Why protect yourself if you have no worth, if you have no right to have personal boundaries, if it is required of you to be perfect though it is impossible, if you're taught that you must have no needs (and guilt over having them), and if you're required to be the epitome of self-control when you're life is completely out of your own control??? A person can respond to trauma through a “freezing response” which we will explore further in future posts, but post traumatic stress after leaving HH may only capitalize upon the deep felt helplessness in the heart because of emotional issues from early childhood. For many who endured at Hephzibah House, it was actually a revictimization experience re-traumatizing a previous and older emotional wound.
Priming Children for Spiritual Abuse in Adulthood?
Spiritual abuse is a type of trauma, and looking back on my own history, my spiritual abuse experience was really just a type of repeating of previous trauma. When I married to “leave and cleave,” I took all of my own shame and spiritual emptiness along with me, and I looked to a new source with which I could fill up my own heart. I transferred some of that need, for a time, into my job and my husband, but my primary source of trying to fill what I thought was the “God-shaped void” that Pascal talked about with religion and the traditions of men instead of real self-worth. All I did was “switch drugs of choice,” transferring my needs and attempts to numb my own shame using a source other than my parent.
I made the church my new parent (the church had plenty of shame to dole out), and I made performing roles and the desires of church leadership my new means of earning worth (or grace, as Gothard would put it). Without thinking about it, and in my childish ways, I put God in a box that was shaped like my own parents. I misunderstood religion and traditions for God's heart of abundance, and I drew from an institution what I should have drawn only from my identity in Christ.
I still seem to expect instant results, too. In my immaturity, salvation by faith in Jesus should have been an “add water and stir” deliverance from the problems and pain of life, and from the working out of my salvation in fear and trembling. Somehow, by grace through faith and the process of justification alone, I have an expectation in my head that my immaturity in these areas would melt away. “Should-ing all over myself,” I should have been able to avoid spiritual abuse, knowing better how to serve God instead of men who represented God, a thought (and a fact) that still disturbs me. I let that disturbed feeling fuel my recovery, because I dread the day that I ever feel comfortable with it because it is the essence of idolatry.
What still troubles me is that I had knowledge of these developmental needs before both knowledge of spiritual abuse/thought reform and my own experience of crushing under a pastor in the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement. And more troubling on a functional level, I still work to bring my thoughts captive to Christ concerning these old wounds, because they are my path of least resistance when I drift off center or slack off in my spiritual life. They are the patterns my flesh takes when my flesh takes over. Depending whether I choose to look at it that way, like the nature of my flesh which will always be an influence against which to guard, they seem like wounds that will not ever heal until I leave this life because they are my “default programming.” I display my flesh nature as some way of playing out that which I didn't get right in childhood. Most of my spiritual warfare concerns the war in my own heart against some of these basic, sick ideas (“I should be perfect.” “I shouldn't have needs” “I am not valuable.”) and the many creative ways I translate them into my active, ongoing, adult life.
Plans for More Posts on Spiritual Abuse and Various Types of PTSD
And it seems that, though the main purpose for this discussion was HH and self-protection, a wide variety of readers here, regular and new, have written to express how much they've identified with this message. This past year, ICSA published an article in their journal advocating the benefits of a recovery model as one approach to working through the aftermath of spiritual abuse, so I am not surprised at the feedback I've received. The Ryans of the National Association for Christian Recovery have also written on this subject with Jeff VanVonderan, though their work primarily concerns these issues of personal recovery discussed in recent posts. Considering the Ryans and VanVonderan (and at least one of his other books), I think that some of the best practical help concerning a Christian's work to transcend spiritual abuse has come through those who approach it through the addictions and recovery model.
Based on the feedback I've received, I decided to continue writing on the subject of recovery as well as the PTSD issues that are of particular concern to the survivors of HH. I suspect that the material will be quite relevant to all those who have come through spiritual abuse.
Unlike some of my previous plans for upcoming posts, I've already written several of these! (They likely won't appear in this order, however.
- How Lack of Respect for the Characteristics of a Child Creates Victims of Circumstance and Ineffective Coping in Adults
- Coping After Shame-Based Parenting
- Coping After Enmeshment
- Victims of Circumstance (External Sense of Peace and Worth/External “Locus of Control”
- Finding Help and Resources for Healing from Spiritual Abuse from a “Recovery Approach” (Developmental Issues Related to Immature Parenting of the Five Characteristics of a Child)
- List of Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist When Seeking Help for Both Spiritual Abuse and Developmental Issues Related from Immature Parenting
- More on PTSD
- Reenacting Trauma as a Feature of PTSD
- The Power of Forgiveness after PTSD
- Issues related to both overt and covert sexual abuse of children (the theme of the Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog)
Check back for more.