Tag spiritual abuse

6 posts

Ramifications

I’ve written before about the financial decisions my parents made and how that impacted me as a child who was taught that it was better to suffer than be happy. To the point that to voice the desire to be happy meant your faith was questioned.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
— Matthew 5: 11-12 (KJV)

Or, in my parents translation:

You’ll know how good (#blessed) of a christian you are by how hard your life is: how much you’re being persecuted, and how many people are angry with you. If your life is full of suffering, that’s god showing his love to you. Take joy in that suffering because you will have the most treasures when you go to heaven.

In practical, lived experience terms, this looked like watching my parents choose homelessness because they believed god told them to pay a friend’s mortgage and they couldn’t do both. God got the credit for my grandparents saving us by pulling some strings for a place the day we had to move out.

This looked like being kicked out of churches every 2 years after leaving the cult because my parents would get in an argument about faith healing with the pastors and swiftly shown the door. This was proof that we were right and doing the right things.

This looked like watching my parents make financial decisions based on how much stress it caused them, which they interpreted as a sign from god that this was his way.

Heavenly treasure isn’t really a comfort to a child who instantly lost contact with every almost-new-friend they were making. It does nothing to quell the anxiety about how to keep track of 4 siblings on the streets. That promise felt more like a curse as I aged, but I was never able to see it that way because to do so was blasphemy and called my eternal salvation into question.

It’s not that it didn’t occur to my parents that maybe the choices they had were ways to provide for our family and live in relative security and comfort (which is also blessed by god!), they believed that was sacrilegious and we were called to suffer.

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:”
— 1 Peter 2:21 (KJV)

Or:

Because Jesus suffered for us, we are called to choose suffering; so we can be an example.

Add that to being raised inside extreme gender roles and taught (+ reinforced by experience) that it would be sinful for me to pursue a future that would make me happy, a future where I had autonomy and independence. Not only would that be sinful, but my life would be awful and my salvation rescinded, which makes for some really interesting results in adulthood.

By interesting I mean, the struggle is extremely real and it never had to be, but that was out of my control as a child and now I have to live with those consequences.

This is the crux of what I’ve been working on in therapy for the last 3.5 years now.

Between Spiritual Abuse and CPTSD, getting divorced, moving out on my own with no education or much in the way of job experience, life has been hard. Harder than it should be.

Magnitudes harder than it is for folks whose parents didn’t intentionally stunt their education to force them into a life of 1950s-meets-1800s in the 21st century after looking at their infant’s genitals and deciding that’s all they were good for.

I turn 29 this month and I feel like I’m suffocating from shame at my lack of education and abilities, and poverty; neither of which are my fault, but both of which I get to carry because of choices that unlike my parents, I did not get to make.

My parents chose to put me and my siblings at risk, they chose to keep basic life necessities out of reach, they chose to shame and guilt us for expressing needs and wants, they chose to punish and squelch any form of independence including employment, they chose to reinforce that my time and my energy is worth nothing by making me return payment to neighbors who wanted to hire me to watch their kids, they chose to spend 18 years of my life telling me that I am worthless and deserving of nothing.

And here I am at almost 30, working my ass off and making my chronic illness worse just to survive and yet constantly getting in my own way because the instant I make a decision that would better myself I panic. I internalized all of their choices because I had no exposure to anything else as a child, so clearly I was the one in the wrong.

Those lessons that my parents taught me? About how I need to follow in their exact footsteps, give to the point of harm, cast aside my dreams and stay at home to support other people? Even though I am extremely aware that they are all 100% lies, 100% abusive, and 100% meant to keep me in line with their plan that never ever included me? are still there.

They’re still powerful and strong and loud in my head every time I get rejected or ghosted on job applications. Reminding me that I wasn’t “meant” to do this. I wasn’t “meant” to be self sufficient, I was trained to be a helpmeet with no needs or wants.

I know better now, but those beliefs are still stuck to my core.

So it’s really devastating that when I do make choices to free myself (getting divorced, moving to CA, starting HRT, starting school, applying to jobs, doing the hustle), I spiral and fail because I haven’t yet learned the skills required to succeed. Unlike people who went to school and had jobs and income that was theirs to manage before being thrown into adulthood with debt and bills.

I am so good at what I do, and it’s so difficult to be able to survive well enough to do it. I’m trying to do all the right things, I go through the right motions – I apply to jobs, I write really good cover letters, I volunteer, I make friends, I was a year out from getting an AA! I have multiple income streams between patreon, and podcasting, and freelancing gigs. I work until I am exhausted and I am nowhere closer to being able to provide for myself let alone support others the way I desperately wish I could. *

*this also probably has to do with things I internalized as a child being taught about masculinity that I also need to hash out, but that’s a different topic for a different day.

Which is where the lies come back into play: that there must be something wrong with me or something I’m not doing, or maybe my parents were right all along, and maybe I am worthless and only meant for domestic duties because that was all I was ever allowed to be. I’ve been out for almost 11 years, and I have grown so much, but I’m still so far behind my peers. On bad days, I can’t help but wonder if that’s because I’m still wrong somehow, even though I know that’s a lie.

Every time I get close to “making it” something happens that strips it away. My politics aren’t pure enough, or my health plummets and ruins my ability to work and even function, or fascism intensifies….it’s a struggle to not see those coincidences as signs confirming my parents’ worldview.

When I get scared and triggered in the same way I did as a powerless child, I find myself defaulting back to those thought patterns…everything bad that happens to me is a punishment because I’m out of alignment with “gods will.” If I were in-line with “god’s will” then….these things would still happen (per my parents’ view) but I would be less scared about it?

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The faith arguments really don’t hold up for more than 10 seconds after I start thinking about them, but that doesn’t make them go away and it doesn’t make them feel any less real.

That is the most insidious part about spiritual abuse: just because the faith has been left and the arguments don’t hold up against basic questions, doesn’t mean that the roots of these beliefs went away. Especially if this was instilled through the entirety of childhood.

Simply knowing a belief is wrong doesn’t magically vanish it. Which I find rude.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in the almost 11 years I’ve been deconstructing here it’s that all of these have to be fought, and it’s not a one-time thing, they come back. For me, fighting looks like this. Exposing these lies to daylight by writing about them candidly weakens their power. Something about seeing them outside of my head makes the beliefs easier to let go of.

Maybe it’s a professional mistake to be so open about this type of fighting, but silence hasn’t saved me (or payed rent) and if I were to guess, I’m not the only person facing this type of dementor.


I have something to say

I have a story to tell, a story that’s been hanging over my head for months and I haven’t said anything out of fear and now I just need to release it so I can feel better.
This summer, I was cornered by people I trust – put into a situation against my will that triggered an onslaught of PTSD, flashbacks, and sent me back into the past where I was 16 years old, sitting on a couch, being berated and interrogated and told I was a horrible person.  
I’ve been dealing with the psychological and emotional fallout of that since – it’s gotten better over the last month or two, but for what felt like an eternity, I couldn’t write, draw, or even use my voice for fear of it happening again.
I forgot I was an autonomous adult because the situation sent me back to a place where I was powerless, because the people who cornered me kept calling me back every time I tried to escape, because I was already in the middle of a tunneling flashback, I shutdown, which for me looks like this:
 become robotic and stoic, I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore, because I just became a shell running on autopilot, giving the answers that they want to hear as best I can without giving away more than I am comfortable with. Sitting calmly, listening to my accusers, showing no emotion, giving reasoned answers, trying to end the interrogation as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, I am hiding somewhere in a cave warding off nausea, panic attacks, and tears. Somewhere they can’t see. Because I can’t let them see, it’s not safe to let them see that I’m bothered, that will validate their point.
I am well practiced at this. I spent my childhood perfecting this response. This is what my fight or flight looks like, because I was never allowed to express emotions or explode at my parents. 

Note: if I ever become stoic, cold, and reasoned during a discussion that is uncomfortable, I am not there. In general, I can’t talk about anything in any other way than passionately or emotionally.

