spiritual abuse

Wounds that don’t heal

IImprisoned Spring by Arthur Hacker (1911)Heartbreak and loss come in many different forms: the death of a loved one, rejection by a lover or spouse, abandonment by a parent.

As a wounded woman, I know what it is to hurt.

I won’t bore you with tales of woe from my childhood, but all was not well at home.

By the time I was a young adult, I had been exposed to some pretty bad stuff, much of it a result of our male-dominated culture (exposure to pornography, sexual predators young and old, and male criticism of my female form and personality).

I was bullied by other girls, all older and bigger than me. I was also bullied by my family.

By the time I was 21 years old, I had what was termed”a serious chip” on my shoulder.

Believe it or not, I was judged harshly because I was not all smiles and compliance all the time.  Because I tried to fight back. Girls shouldn’t do that, don’t you know.

I knew the world was screwed up even when I was young, but I never knew how to express my concern. It festered. It fermented. I didn’t understand my discontent.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I wore a pretty hard, protective shell designed to keep me from getting hurt.

And then I found a church that promised “inner healing.”

Was there a chance that I could be freed from the pain that I worked so hard to keep hidden away?

I found a husband who was supposed to be loving, caring and a positive expression of patriarchy.

I believed that in this relationship, those wounds would finally begin to heal. I was in a safe relationship, a safe place, finally.

I let my guard down and exposed many of my wounds to this man.

I trusted him.

He used his power to control instead of love.

This is not a cautionary tale. I am not advocating the growth of dragon scales as a way to protect oneself. We can never truly love others if we don’t allow them to love us. And no one can love us if we don’t let down our guard.

From a psychological point of view, I am most likely dealing with abandonment issues exacerbated by fear of rejection. In a nutshell, when my father left me and my family when I was 7 years old, it affected me profoundly.

Back in the late 60s, it was not common for parents to divorce. I grew up in what was called a “broken home.” I carried that shame with me everywhere.

Thinking back, when my father was home there was an awful lot of yelling and fighting. I’m pretty sure things got physical. I don’t remember much. I liked the quiet better.

I heard a lot of stories from both of my parents over the subsequent years well into my adolescence when I finally reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I eventually refused to see my father anymore. That estrangement lasted for about two years.

I got pregnant. I got married. I had a baby. I got divorced.

I needed the quiet.

When it wasn’t quiet, when there was conflict and discord, my wounds opened up and all the pain came flooding back.

Here’s the thing: we all have wounds. My wounds are probably nothing compared to someone else’s wounds. That doesn’t matter.

We are talking pain levels here and tolerance for pain.

In life, the good times are supposed to outweigh the bad times.

Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles. Everyone has pain.

The real issue is how much pain and how often. Does the pain ever stop? Are there respites from the pain?

For some people, the answer is “No.”

I didn’t understand the insidious nature of chronic pain until a few years ago after contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite. I ended up one of the small percentage of people who experience long-term symptoms. Mine include chronic fatigue and chronic pain. I know what it is like to live with pain all the time.

The physical bite site, the terrible wound that I had from that tick bite, did heal after three weeks of antibiotics. The cause of the initial wound (about the size of a softball) moved away from the bite site and penetrated deep into my body’s tissues and even my brain. There was no healing.

Too Much Pain

The other day, I woke up and realized that I didn’t have any noticeable pain in my body. I breathed deeply and smiled. What a happy day. I want more pain-free days. Who wouldn’t? I thoroughly enjoyed that day. But such days are rare.

There is more compassion for those who suffer from physical pain than emotional pain in our society.  If someone has a back injury and must take opioids, no one holds it against that person.

For those who suffer loss and are wounded by it (and how can one not be wounded by loss???), healing is supposed to take place over time, but there is an expectation of some conclusion where the person affected finds relief and can move on with no more symptoms of grief.

For most people, grieving a loss takes time and the support of loved ones. In most cases, the pain of the loss lessens until it is merely a memory with occasional bouts of suffering that abate after a day or so.

What happens when grieving doesn’t end? Sometimes the wounds just don’t heal.

What happens to those who never stop feeling profound and unbearable pain?

There are many different endings to this kind of story.

Many can find relief through mental health services: therapy, medications and lifestyle changes. For some people this works.

