Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance and Bible Study Following Spiritual Abuse: Part V of V

How Do You Study the Bible After Someone Has Bludgeoned You With It?

Summary of Thoughts to Consider Related to Bible Study as You Heal From Spiritual Abuse
  • What you’re experiencing is perfectly normal, given your experience.
  • You have been deceived by subtle teachings that you failed to identify as problematic because you were manipulated through a very complex, gradual and subtle process of exploitation. Either by intent or by way of their own earnest belief, teachers passed off false doctrine to you as legitimate doctrine.
  • Expecting that knowledge of the Bible, intellect, pure motive, and the Holy Spirit will make you impervious to the social, psychological and spiritual manipulation of a cultic church or thought reform program is na├»ve. These systems use crafty and subtle needs that exploit human tendencies and emotions, usually by offering a very desirable solution to a complex problem. We are especially vulnerable after major life changes such as a new job, a profound disappointment like the death of a loved one, or a move to a new place which makes access to your previous support systems more difficult.
  • This experience shakes your confidence on a very deep level. If you are experiencing doubts about your own ability to discern what Scripture means, remind and encourage yourself that this is a very healthy and very self-protective response. Your brain is doing exactly what God designed it to do: survive and heal. This process of recovery takes time, usually about two years at a minimum. Remind yourself of this.
  • Consider that if a trusted spiritually abusive leader has impressive credentials and knowledge of the Bible but taught false doctrine, it is entirely healthy to doubt your own ability to discern doctrine and the meaning of Scripture. We are told in Scripture that the Word is effective and sufficient. We do not need an intercessor to go up into heaven for us because Paul tells us that we don’t. We have the Holy Spirit who helps us and guides us, illuminating the Gospel for us. If someone learned fell prey to false doctrine, it is perfectly healthy to feel intense doubts and insecurity about your own ability. But consider that you were able to see through the deception to some extent, prompting you to doubt your learned teacher. Consider this to be encouraging proof that you can trust yourself, even if it feels as though you can’t. Encourage yourself with this.
  • Consider that those teachers who tell you that you must trust them and that they have a higher and better connection with the truth are actually claiming that the Word of God is not equally effective and available to all believers. This directly contradicts the teaching of Word that it is effective, powerful, sufficient, and available to all people equally. The ground at the foot of the Cross is level. So is the floor before the Throne of Grace. If you’re a Protestant, there are no more priests who must intercede for you.
  • For those who grew up within a high demand group under the teachings that one realizes are spiritually abusive, anti-cult sources indicate that it may take up to 12 years of recovery to heal. Part of this healing is actually physical, and that healing takes time. Encouragement feels foreign, and this is actually physiologic because of a triggering of survival response. You are fighting for the life of your mind when you leave a spiritually abusive group. Remind yourself that this will heal, and ask God to heal your spirit, your soul, and particularly your brain itself. When healing occurs, it is nothing short of a miracle.

  • If you came from a family with poor boundaries or a home where everything that happened involved intensity, this will also affect your rate of recovery.Along with the spiritual abuse issues, it is not uncommon for personal issues to surface, presenting to you for healing and resolution.If your religious experience involved the identity of another, such as the father within patriarchy, your healing will be more complex.
  • Connect with your creator in simple and small ways if you find that your previous ways of loving and learning have become difficult. This is also a survival response. Your safe place may involve a retreat from corporate worship or your old habit of study, but this does not have to be a permanent place, even if it feels permanent. This is also quite common. Put yourself in a safe place and learn to think about things for yourself so that you can think through your experience without coercion or condemnation.
  • In trauma, we always tend to go back to a place of earlier development. (After not playing the piano for long periods of time, I find that I have to build my confidence by playing simple pieces until I can work back to the level of skill that I once found easy.) Also remember that emotional healing is never “linear,” and this type of healing also seems like you taking steps backward. You might return to an earlier religious experience in order to find safety, or to resolve problems that were never fully dealt with in the past. See this as an opportunity to more fully heal past disappointments on the way to greater wholeness. If you feel cognitive dissonance, this is a good sign. You are changing your mind – “repenting” – of the toxic ideas of your group. Your brain is actually rewiring itself, and this can be stressful. But remind yourself that this is exactly what you desire to happen.
  • Just as you will experience emotional “regression,” also consider that your Bible study habits will likely also change. If you feel great discomfort that produces anxiety or grief, seek out counsel. But also consider a simpler mode of study such as a small devotional. If you cannot wrap your mind around a chapter, wrap it around a verse. But determine to reconnect with your Savior as you learn to approach Him in a new way, establishing a new and better relationship with the Word of God. Remember that “This too shall pass” if you want it to pass. Persevere.

  • You have the power and should be developing your own power and ability to choose which course you will take. This part of your mind is also healing, right along with a rediscovery of who you are. This will also take time. Be gracious and merciful with yourself, even if others do not understand. Persevere until you find people who will support you in your recovery without prejudice and criticism.
  • You will heal, and you will continue to heal.

From the Message Bible:
All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it.
We don't want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn't think we were going to make it. We felt like we'd been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he's the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he'll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don't want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God's deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.
Now that the worst is over, we're pleased we can report that we've come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn't by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised. Don't try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We're writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that you'll now see the whole picture as well as you've seen some of the details. We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus.