Simcha Fischer linked at facebook today a beautiful post by Elizabeth Esther. That led me to her blog, which induced me to read older posts of hers. I'm finding them pretty great. Take this one, on what not to say to people who have suffered spiritual abuse. It touches on our ongoing discussion of "unprincipled forgiveness."
She is speaking from the experience of having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult. The abuse she experienced wasn't physical or sexual. It consisted essentially, it seems, in a denial of her selfhood.
This passage is taken from another post of hers: How to talk to someone living in a cult. [Emphasis in the original]
Here's the thing: it has to get really bad on the inside before a committed cult-member (especially someone in the inner circle) decides to leave. The truth is, there are many benefits to living inside a controlling church group. It's not all bad.
For one thing, there's a powerful sense of community. I have found that it's nearly impossible to replicate the same depth of personal relationships "on the outside."
There is a special bond forged through multi-generational loyalty, intermarrying and shared history that creates a particular, unique identity. It is a compelling reason to stay and it's a bond not easily broken.
If your family and your church are part of this group, the outside world seems like a harsh, lonely place to be. Of course, inside the cult, there is a price to pay for the uniquely intimate communal lifestyle–but it's just not monetary.
You pay for it by sacrificing your very own self. Your own personhood.
And herein lies the crack in the armor of cult-like groups. Inside a group like this, there is no personhood. The individual means nothing (or very little). The community is everything. In fact, taking care of one's own interest is considered selfish.
Committed members are accustomed to forsaking all for the sake of 'the ministry,' 'the mission,' the 'work of the Lord.' And by forsake I mean: giving up good jobs, homes, livelihoods, family ties, social networks–anything that hinders full, absolute surrender to their higher calling.
This is why acknowledging the personhood of the individual is a powerful antidote to the soul-crushing machinations of an oppressive religious system.
4. Have you forgiven the people who hurt you? People who have suffered spiritual abuse are repeatedly reminded that Jesus commands them to forgive. We get it. Really. Also, we forgive you for being so unhelpful.
5. You know, you can wallow in self-pity or choose to move on. The subtext, here, is that people who talk about their abusive experiences are indulging in self-pity. Believe me, we want to move on. This is why we talk about it. Talking about is actually a sign of healing. When we’re really hurting? We stay very quiet.
6. Well, what were YOU doing that was wrong? Were you behaving rebelliously? Dressing immodestly? This is classic victim-blaming. This line of questioning seeks to cast doubt upon the victim’s credibility and motives. It also casts the perpetrator as the noble character who was “seduced” against their will or understandably “provoked” to violence.
7. Are you allowing a root of bitterness to grow in your heart? No, actually. I only allow root vegetables to grow in my heart. Ahem. Look, this is a loaded question. It presumes that people like myself have an axe to grind and that we’re allowing our pasts to define our future. We’re not bitter. We’re bursting full of sweet, sweet boundaries.