, journal articles and other blog posts helpful in identifying these behaviors for what they were.

Breaking the Silence on Spiritual Abuse by Lisa Oakley and Kathryn Kinmond is one helpful resource (can I just add that they are from the UK which makes it even more lovely).

One area the authors describe as a classic characteristic of a spiritual abuser is through the use of censorship. The below is a LONG expert from their book but vitally important for better understanding:

“Restriction of questioning or raising issues is seen to be a common element of the experience of [the Spiritual Abused]… in this area [] the process of individuals being identified as the cause of any problem they raise. Individuals will be informed that ‘their objections and questions do not stem from reasoned and objective analysis but rather from their spiritual or emotional problems’ (Truthfinder, 2003). Any question will promote negative reflection on the questioner. The individual will commonly find that they have raised a problem and have now ‘become the problem’ (Parsons, 2000; Arterburn & Felton, 2001).[1]

By bringing forward my concerns, I became labeled as the “problem.” Mark spent a great deal of time cooking up my character to people. He labeled me. He dismissed my views. BUT the worst of part of all is that he acted like my friend. He used his power to pervert truth and protect the system all while professing to be my biggest champion.

It has taken far longer than I would like to admit to realize this. I did not want to see him this way.

In some ways I still don’t. I texted a friend today and said I am having hard time writing out the words spiritual abuse. She said – I think by putting it out there it will help release the issue within.

She is right. It is time to release the issues within.

I do not know where this blog goes from here or what else to write at this point. I just know I survived something that I thought might kill me and that is WORTH sharing.

Until next time friend,

Kara Jess

[1] Kathryn Kinmond and Lisa Oakley, Breaking the Silence of Spiritual Abuse (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 28.

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