Some end in the body giving up and the person fading away (yes, people can die from a broken heart). Some end in self-destructive behavior that results in death. Some end in suicide.

For some people the wounds just don’t heal. For some people the pain never stops. The thought of living a life of never ending pain is unbearable.

But wait…


Even though many wounds don’t heal, there is hope.

And it starts with taking back one’s power…

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I wouldn’t have seen the double rainbow if I hadn’t gone outside



Religious excuses for not helping someone in crisis

When I was dealing with the complete blowup of my marriage, which had been held together by the most delicate of threads for over two decades, I was allowed to suffer horribly by people who should have been there for me.

When we moved to Connecticut from Florida we were outsiders. We are not FROM Connecticut, though I do have a sister here. When we joined a church in Middletown we discovered a strange dynamic. Lots of control and legalism (we were told where we could sit during services, our children were checked to be sure they weren’t chewing gum, lice checks on children’s heads without parental consent, and so on). It is strange that that felt off to me because the first church I joined after committing myself to God as a Christian was a borderline cult. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

So we didn’t stay long at this church in Middletown.

When we moved to our small town dream home, we joined a local church. The pastor ended up resigning after a scandal. Sheesh, we weren’t doing well at all. The church went without a pastor for a long time. Then finally a new, part-time pastor came on board.

This pastor told me one time that I was outgoing because I was insecure. Um, okay. Maybe not so good. I was committed, however. I stuck it out.

Fast forward several years to the point where my husband and I are told we can no longer serve in a certain capacity because we are having marital problems. Because we were having a difficult time, the threads of service were severed. Honestly, it was that service that was holding us together, the only thing we had in common at that point.

It isn’t like he was having affairs and I had abandoned my children. Nope, we were just struggling like we had for years. But it got way worse when we moved to Connecticut.

Fast forward a couple more years to marriage counseling, husband walking out, me not letting him back, a short reconciliation and then a final split. During all of this I was told a lot of things that I thought were strange but honestly my life was surreal, so who was I to judge what was normal and what was not?

Finally, I realized that I was a woman in a church who had separated from her husband (my decision). I had not done enough to reconcile with my husband. People avoided me. There was no compassion or support. During this whole time I was very sick with Lyme disease that just wouldn’t go away? I got worse and worse, my health declined, yet I was running the household, taking care of the kids, and there was no personal support. No meals, only a couple of calls (same person who didn’t really approve of my choices), and finally a declaration by the pastor that she could not rescue me.

What the hell?

Rescue me???

How about anything? I was so raw, so wounded, hurting so bad, while also struggling with the loss of my health, that looking back I think it is a miracle that I survived.

Do you know who suffered the most? My kids. They lost their mom to Lyme disease, their family to separation, their church because I finally just quit going.

But what stuck with me from those years were the comments from people.

The statement, “No one can rescue you; you must depend on God,” is religious talk for: “You made your bed, now lie in it!”

It is common knowledge that in Christian circles the blame for a marriage breaking up is usually assigned to the wife. Unless there is infidelity on the husband’s part (and even then the wife is expected to forgive and reconcile), the woman is expected to do whatever is necessary to make the marriage work. If a husband beats his wife, that MIGHT be an acceptable reason for divorce, but not always.

So when I heard the words “no one can rescue you,” I gave up on my church.

Christian leaders have come up with a lot of excuses for not helping their people. But this one is just the most ludicrous I have ever heard.

Of course a pastor should try to rescue someone who was drowning. Of course a pastor should reach out to those who are hurting the most, suffering the most, feeling lost. Of course rescue should be at the top of his or her list.

I learned a couple of lessons from this time:

1. In most churches, if you give the church money and attend services, you are considered in good standing.
2. If you are too sick to attend services or too poor to donate, you are not considered in good standing.

I don’t regret my choices during this time. My only regret is that I didn’t find a lawyer the day after my husband walked out on me. That is my only regret. Well, maybe that I stuck around at that church so long? Maybe.

Husbands can be abusive, but churches and religious leaders can be abusive, too.

Hearing voices

obey submit conformI have heard a variety of voices from many different sources over my 53 years: growing up, into young adulthood and well into middle age. I admit that a majority of those voices have been denigrating and controlling. I have never had a cheerleader in my life, EVER. Until now, that is.

