Monday, June 29, 2009

Spiritual Abuse (Part Two)

I should clarify: the spiritual abuse characteristics list in my previous post were a summary taken from the Mormon Alliance website and based on the book by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen called The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church. I am purchasing it at some point to read entirely.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Spiritual Abuse

Thanks to a friend for sending me to the Mormon Alliance website where I found this helpful description of spiritual abuse. I want to be specific: I am thinking of my home life in particular when I read this. Parsing out how this happens in wards is not something I want to tackle right now.


  1. In a spiritually abusive system, "the most important thing is how things look" (Johnson and VanVonderen 31). Johnson and VanVonderen tell of a pastoral ministries course offered at a Bible college where a young pastor-to-be was taught that his wife and children should address him in public as "Pastor." To maintain "pastoral dignity," he should always appear in his suit in public, even if it meant changing out of work clothes to run to the auto parts store. He should route the church telephone to his home and answer it "First Christian Church" to create the impression that he was constantly at church. When sitting on the platform at church, he must always wear proper socks and never cross his legs in a way that revealed the soles of his shoes. "Reveal your soul," he was told, "never your soles." Another instruction was about his voice: "When you ascend the platform, remember—you are the voice of God. Sound like it" (131).

  2. Another characteristic of a spiritually abusive system is that its leaders require the place of honor. "Unhealthy, authoritarian leadership encourages people to place their pastors on pedestals" (Enroth 81). "It is our belief," write Johnson and VanVonderen, "that the less secure a leader is, the more important titles will be to him or her." Such leaders project the image of spirituality, require the recognition of people, and "point to themselves as the primary source of knowledge, direction, authority, and life" (134, 136).
    Not only will spiritually abusive leaders demand honor, claim Johnson and VanVonderen, they may actually insist that others deny reality to maintain their authority: "Members have to deny any thought, opinion or feeling that is different than those of people in authority. Anything that has the potential to shame those in authority is ignored or denied"; in other words, "The system defines reality" (58).

  3. Spiritually abusive leaders invoke their position to enforce their decisions. "Because I’m the pastor, that’s why!" "Are you questioning my authority?" "Don’t be a troublemaker." "Submit to your elder." Such phrases are symptomatic of "false authority" (112). Johnson and VanVonderen identify two characteristics of false authority: first, the leaders take authority rather than receiving it from God. And second, their authority rests not upon wisdom, discernment, or truth, but solely upon their position or rank—they are to be obeyed because they are in charge.

  4. Spiritually abusive systems encourage "misplaced loyalty": loyalty to Christ is transformed into loyalty to a leader or a church. Conversely, "disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is equated with disobeying God. Questioning leaders is equal to questioning God. After all, the leader is the authority, and authority is always right" (76). Enroth asserts that abusive leaders "consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority" (103).
    This misplaced loyalty is cultivated by three methods. First, "leadership projects a ‘we alone are right’ mentality, which permeates the system." Second, leaders use "scare tactics" to bolster misplaced loyalty, perhaps telling departing members that "God is going to withdraw His Spirit from you and your family" or "God will destroy your business." And third, "you can be ‘exposed’ for asking too many questions, for disobeying unspoken rules, or for disagreeing with authority. People are made public examples to send a message to those who remain" (Johnson and VanVonderen 76-78).

  5. An extremely important characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is legalism. Legalism focuses on achieving righteousness through the performance of required behaviors and the avoidance of proscribed ones. People earn salvation through their human works. Johnson and VanVonderen warn against any spiritual system "in which the leaders or teachers add the performance of religious behaviors to the performance of Jesus on the cross as the means to find God’s approval" (36). In such a system, members must earn love and acceptance by obeying rules.
    Johnson and VanVonderen tell of a Christian conference in which the attenders were given formulas for achieving "a nice, packaged, orderly Christian life." Those who successfully completed the course—mostly the naturally disciplined, strong-willed people—were permitted to attend an "advanced seminar." And the others? The speaker told the audience, "If you follow these principles and they don’t work, call me and tell me about it. You need to know, though, that you’ll be the first one for whom they didn’t" (44). Thus, anyone who questions the system runs an enormous risk of being labeled "unrighteous."
    Legalism spawns a preoccupation with fault and blame. In the New Testament the purpose of confession is to receive forgiveness and cleansing; the spiritually abusive system demands confession "to know whom to shame—that is, whom to make feel so defective and humiliated that they won’t act that way anymore" (Johnson and VanVonderen 58).
    Christians who trust the grace of Christ for salvation threaten a legalistic structure, since "living with Jesus as your only source of life and acceptance is a confrontation to those who seek God’s approval on the basis of their own religious behavior" (Johnson and VanVonderen 37).
    Abusive leaders favor legalism for a number of reasons: busy and apparently righteous adherents make them look good; a legalistic system allows them to examine others instead of themselves; and they gain a sense of validation from the good works of their followers (Johnson and VanVonderen 37). Of course, despite such self-interested motives, these leaders’ demands are "cloaked in the language of being holy and helping others to live holy lives" (ibid).

  6. Spiritually abusive systems are characterized by deception, or what Johnson and VanVonderen call "double-talk." People are told "they are not spiritual enough to understand teachings or decisions of the leaders. The leaders sound pious enough, even spiritual. But we are left with the vague sense that something is missing. They will give you the ‘right’ answer, but rarely will you get the ‘real’ answer. Everything has a double meaning" (126). In conversation, receiving a straight answer requires a precisely phrased question.

