Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More on Spiritual Abuse: Reasons Why We Get Drawn into the System

The Problem of Shame

As mentioned in the previous post, all people share a common trait: we all bear a certain degree and potential for shame. The Christian explains this by putting this in spiritual terms. This shame derives from our separation from God which occurred in the Garden of Eden at the time of Adam’s fall from grace. This shame over our separation from God and our fallen nature (sin nature) serves as the foundation of all of our other shame.

We have an ever-present awareness of our state of fallen state, along with the idea that we should be able to transcend our human condition. Yet we live in a fallen world where we are subject to pain and misfortune, much of which is senseless and arbitrary. During those times, we are forced to deal with our fallibility, either realizing or denying these limits of our humanity.As mentioned, some counselors describe this as the idea that we flawed creatures can and should be able to handle the disappointments and pain of the human condition with perfection. We develop many different ways by which we soothe our hearts and minds imposed by this tension and the many limitations of our state, often by striving for perfection. Christianity offers an ultimate and general answer to this dilemma by restoration and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ, the only ultimate hope of transcending our human condition. But it is not a simple solution.

It must be stated again that all people experience a degree of shame and are thus vulnerable to manipulation as a result. But for those who experienced a great number of disappointments in life, particularly when they were children, a greater potential for manipulation exists. In Chapter 22 of “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism,” Lifton states that the thought reform techniques that he defines there consist of several interwoven logical fallacies that play upon our human deficiencies, many of which remain from our childhoods. The more that we have, the greater our potential for becoming entrenched in an ideological system. The systems propose and offer what seem like viable answers to our greatest problems, both providing answers to most of our unanswered questions and quelling our greatest fears at the same time.

Particularly in our day and age, we desire simple solutions and quick answers because of the tremendous amount of information that we now have available to us. Manipulators, con-artists, well-meaning salesmen and religious evangelists alike readily present themselves to us with their ready-made solutions to our problems. When the package looks good on the outside, we are inclined to buy a promising product. We would be foolish to decline this help in some sense. Out of our good intent to make the best choices, we must always remember that everyone else is as fallible as we are. Some solutions are helpful and well meant, some are not as helpful as they promised to be and other solutions prove deceitful. We have no guarantees in life, and we will always be faced with problems and dilemmas with which we must make peace.

We create many different ways of dealing with our shame, even the shame of buying into an option that seemed promising, discovering that it was not as wise a choice as we anticipated. Each unique person copes and makes sense of their limitations and disappointments in a unique way. Please note just a few of the ways in which we attempt to cope with our shame and disappointment:

  • perfection
  • performance
  • anger
  • blaming
  • social isolation
  • internal withdrawal
  • preoccupation with others
  • distractions
  • addictions

Spiritually abusive systems attract all sorts of people, but I believe that certain groups will attract more of one particular person than will another group. As stated, I have a special interest in some particular groups, so I’ve explored issues and resources that I find to be particularly relevant to those groups. Codependency represents one of many of these ways of coping with shame that those emerging from patriocentricity demonstrate, though not even all those who are involved with this group will have issues related to this particular way of coping with shame. Codependency, according to Hemfelt, Minirth and Meier is “the fallacy of trying to control interior feelings by controlling people, things, and events on the outside. To the codependent, control or the lack of it is central to every aspect of life” (“Love is a Choice,” pg. 5). Some of the family-oriented teachings arising from the patriocentric teachings actually promote shame-based and codependent relationships as the only “Biblical” alternative to raise families, very much a type of these ready-made solutions mentioned earlier in the post.

And even as our systematic theologies and concepts are only tools, the guide that we need and true source of healing, for the Christian, comes from the Word of God shed abroad in our hearts. It becomes a bit more of a challenge, however, when we have been taught that God’s character is different that the Word of God depicts, either by intentional deception on the part of another or by teachings offered to us as the truth that are based on a misconception. For some, reading the Bible that has been used as a club to bludgeon them into submission and conformity, so some of these tools, understanding spiritual abuse as a concept or understanding “The Twelve Steps,” can help us find our way back into a renewed relationship with the Word. But they are only tools and not the Source. That can be only found in Jesus Christ, and our relationship with Him begins with our devotion to our study of His character as recorded in all of Scripture.

While on the subject, I’d just like to mention the “Twelve Steps.” When I first learned about this concept, I held it at arms length for many years. I was mostly put off by the “higher power” and the turning over of our lives to God as encouraged by the Steps, but that was “God, as I understood Him” and not necessarily as He is. That was most troubling for me as a born-again Christian, because it seemed to say that each person could make God up in any old way that he chose. In the context of Christianity and after I had my own serious “crash and burn” spiritual abuse experience, I had a new appreciation for the concept. When you are told that the character of God and that the Christian life is something other than what it really is, “God as I understood Him” seems very different. It’s a starting point that is much better than the false alienation from God that the spiritual abusers pronounce. It gives you a new morning with new mercies to begin again to understand Him anew.

As Mellody Beattie says in the "Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps”:

“Many of us have looked for magic. We’ve payed, waited, searched, longed and hoped for the key that would unlock the key to the mystery of recovery in our life. We’ve looked for the person, place, or thing that would make us feel better, that would stop our pain and change us.

How many times have we attended a seminar, bought a book, or gone to a therapist, hoping to be transformed? Those things help. They are valid tools on this journey.

But there’s more.”

So my purpose here is to provide the reader with as many tools as I can in order to help you find your way back to God – not by my plan or by some prescribed formula. You have to go to Him alone on your own terms (really on His terms), not on someone else's. We cannot follow another’s course. We cannot circumvent the fear and trembling in which we all work out our own, individual salvation and sanctification. It is not easy and I don’t believe that we can short-cut around the painful and unpredictable aspects of living in the process. They visit us all in their time, in God’s appointed timing. By healing our relationship with Him, He can begin to heal us and our relationships, including those with the Body of Christ. And it is no job for cowards.

A friend of mine who has been deeply bruised by the unforeseen events of her life in an abusive marriage said that when she stripped things down to the basics, she realized that she was not even saved. This was very similar to what I said when I realized that I’d spent my whole Christian life serving the church and what they expected and valued rather than serving Jesus. I’d come to Him by way of these superficial things, and they quickly became a great distraction. And I’d served the church and sought their approval far more than I did that of Jesus Himself.

Recently, I changed the subtitle of this blog from the essentials of Ephesians 2:8-9. That verse and those principles have in no way been displaced But I replaced it with a new thought to consider. “If the spirit of love is really born in you, you know it by the price you have paid for it in the many deaths to self which you have suffered, before the spirit of love came to life in you.” I believe that all those things which we use to distract and displace us from God’s love, if we follow the Lord in earnest, he will guide us into these many deaths to self. We decrease so that He can increase in our hearts. There is no room for Him there if we fill all the spaces and places inside of us. God takes some of us through the process of realizing spiritual abuse so that we can put aside our idolatry as God makes room for Himself in our hearts. But in the process, we can taste and see His goodness and great love towards us who believe in Him.

I don’t know if every cloud has a silver lining, but in time and if we allow the healing to be worked in us, the process brings its gifts to us.

I pray that for everyone, that will be the Spirit of Love, coming to dwell and ever abide abundantly in you.