Over the past 2-3 years, I have developed relationships with individuals who are cheering me on. I don’t understand those voices’ motivations, but I gratefully accept their positive impact on my life.

Sadly, I had to dismiss all of the negative chatter in my life before I was open to hearing new, positive voices. I don’t know why an emotional disconnect was necessary, but it is a definitive truth for my own experience. I still guard my emotional ears, protecting myself from family and friends who, usually due to misguided allegiance to an impersonal religion or adherence to childhood labels, believe that conformity to a random norm is necessary for my life.

Growing up, religion didn’t play a part in the controlling negativity I was surrounded by most of the time. But, thinking about what I just wrote, I wonder if it did–religion that is.

One side of my family grew up in the Church of Christ, a denomination that believes legalistically that if something is not mentioned in the New Testament, then it is not allowed in any aspect of religious life. I don’t quite understand how they justify reading the Bible in English or using hymnals printed on a printing press, neither of which were available or used in the first century A.D., even, but that is the nature of legalism. It is man’s attempt to create some kind of order out of the apparently-confusing edict by Jesus Christ to love one another, one that seems completely disordered and impossible unless man builds a structure to contain it.

Love one another: Oh, that means I must tell you what you can wear if you are to be acceptable to God.

Love one another: No, a child born out of wedlock is not accepted by God.

Love one another: Musical instruments are not allowed in worship.


Maybe some of the voices I heard growing up were influenced by religion after all. In young adulthood, I admit that I invited those voices in and allowed them to impose new, even stricter norms. And this is where I met my husband. Yikes!

Controllers, often referred to as co-dependents, cannot be satisfied with being the best person that THEY can be. No, they focus outwardly, attempting to create structure for themselves through the lives of others. Maybe someday I will research this idea. I know that my estranged husband cannot function within a family where he is not completely in control. He moved over 700 miles away. It is easier for him that way. He still controls as much as he can, not letting even a penny out of his cold hands unless it fits his narrow view of family and responsibility.

I pity people who need to control the lives of others. Some do it by gossiping. There is typically one member of each larger, extended family who keeps the failings of their loved ones up for discussion so everyone can ignore their own flaws. There might be a strong patriarch who controls the family fortune or heritage (my family refused to help me work on discovering my roots as punishment for not speaking to another family member when I was at my worst physically and emotionally). There may be a matriarch who rules by terror or the withholding of affection and approval. Controllers are miserable people who are not even the least bit happy unless everyone around them is equally miserable.

For those emerging from a life that is no longer acceptable to them, whether it was in an abusive relationship or merely the decision to seek a different, better life, determining which voices you hear is vital.

How can you find your own voice when all you hear are the voices of others?

Silence the voices of dissent and negativity.

Embrace the positive voices out there. If you can’t find them, then you have not successfully silenced the raucous clamor of negativity yet.

Did I mention that I listened to music every waking moment of my day for at least a year after my second, permanent marital separation? Music was essential to silencing many of the voices that tormented me, voices that spoke to me even when they weren’t present. This was one of my favorites from that time:


Stupid Boy by Keith Urban

Well, she was precious like a flower.
She grew wild, wild but innocent.
A perfect prayer in a desperate hour;
She was everything beautiful, and different.
Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in.
Stupid boy, it’s like holding back the wind.
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands.
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans.
She never even knew she even had a choice,
And that’s what happens when the only
Voice she hears is telling her she can’t.
You stupid boy, you always had to be right.
And now you’ve lost the only thing
That ever made you feel alive.

This song tells a sacred story: little girls are precious, beautiful and a gift to mankind. They are not put on this earth to fulfill man’s idea of womanhood. If man is created in the image of God, male and female He created them, then that girl, that woman, that mother, that sister, that daughter is a sacred being to be treasured, respected, and honored.

I was born a spirited, sensitive, barefooted, exploring child who loved life. When I got married, I opened myself up to another person, loved and trusted like I had never done before in my life, only to be criticized and rejected for who I was as a person, all with the goal of making me submit before God to some ethereal model of religious womanhood. I was crushed and nearly destroyed before I tore myself away from that path and put myself on a new path to self-determination, one in which my personhood was paramount and my voice valid. Anyone or anything that does not respect who I am and who I want to be is not welcome in my life. Period.

