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Archive for the ‘Spiritual/Religious Abuse’ Category

*** possible religious triggers ***

I am reading the book The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff for my Book Club and really enjoying it. The book is about the polygamy in the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) and has two storylines. The first storyline takes place in the present day in a cult offshoot of the Latter Day Saints. A man’s 19th wife is accused of killing him, but the son believes that his mother is innocent. The second storyline is a historical fiction account of Brigham Young’s 19th wife and her reasons for speaking out against polygamy.

Although I am enjoying the book, there are parts that I find triggering due to having been raised by a religious fanatic who also abused me. I kept thinking that my mother would have fit right in with the cult offshoot because the protagonist’s mother sounds eerily like my mother – doing hurtful things to others in the name of a deity. She does not seem to give any thought to basic common sense or decency. She has bought into the authority of someone else and given all of her power away in the name of religion when she is really just taking no responsibility for her own choices. How many times did my mother harm or neglect me in the name of religion?

Many readers have shared that they, too, were abused by religious fanatics. I have heard everything from being raped by pastors/deacons to missionaries. The worst part is that these abusers are revered by the many, which makes it doubly hard for the abuse victim to feel validated – How can someone so “good” by all account be abusing me like this?

My mother is no saint, but you sure could not tell her that. She is like a religious puppet – espousing all of the things that she believes she is supposed to say to “be religious” while putting very little of the responsibilities of her religion into practice. The sad thing is that I bought into her self-declarations of being so “godly” for much, much longer than I should have.

I vividly remember the moment that I finally challenged the truth of my mother’s claims. For decades, I had taken for granted that my mother was “g*dly” and I was not. She “heard from G*d” while I did not, and I was so angry with G*d for choosing her over me. The moment the blinders fell off my eyes was huge for me! I finally saw her for what she was – a self-deluded liar who did not bear any of the “fruit” that should exist in the life of a person who is truly g*dly. I realized that descriptors like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control did not apply to her … not even close. That awareness was a huge step in healing for me. The proof was always there, but it took me a long time to see it.

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*******trigger warning – religion triggers*******

As I shared in my last blog entry, my mother found religion when I was eight. I accepted Jesus as my Savior and got baptized in a Baptist church. We then left that church and joined a group of people who met in each others’ homes. They were really “into” the Book of Revelation and were waiting to be “raptured.” My mother would frighten me with stories about people disappearing with the rapture.

My mother had no job but hardly qualified as a stay-at-home mom since she was rarely home and certainly did very little housework. I frequently got off the school bus and came home to an empty house. It never occurred to her to leave me a note. Each time I came home to an empty house, I was convinced that my mother had been raptured, leaving me behind and rejected by God.

My mother believed in “speaking over” people and would tell me to “call things that be not as though they were.” She believed that there was power in saying something and that, by saying it, you could cause it to happen. I was not permitted to tell her if I was hurt because, by saying that I was okay, she believed I would magically be okay.

I spent the night at my cousin’s house (father’s sister and family) and came down with an “out of both ends” virus. I was very sick. My aunt drove me home, and I was expelling fluids from both ends the entire way. When we got home, my aunt said, “Faye is very sick.” My mother’s reply was, “No, she’s not.” My aunt was flabbergasted and invited my mother to see all evidence to the contrary in her car. My aunt left, and I was left to my own devices to take care of myself. My mother refused to acknowledge that I was sick because, by saying I wasn’t, that would “heal” me. Unfortunately, it just left me as a nine-year-old child to nurse myself through a serious virus.

My mother would audibly hear God talking to her, but “God” was really inconsistent in his messages. My therapist believes that my mother has schizophrenia and that what she heard was really symptoms of her mental illness. My mother would take unreasonable and irrational positions based upon “hearing from God,” and I really believed that I was not good enough for God because He did not talk to me, too. I wanted to embrace my religion, but everything I was taught centered around my mother being a godly woman and me never being good enough.

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** religious triggers **

When I was eight years old, my mother found religion. She was staying in a hotel and took the Gideon Bible (which I found really funny – “stealing” a Bible!). She joined a Southern Baptist Church, where I learned that I was going to hell unless I was baptized. Apparently, it was unusual to “save” and baptize a child as young as I was, but I convinced the minister that I understood the religion, and I was baptized. Unfortunately, what they told me at church was not true – that I would be “safe” with Jesus as my Savior. The ritual abuse continued for another three years.

This church was the first of many that kicked out my mother. I was too young to know the details about the first ousting, but I know from later experiences that my mother has a pattern – She joins a new church and gets ultra-involved. Then, “the Lord” tells her that the pastor needs to do something different. She confronts the pastor as a “prophet.” He blows her off. Then, she rallies others to try to get the pastor fired. This inevitably leads to her being kicked out of the church. I have lost count of how many times my mother has repeated this pattern over the years, but I remember going through this pattern three or four times when I was as kid.

After we left the Southern Baptist church, my mother hooked up with a group of people who met in people’s homes. They believed in speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands, and all of that stuff. My mother decided that my sister and I needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so she took us in her room, laid her hands on us, and told us to speak in tongues. Of course, nothing happened, which my mother said meant that I was not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. After a while, my sister faked speaking in tongues so she could leave. That left me with my mother, who would not let me leave her room until I spoke in tongues. I finally started crying because I thought that God had rejected me. I don’t remember how I finally got to leave her room. I just remember the despair of believing that even God had rejected me.