When that finally ended, I was sick. We went to the lighthouse – as far away from the cottage as we could – and I curled into a fetal position and bawled and screamed for what felt like an hour.
I can’t really put into words all of the ways it hurt. My mind is a minefield and they tripped on all of them. Everything exploded in a dozen different directions – trying to figure out how much is PTSD and flashbacks from the past, how much of it happened, how to deal with the feelings of betrayal from people who “are just concerned”. Even writing about it now, almost 4 months later brings back all of the complicated feelings that are still a tangle of wires.
I made a point not to give them answers to their questions, and in the process a lot of very hurtful things were said and assumed in their own right.
I threw up all night that night, after everyone went to bed, assuming I was fine.
I told them it was food poisoning, but I lied. It wasn’t food poisoning, but I didn’t want to deal with more questions and “worry” and weird apologies-that-aren’t-apologies when I just wanted to be left alone. I am good, too good even, at telling people what they want to hear – often at the expense of myself and my own preferences. You could say I was trained to do so.
I was asked questions about my lifestyle and faith from a place of fear and worry, I was asked who my friends were and if they were christian (because you don’t want to get answers from the wrong places and they didn’t know who I was friends with). As if I were a 14 year old starting high school with friends doing drugs and they (complete outsiders!) were entitled to know.
At various points, even on autopilot, I did somehow find enough mental capacity to reiterate that I am an adult and I don’t have to tell them anything and I have no obligation to them. I’m proud of that.
They admitted(?) I wasn’t obligated to tell them anything as they continued to pry and confirm whether or not I am indeed a christian (or good person) and tell me that I should have come to them with questions (they don’t know where I’m getting answers!) because they’re pastors and know all of the things.
But the thing is, I didn’t have questions – I knew the answers, and ganging up on me, forcing me into a conversation and berating me, making wild assumptions and accusations and saying things that just show how misguided and misinformed they are about the world and how it works doesn’t make me want to talk.
I didn’t expect to have to deal with this kind of situation as an adult, I wasn’t prepared to feel trapped, again, and the fact that it happened bothers me.

Depression and Spiritual Abuse

Looking back, it’s no wonder that all of the feelings and self loathing that lead to my depression, brought depression. I was taught that I was worthless, that I should never think well of myself, that I needed to be humble, I was never allowed to show any emotion that was not a plastic smile. Perfection was constantly demanded, and perfection is what I was incapable of. I am, and was keenly aware of my failings, of the places I don’t measure up, where I don’t meet parental wishes or requirements – those were held over my head, brought up in arguments to coerce me further into being my family’s slave.


I remember times when my parents would sit there and berate me for hours (under the guise of “concern” and wanting to “help my [spiritual] walk”) and tell me that because I missed doing laundry one day, misheard or misunderstood a demand, that I was a bad sister, a person going down a path of destruction, away from god, if I kept up this “rebellious” attitude.
I remember being bragged about to people (when convenient) only to be later pulled aside in private and told to shape up. I remember dismissal and invisibility. I was a pawn, a tool, a broom.

I related strongly to cinderella and everyone thought it was cute, but they didn’t realize that I felt as worthless as the dirt she was mopping. That I believed I WAS as worthless as the dirt she was mopping – to know and be told in actions that I am only loved and approved of when I DO things in a certain way, with a certain demeanor regardless of feeling, ill, tired, or stressed. When I was imperfect (as all humans are) I was punished – verbally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, mentally. I internalized their words of my failures and believed that I was a failure, who didn’t deserve any good.


This was not aided by the fact that my family explicitly believed and taught that it was better to live a life of suffering (by gods hand, of course) than to live a happy life. That god did not want us to be happy (and by unspoken extension, wanted us to be miserable or persecuted).


It’s no wonder that between the bullying because of my imperfections, and the toxic theology of my parents, that I internalized at the most impressionable ages, my total and utter worthlessness and the only way to deal with that, was to hate myself as much as I perceived I needed to be. It’s no wonder that it escalated. It’s no wonder I shut down, became numb, stopped feeling, and felt robotic. It’s no wonder I was and at times still am, utterly ashamed of being a woman (someone who is less because of different anatomy)*.


*by people like my parents, the tendency of republicans in positions of power, and people who perpetuate the theology of “equal but different” where differences justify belittling.

