Healing from abuse isn’t as cut and dry as many people would like it to be. Victims are often re-victimized by well intentioned, but often misinformed and insensitive friends and family members who try to encourage them to “just get over it and move on.” To compound things, many victims of abuse are dealing with multiple forms of abuse. This is the case especially with victims of spiritual abuse (which many people just don’t understand) and victims of sexual abuse (which many people just don’t want to address or talk about).
Dealing with these two issues separately is difficult enough, but what about those who are victims of spiritual abuse and simultaneous sexual abuse? Sexual issues already carry with them so much shame and guilt in our society–especially in our Christian culture. Add on top of that spiritual abuse in our modern fundamental churches and the issues are fused together in a toxic blend of manipulation, shame, guilt, confusion, anger, and many other strong emotions that are very difficult to process.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse in fundamental circles happens more often than we realize. Powerful church leaders take advantage of their positions and victimize people, not only spiritually, but sexually as well. They use the Bible to victimize spiritually AND sexually in a twisted game of manipulation, control, extortion, exploitation, blackmail, and intimidation.
Then to add insult to injury, the church leaders cover up for the perpetrators who are caught. As a result, the abuse is perpetuated as the church leaders again use the bible to force their victims to remain silent for fear of harming the reputation of this “man of God.”
So how are victims supposed to heal and move on in light of such tremendous and overwhelming odds? By beginning with the following five suggestions, victims can stay on the path to healing and freedom.
- Remember that you are the victim. This may sound obvious to some, but the manipulation and brainwashing cause a victim to consider himself/herself at fault. There’s nothing further from the truth. Refuse to consider yourself guilty no matter what anyone tells you. As you get strong at seeing yourself as a victim you will see shame about the issue begin to dissipate.
- Don’t allow yourself to be victim any longer. Get out of the abusive situation. Be proactive and assertive and make it known that you would not tolerate the abuse any longer. A commonality in most types of abuse is that the perpetrator often uses coercion to keep victims in a place of inferiority and easy access for victimization. The reasons are usually to keep from getting caught (the whistle blower effect) and/or to keep the victim under the power of the perpetrator. Get as far away as you can and don’t look back.
- Remember that healing and recovery are as unique as you are. There’s no cookie cutter approach to treatment. Techniques that work for some people may not work for you. That’s okay. Begin to find your own path towards healing and stay on it. Set boundaries and don’t allow others to intimidate or dissuade you from doing what you know you need to do to heal.
- Determine if the issues need to be separated or dealt with together. Spiritual abuse and sexual abuse have very distinct consequences. If perpetrated together it may be more beneficial to address them together in counseling. Explore the risks and benefits to each option, weigh the personal factors and develop a course of action. Talking with a trained therapist can help you process this information.
- Don’t be afraid to vindicate yourself. Report the abuse to authorities and seek legal advice. There needs to be legal precedence for abuse within the church. Reverse the power by not allowing yourself to be talked out of reporting it or manipulated into remaining silent. There’s nothing wrong with seeking compensation from and punishment for those who have abused you.
Remember that these suggestions are simply designed to be guidelines. It’s really difficult to condense abuse treatment into one article. Make sure you talk with someone trained in these issues to help you determine what course of action is best for you.
If this sexual abuse series brings up any emotions that you would like to process with a professional counselor, please e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to recommend some professional counselors who are associated with the Recovering Grace ministry and who are familiar with the fundamentalist background of ATI and IBLP.