What voices do you hear?

Cover yourself up! I don’t think so.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

I grew up in Miami. I spent a lot of time walking around beaches in nothing but a bikini from the time I was 12. All the girls did this. I did not feel ashamed or insecure. I was just walking around. I never thought about how my body could cause a man to sin. It just wasn’t a part of my upbringing. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a bikini today (to the relief of all other human beings on the planet) not because I am more modest but because I don’t want to wear one. And that is the key. Self-determination. Choice.

As I read of girls and women around the world, such as in theocratic Iran, who are required to wear head scarves by law and burqas in some extremely conservative cultures, I am so very, very thankful that I was born, raised (mostly) and live in the United States, in a western culture.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

And this brings me to the dangers of a theocracy, the very thing that our Founding Fathers worked hard to bar from taking root and growing here. I believe in the free expression of religion. I do NOT believe in the right of any person in this country to require any kind of religious expression from me. Do you see the difference? The wearing of head scarves is just a means of controlling women, marking and labeling them.

What does covering a part of our female bodies do to us as people? It labels us as subjugated, oppressed, controlled beings who must apologize for the core of our nature: being female. This kind of law or tenet places women in a place of shame. Shame, control, oppression…

These are all characteristics of an abusive relationship. If a religion is abusive, then it needs to be discredited. These organizations are not just religious, they are cults. The very nature of a cult is control and abuse.

When is religion cultish? I personally believe cult behavior occurs when an individual or organization requires something of followers that did not originate from followers’ own personal convictions, from their own relationship with God for only themselves. Does this make sense?

Indian Widows have been in the news lately. This Inter Press News article describes the nature of the problem:

“The women were married off at a very young age – some were just five or six. Their husbands, who were much older, married several times. When they died, they left dozens of young widows behind, said Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International.

“These young girls were forced to shave off their hair, dress only in the coarsest white clothes, eat once a day and were barred from all social events as they were considered ill-omened.”

The practice of treating women who have been subjugated by men, treated like trash, thrown out as though they have no use anymore without their husbands is the nature of misogynistic culture and religion.

If I feel that I want to engage in any religious practice, i.e., cover my own head out of respect for God, not because anyone told me to do it and not because all of the other women cover their heads, that is one thing (I must admit that I despise the practice in strongly patriarchal religions that requires women to dress in ugly sacks and put stiff bonnets on their heads thinking that somehow that makes them more acceptable to God). But for a man to tell me that I should cover my head for any reason, I reject that. Why do I need to cover my femininity? I am not talking about nudity or walking around topless in a city or on a beach. I am talking about requiring that I cover myself, my hair, my arms, my legs, my female form because it is somehow shameful and might cause a man to stumble.

Do you see this misguided casting of blame on women for the sins of men? It is her fault if a man lusts after her. It is her fault if she is raped. It is her fault for being female, a shameful, disgusting, substandard human form.
This is the very nature of the abusive man’s arsenal of controlling behavior: shame and blame.

The bottom line is that here in the United States women are free to reject control. Although for some it is very dangerous and even life-threatening to challenge religious abuse and control, women have legal rights and can request protection from abusers/controllers.

I recently saw an ad in a local newspaper showing a woman wearing a veil offering “instruction” in Islam. The ad included a picture of a woman wearing long, flowing clothes and a veil — she was smiling and looked so happy. Really??? Yes, I can’t wait to subject myself to male control over my female form. Really??? I think this kind of proselytizing is very dangerous. Actually, isn’t any kind of proselytizing to be abhorred? I know that if you went to Egypt and tried to talk to a Muslim about Jesus you could easily end up in prison; it is against the law there. Here in the United States, the awful, horrible, disgusting United States it is legal because of our Constitution. That is because we celebrate freedom of religion here.

You are welcome to tell me about your Hindu religion and I am welcome to accept or reject it for me. I am free to talk about how I am disillusioned with the man-made parts of the Christian religion that hurt people; you are welcome to argue with me. Men and women are welcome to freely express their belief in Islam and to share it with others, even engage in proselytizing. That is the kind of country that we are resulting in the good, the bad, and the ugly. That is what freedom looks like.