TeenPact and Relationships

Everyone is told, no crushes are allowed to happen at TeenPact (because you can “allow” a crush to begin with).
Boys are told, to open doors for women, to let them go first in line, and to treat them like they’re delicate little flowers. Essentially, boys are taught to treat women like objects who are helpless and can’t take care of themselves. Girls are told to accept these gestures, always, even if they’re unwanted. Never turn them down.
Some of this is Tim Echols forcing southern manners down everyone’s throat, and some of it is perpetuating the idea that women are “the weaker vessel”. It’s hard, as a courteous person, because, having boobs means I can’t practice common courtesy on a human level. I’m not allowed to open a door, trade my place, give up my seat for someone who’s a boy because then it is interpreted as a slap in the face to them and their efforts at (forced) chivalry. This tells women to expect “special” treatment because they’e seen was weaker, and teaches men that women are weaker and need help to do basic things.
We’re supposed to let the men take command in setting things up, in making decisions, and whatever even if we disagree or have a better one. We can’t just assert ourselves and say no like normal people, because we need to learn submission.
In what I like to call the 2007 Speech From Hell, Tim Echols started by going on a raging tirade about “effeminate men” and I’m pretty sure he worked in how homosexuals were evil too. He said that it was an abomination to god and he was really angry with any man he saw who didn’t act manly enough for his liking. He listed specific examples (that I thought were ridiculous) but I can’t remember what they were now.
Then, he turned his attention to women, he singled us out and spent far too long on another tirade.
He talked about how we need to grow up and get married (fast! young!) so we can start breeding an army, because that is what we women are supposed to do. Our job in life, our job to further the cause, is to create more people and train THEM to make the changes that (hopefully) our husbands will have started to make. If we did that, god would be happy, we would be fulfilling our roles as women – because that’s just how it is. Women are not supposed to actually lead, women’s place is in the home, behind a man, who is supposed to be bringing the nation back to it’s christ-centered roots (don’t get me started).
Well before that point I had sworn off marriage, because a life of doing nothing but being pregnant and teaching children with the HOPE that they would be passionate about the thing I was and want to do the same thing just sounded horrible and unlikely. When he singled out all the women in the audience I felt embarrassed, ashamed, sad, horrified, and broken.
Because I had been told by my parents that what Mr. Echols was conveying was indeed my purpose, but I didn’t want that. I never had. It sounded like hell to me, though I would never have used those terms. It sounded just….the thought of it crushed my soul, and I was hoping TeenPact would be the place I didn’t have to fit that mold, but I was so wrong. I knew that once I got married I would have to go into that box – so I swore it off, and in case that didn’t work, I resolved to do all the things I wanted to do before I got married. Remembering that speech still devastates me and kills that thing that it killed before over and over again. I think maybe it was hope.
I felt completely broken, like a failure, because while every other girl was sitting there, raptured, already sold on the idea of getting married and having kids and getting permission to get married young, I was devastated, because that was just not the life I wanted – not the life I felt I was supposed to live.
I was supposed to do what they wanted me to do, without question, because a guy said it, I was never supposed to think.
And yet, thinking is what saved me from that fate, so, Thank you, TeenPact, for introducing me to my thinker-husband, my thinker-friends, and our sense of knowing we can indeed change the world, and reverse the lies and beliefs you perpetuated that only serve to enable the abusive environments we escaped from. Because of you, maybe we can make that change.


TeenPact and Women

To my knowledge, there have only been two female governors in Maine, and none (to my knowledge) in GA. Maine is seen by the staff as the more liberal/wildcard state where things happen there that don’t (or aren’t allowed?) happen in other states. Maine and Hawaii I suppose, because there’s surfing there and every staffer wants to staff those two states.
I know both of the female governors closely. Women taking on a high leadership position that isn’t somehow under a male is almost unheard of. I was shocked when I won “president” at Back To DC in 2007, but I think that was because the dude who was running before was an obnoxious 13 year old who wasn’t even going to stay the whole time and I had previously attended the class and the one other alumni there was on my campaign. I may have won favor with the staff when I shared that I was struggling with running for the position (because *gasp* I can’t LEAD), instead of running the campaign (because that was completely different).
At National Convention, Women are allowed (I wouldn’t necessarily say encouraged) to run for Representative and Senator, and even Vice President. In my time there, I only ever saw Boy/Girl Pres/VP teams, because women running for president, while not directly prohibited was just known to be taboo. I ran for representative but never made it past primaries – although some women definitely are elected, the majority of the faux positions are still filled by males. I know this parallels real life, but here it’s encouraged. Women in leadership positions is allowed, but sketchily, always under men.
In fact, we are told, many times, in no uncertain terms that we (women) are supposed to just go along with whatever the men say – even if we disagree with it, and to not speak up if we do. They’re supposed to lead, after all, and we’re supposed to submit.
In “girl talks” a session where the guys go out (to talk about opening doors) and the women stay inside we learn that modesty is on us. completely. It is our job to cause our “brothers” to not stumble while we’re at class. We’re told exactly how to wear and to not wear items of clothing. In State Classes we must wear skirts, and they must be over the knee when you sit, never too tight when you move or bend over. All clothing must be able to hang or give at least an inch from your body, but simultaneously, should also be cute/professional and not frumpy. Just to be safe, I wore several layers – in the middle of summer, in the hot GA sun – just in case I got wet, or the sun caught something and my one-size-up tshirt were suddenly opaque.
We must be vigilant, and tell our “sisters” if they’re wearing something we think is too tight or revealing. Lady-Staff will confront girls to change their outfit if they feel it’s inappropriate. Because, again, it is our responsibility to show ourselves as non-human-shapeless-forms so our “brothers” don’t accidentally see our bodies and think something bad.
Boys aren’t told how many fingers width a neckline is allowed to be before it’s “too much”. They don’t have to reach up, and bend down to check and see if any skin shows.
But we, we seductresses in our pubescent awkwardness, we must never show any more skin than necessary to avoid heat exhaustion – and even then, pants must be loose!
I hate using the phrase “rape culture” but the more I think about it, the more this perpetuates it – because regardless, it is ALWAYS the women who are at fault. We are essentially told as much, and this is coupled with “don’t tell a man no” is just a setup for abusive environments and relationships to thrive.


