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.
Itâ€™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 â€œless than.â€ I fear being thought weak or damaged or just different.
That shame â€“ the shame of being a victim â€“ 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 abuseâ€” 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 Godâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ curled in a ball, hiding my face â€“ I made a new beginning. I broke the silence.
Ending the secrecy
Even after I began to love Godâ€”the true Godâ€” 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 doesnâ€™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 meâ€”as a representative of the churchâ€”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 didnâ€™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 didnâ€™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: â€œDo no violence to your soul.â€ Those words, spoken with great compassion, reached into my heart and began to bring healing.
Each month, lying on my massage therapistâ€™s table, Iâ€™ve learned to embody those words. Iâ€™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: â€œDo no violence to your soul.â€
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 â€“ shame I overcome moment by moment, day by day, year after year.