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A while ago, I wrote about Spiritual or Religious Abuse as Part of Child Abuse. A reader posted the following comment:

In a previous comment I mentioned that I believe that my mom’s spirituality functions a lot like an addiction…almost like an alcoholic. You said that you identified with that. Is that something you would be willing to write more about? For me, I feel that it meant that God was unpredictable, and therefore my mother was unpredictable because of her loyalty to what she believed to be his will/voice. Because if something was coming “from God”, then that would take precedence over whether it was healthy for us. I also know that my dad, having grown up in an alcoholic family, tolerated her god-addiction in an unhealthy way. I wish he had protected us.

I’m still struggling to unpack my experiences in this arena. I would really appreciate hearing more of your thoughts. ~ BlueOrchid8

Yes, this is definitely an area in my life in which I struggled. It took me many years to sort through the religious/spiritual abuse, break through the lies, and be able to embrace a faith that was very different from what I had been taught.

In my case, my father was an atheist, but he was fine with my mother/abuser bringing my sister and me to church. My mother went from having no religion to being O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D with G*d. If the church doors were open, we needed to be there. My sister and I were not allowed to listen to “secular” music. Every word, act, or even thought was supposed to be religiously-based. (Ironically, this did not stop the woman from pulling my sister and me out of bed to be ritually abused, but that is another topic.) I even missed my senior prom because I had to go to Florida for a “Jesus ‘86” festival.

It got even worse when my father died suddenly from a heart attack when I was 16. My mother began hearing G*d speak to her audibly at least daily. (My therapist believes that she is schizophrenic.) If a boy asked me out for a date, my mother had to ask G*d if I could go. If “G*d” said no, then there was no appeal – I was to “take it up with G*d.”

“G*d” would tell my mother things that I knew were just plain wrong. For example, my intuition told me that my boyfriend was about to break up with me. My mother told me that G*d said that I would marry him. I believed her because G*d supposedly told her this. Sure enough, he dumped me, anyhow. Ironically, I later married a man with the same first name, so my mother felt vindicated.

When I was in my thirties, I finally had it out with G*d over my mother. I told Him that I could not trust a wishy-washy deity like Him. I had never questioned that my mother was a “godly woman” and that I was the one who was flawed. When I cried out to G*d about all of this, I felt very strongly in my spirit, “What if she isn’t godly?” I was shocked by this thought because truly I had never even once doubted that she was godly.

It was like the guy in the Bible who had the scales fall from his eyes and saw for the first time. For the first time, I examined my mother’s behaviors and held them up to the standard of the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I did not see even one of those fruit growing in her garden.

Once I finally “saw” this, embracing my faith became easy. I was able to recognize that my mother/abuser had lied to me throughout my life. Her warped version of G*d did not define Him. Once I threw away her garbage, I was free to pursue my own understanding of faith. It was empowering.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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******* Religious triggers ********

I have not really talked about spiritual abuse on this blog. However, after reading Blue Orchid’s comment on this blog entry, I realized that there are probably many more of us out there who suffered from spiritual or religious abuse, so we need to talk about this topic.

What exactly is spiritual or religious abuse? To put it colloquially, it is a religious mind-f@#$. An abuser tells a child all sorts of disturbing things about God that traumatizes the child. Blue Orchid’s comment provides some examples. Even worse, an abuser might use religious figures as part of other types of abuse, such as dressing up like Jesus and then raping a child. The end result is that the child’s view of religion becomes distorted, causing a barrier to using faith to help the spiritual abuse survivor heal from the abuse.

My mother abused me in many ways spiritually. For example, she locked my sister and me in her bedroom and “laid her hands” on us to “fill us with the Holy Spirit.” She would know that we “received the Spirit” when we began talking in tongues. My younger sister figured out quickly how to get around this and started babbling and smiling. She was released from the room. I was locked in the room for hours, sobbing because I saw this as evidence that even God had rejected me. I was only 9.

My mother refused to take me to a doctor and nurture me in any way when I was sick. One time, my aunt brought me home early from a sleepover at her house because I had an “out of both ends” virus. My mother refused to take care of me in any way and instead said, “She is not sick,” because she was calling things that “be not as though they were.” As long as she said I was not sick, I would be miraculously healed. My aunt was aghast and told my mother to come take a look at the fluids all over her car. Meanwhile, I took care of myself. I was only around 9 or 10.

My father (the “good” parent) was an atheist, so my mother/abuser was the one who took me to church. I believed that I would burn in hell if I did not believe in her version of God. Whenever I could not find my mother, I panicked that she had been “raptured” and that I was not good enough to be “raptured” myself. I believed that my mother’s auditory voices of God (she is schizophrenic) were evidence of her closeness with Him and knowledge of Him while I was not good enough to be close with God.

I was sixteen when my father died and my mother started sexually abusing me again. I walked away from religion at this point in my life. I wanted nothing to do with my mother’s version of God. It took me over a decade to discover who God really is. Before I could embrace a faith of my own, I had to recognize that my mother spiritually abused me and that all of the nonsense that she told me about God was a load of crap. This process took a long time.

If you suffered from spiritual or religious abuse, you are not alone. It is actually much more common than you might realize.

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Blue Orchid’s Blog

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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