TeenPact and Me

TeenPact is a christian conservative/evangelical organization that organizes government and civics classes and camps throughout the country. Their goal is to raise a generation of christian leaders (teens) to go and bring the country back “for christ” by encouraging activism and male leadership.
When I think about TeenPact and my time there, I don’t feel anger – like I do with most of my other past experiences. I feel confusion. Because I have so many good memories and experiences that are entrenched in environments that perpetuated the lies that enabled an abusive environment to thrive.
The thing about organizations like TeenPact and NCFCA is that their goal is to raise a new generation of leaders – thinkers, even – to do one specific thing: Take the nation back (for god!). What they don’t count on, is that by giving us the tools and resources to think critically, we’ll actually, you know, think critically and carry that on throughout our adulthood. Which is awesome and I’m really happy that I was allowed to learn that, because it’s served me well and enabled me to become the person I am today. Funny thing though, our parents and the people who head up these organizations get extremely grumpy and upset when we do what they taught us to do (or at least you know, the thinking part of that) without doing the rest of what they wanted us to do.
They teach us how to think, but then, they don’t actually want us to think, they want us to do their bidding.
And this, in a nutshell, is my beef with TeenPact. I’m going to be splitting this into parts instead of writing a book of a blogpost – because some things need to be fleshed out more, so for today, I’m going to concentrate on one particular event that happened while I was staffing.
I staffed one of the GA State classes in 2007. As staff, I helped oversee the voting process – a process which is designed to teach students about how elections work (assuming everyone is honest). The votes were tallied and my friend was a clear winner. I was pleased with this, and a little proud because he had really gone out of his comfort zone to even run. I was appalled, confused, and maybe a little angry when in that back room the Program Director turned to us and said, well, I don’t think he’d make a good governor, we should choose someone else. The founder was there and the high ranking staff wanted to impress him (by discarding the process?) and decided that my friend wouldn’t do it.
So in that back room, the Program Director, and the higher ranking staff decided to choose someone else from the 3 candidates to be governor and told us to be quiet about it. I was 15 (2 weeks before my birthday) and I had no idea how to respond – I was too shocked to say anything and too surprised to complain or dissent, so I stood there quietly, feeling as though my mouth was gaping. When we left the room with the new results, and with the Program Director deciding that his vote overruled all, I was full of shame and guilt. We announced who won and there were many questions – because in the other room, everyone tells everyone who they voted for, so everyone actually knows who won. People asked me questions and I couldn’t respond, my friend asked me and I was crushed and had to give him the same line I had given everyone else “it’s just what the votes were”.
I felt helpless because everyone who I would have talked to about it, was in that room and made that decision. They didn’t expect dissent – honestly, I don’t even think dissent is allowed, though it’s never directly stated – it’s a very homogenous group and anyone who does dissent is instantly cast as weird/strange/anything you don’t really want to associate with.
The staff did what they did because they didn’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Echols. I don’t know what the staff meetings are like, but I imagine that choosing a good face was enough of a requirement to strike fear into the hearts of the interns.