Today's guest post is from an anonymous blogger with a powerful story. Please like, encourage, and care for her in tender ways. She has been so courageous in sharing her story today.
Shame and Spiritual Abuse
I was spiritually abused.
It’s still hard to say that aloud.
I was born into a system; caught in church-sanctioned abuse from my infancy. Yet, when I admit that aloud, I can still feel “less than.” I fear being thought weak or damaged or just different.
That shame – the shame of being a victim – was, and is still, terrifying.
Then there was another shame: shame for how I responded to the abuse. Shame, that I believed what that church taught. That, as a teenager, I taught that doctrine to others. Shame, that I tried so hard to succeed in that system. And when I let down my guard, shame that I failed in that system.
Shame and spiritual abuse— The two are deeply intertwined. Spiritual abuse seeks control through shaming the victims. The silence, secrecy, and self-hatred born in a spiritually abusive system perpetuate the shame.
Breaking the silence
For years I lived in that silence, never speaking of the demeaning words of my pastor, or of the physical abuse that was claimed to be God’s love, or of the way my salvation was questioned by the church.
I remember the first time I broke the silence. I told a friend the tiniest bit – that a pastor I knew was abusing his wife. It was a warm summer night, but I shivered with fear.
Then I sunk back into silence for years. Speaking was too risky.
Only after I was removed from the abusive system did I break the silence a second time.
I was desperate, deep in depression, questioning my sanity. I sat for hours one afternoon with another woman, trying to make my mouth form words, make sound. The silence sat so heavy I did not know if I could break it. Intense shame welled up. I wanted to hide, to die, to disappear. I did not think anyone would believe me. Yet if I was to live, I had to break the silence.
That afternoon – curled in a ball, hiding my face – I made a new beginning. I broke the silence.
Ending the secrecy
Even after I began to love God—the true God— not the God portrayed to me by abusive church leaders, I still feared that telling about such abuse, would turn others from God. So I continued to hide my story.
But God has nothing to be ashamed of. He doesn’t need to hide shameful secrets. A few people told me that, but it was a pastor who finally gave me freedom to end the secrecy. In the midst of a prayer, he apologized to me—as a representative of the church—for the sins done against me by the church. In so doing he showed me that God was not ashamed, and that I did not need to hide anything.
The system in which I was raised saw me as a pile of dung, and taught me to see myself in the same way. More profoundly, it taught me that God saw me as a pile of dung. I learned to hate myself.
In my early twenties I was told that self-hatred was wrong. My response: to hate myself for hating myself. I didn’t know any other way. Self-hatred was supposed to cure all sins. What happened when it was the sin? Shame over my self-hatred consumed me. And then I learned that God didn’t want me to live in shame. My response: shame that I felt shame. It was a vicious cycle.
Although I had left the religious system that had been so abusive and was trying to heal, I was so accustomed to abuse and self-hatred that I tried to beat myself into healing.
And then, these words: “Do no violence to your soul.” Those words, spoken with great compassion, reached into my heart and began to bring healing.
Each month, lying on my massage therapist’s table, I’ve learned to embody those words. I’ve learned that I need gentleness. When I experience pain or fear or even hurry, my body tenses. Only under the gentlest touch do I begin to relax, begin to heal.
And so it is with my soul.
Slowly, gently, I have learned to stop hating myself for hating myself. Even more gently, I have stopped hating myself altogether. Some days the old self-hatred flares up and I remember again: “Do no violence to your soul.”
Nine years ago, I left an abusive home. Eight years ago, I left silence. Seven years ago, I left an abusive church. Two years ago, I left secrecy. Every day, I leave self-hatred.
And shame – shame I overcome moment by moment, day by day, year after year.