The really awesome part about this country is that I am free to reject Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, atheism, deism, and any other “-ism” I feel like rejecting. As a woman, I am not required to subject myself to the religious demands of any man (or woman). As much as we hate a lot that is going on in the United States, I completely and absolutely celebrate this freedom. Yes, I do.

For those of us who love to refer to original sources, here is the wording of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, although I despise proselytizing of any kind, it is protected by the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. That Muslim woman is free to place an advertisement offering “instruction” in Islam because she is in a country that celebrates freedom of religion — the free expression of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. I just hope, at some point, that she realizes that she is also free to cast off the veil and just be a person.

Celebrating freedom today!

Born to rule

King Ferdinand IV with his family

King Ferdinand IV with his family

In the 21st century we reject the idea that kings are born to rule, that some men were born to rule over others merely because of their bloodlines.  We tolerate royalty, look at them as though they are celebrities or museum pieces (at least in the western world – in the middle east, unfortunately, kings still rule in some nations), and read of the births of even more royal offspring with delight (why???).  I think it is similar to why people visit the Amish country here in the US, and think they are so quaint and precious because they are stuck in time, drive horse and buggy rigs, and don’t have telephones.  They treat their women and horses like crap.  Oh, how cute . . .  Huh?

I was a Christian wife who bought into the baloney that man is the head of woman.  I know.  I can’t believe it either.  Because a man is born with boy parts he automatically rules over woman.  Where did this idea come from?  It has been here for . . . well, almost always.  I think we can look back to caveman days when the strongest led the weakest.  Here we are talking about physical strength.  I know this is really simplistic, but it really does make sense.  As time went on men realized that while they may be physically superior (in the strength department – they aren’t so good at birthing babies), women were really smart and could turn a man into a puddle of mush by merely batting her eyelashes (sexual power is a whole other topic).  Cliché, I know, but I think there is truth in this.  Women have great power, and it scares men.  I think it scared early man and ancient man and medieval man and Enlightenment man and revolutionary man and continues to scare modern man.  I think the power of women scares women, too.  With great power comes great responsibility.  I think we give up much of that power because it scares the poo out of us.  I know it scares me sometimes.

In hand to hand combat, a woman rarely stands a chance against a man.  His size, weight and physical strength via muscle mass typically make him superior in this kind of combat.  He has that testosterone thing going on.  In our modern age, we are not limited to throwing rocks, spears or sword fighting, though.  We have different kinds of self-defense methods and even weapons available to women now.  I call these the great equalizers.  So do we need men to protect us?  Do we need men to rule over us because we are so weak and cannot be trusted with our power?  These are good questions.  Gun control advocates don’t consider this when they work to outlaw and confiscate privately owned firearms.  [This is not a pro-gun essay, but I just wanted to mention this as an aside.]  My point is that today women are not weak, are definitely not inferior to men in any way, and do not need to be protected if we are taught to care for ourselves, to protect ourselves, and to celebrate our innate strength.

King Arthur ready to defend his lovely Guinevere

King Arthur ready to defend his lovely Guinevere

I challenge all those who adhere to headship theology to consider rejecting the rule of man over woman because “the Bible says so!”  Jesus never said so (and if he supposedly did who said he said so?).  Paul supposedly said so (he also said women need to wear head coverings, and none of my Christian friends wear head coverings.  Hmmmm . . .).  I challenge all of my male and female friends to consider how you interact with the opposite sex.  Are you an egalitarian?  If not, what stands in the way of embracing this mindset, this way of life?  Just sharing some thoughts on this snowy Tuesday.

Check out The Junia Project for more information on equality in the Christian home (thanks to my friend Connie for directing me to this site months ago).

Postscript: I regret that I stayed in my dysfunctional marriage so long as it harmed not only my daughter’s perception of herself as a woman and the role of men in her life, but my sons were exposed to abusive behavior for much too long and have serious anger issues now as a result (they are conflicted about how men and women relate, why their father was harsh to them and me, and why God would allow such a situation to continue for so long — I ask this one myself). Parents need to consider what they are modeling for their children, and the marriage model is the first and most important that children are exposed to as they grow up, in my opinion.