  7. Manipulation is the life-blood of abusive systems. The most powerful of the manipulative techniques is enforced silence, or what Johnson and VanVonderen call the "can’t-talk" rule: "If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem" (68). Those who speak out may be accused of being unloving, unspiritual, or un-Christian (ibid.). Enroth described one sect that, when confronted with its own wrong teachings, will "attack the character and life of the questioner by claiming that he has ‘sin in his life.’ Such terms as ‘prideful,’ ‘independent spirit,’ and ‘rebellious’ are used in answer to the inquirer" (117).
    Scripture may even be invoked in the service of such abusive tactics. Thus, Hebrews 13:17, which counsels to "obey your leaders, and submit to them," is "stripped of its spirit and translated legalistically to mean, ‘Don’t think, don’t discern, don’t question, and don’t notice problems.’ If you do, you will be labeled as unsubmissive, unspiritual, and divisive" (Johnson and VanVonderen 171). Another frequently used scripture is Matthew 18:21-22, where the Lord tells Peter he must forgive "up to seventy times seven." This verse may be turned against an abuse victim with the courage to speak up. Instead of addressing the problem, the leader makes the member the problem: "What’s wrong with you that you can’t forgive?" (Johnson and VanVonderen 100). Thus, "truth is suppressed in the name of spirituality" and "the code of silence is enforced with God’s own Word" (Johnson and VanVonderen 94).
    Another manipulative technique is the existence of unspoken rules. Johnson and VanVonderen observe that no one would ever say out loud, "You know we must never disagree with the pastor on his sermons—and if you do you will never be trusted and never be allowed to minister in any capacity in this church" (67). This is because "examining [the statement] in the light of mature dialogue would instantly reveal how illogical, unhealthy and anti-Christian [it is]" (ibid.). Yet the rule is subtly enforced.
    Another manipulative technique is coding, the use of circuitous or euphemistic verbal formulations to avoid uncomfortable realities. Another is triangulation (they call it "triangling"), the use of intermediaries to deliver messages or directives to insulate the leader from the member’s response (Johnson and VanVonderen 57).

  8. Finally, spiritually abusive systems are secretive. "When you see people in a religious system being secretive—watch out. People don’t hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate" (Johnson and VanVonderen 78). Johnson and VanVonderen report the following comment from a "wounded" Christian: "Quite a number of us wanted more information about how church finances were being spent. We wanted to know if more money could go into direct ministries, benevolences, things like that. When I asked some questions at an elders’ meeting—boy did the room get icy. Later I was told to stop trying to create a faction in the church" (21). There are two reasons for the secrecy: Leaders feel that they must protect the image of the organization so outsiders will think well of it, thus making themselves "God’s ‘public relations’ agents"; and leaders condescend to members: They tell themselves, "People are not mature enough to handle truth" (78).
    As a result, abusive systems abhor outside news media. According to Enroth, "Criticism, whether its source is Christian or secular, sincere or superficial, is always viewed by fringe churches as an ‘attack’" (164).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Women Be (Virtually) Shoppin'

This particular woman that is. I just had the most fun I have had in a long time finding various organic cotton items for E on Click on E's wish list on my sidebar if you would like to purchase said items for the cutest baby ever! I am especially enamored with:
Go Baby Organic Bodysuits
This onezee saying "Hand Wash Only"
Robots Love Dancing organic cotton one-piece

As well as this one with a dancing robot.

"Kit Kit Rattle" Baby Rattle Organic Wood Toy Fair Trade Hand Made NEW !
I also enjoy this rattle considering it will go in his mouth and is made of safe things.

Positively Organic - Yoga Pants for Infants and Toddlers
And did you know they make yoga pants for babies?! Namaste.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Things M says (Part Five)

While playing with a butterfly, it says "butter! butter!"
While playing with a ladybug, "lay, lay, lay!"
While playing with a caterpillar, "cater, cater!"

Also, while playing with a pile of river rocks we bought at the craft store, he says "ahhh!" for each one jumping off a ledge. They are rocks playing Wipeout. I am pretty sure that in M's mind they are smacking into the big balls and then splashing down into the water. He also sometimes does the announcing, utilizing such phrases as "oh, that's gotta hurt!" and "oh man!"

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Residual Shame

I had an intense flashback to my abuse 2 days ago. It does not happen too often for which I am grateful, but when it does I try to keep my wits as best as possible. It was kinda funny/frustrating at first: M peed in the kitchen sink! He was going to wash his hands but when he turned the water on it made him have to go suddenly. So instead of having an accident he went in the sink. He was trying to be responsible, poor thing.

And how did I handle it? I said something to the effect of "that's gross/disgusting". I immediately saw how guilty he looked and how genuinely sorry he was. The most unnerving part was that he looked embarrassed. As I realized that he was trying solve a problem in an emergency and got yelled at anyway, I was yanked back to my childhood. I automatically worried that he was feeling like he was dirty or gross because of what I said. I was seized with fear thinking that I was putting my same issues that I dealt with right onto his shoulders to be repeated.

When I flashed back I remembered being shamed about my body growing up. There were times when I was shamed for eating because I was a chubby kid. There were times when I was shamed for not being clean and/or ladylike. This was usually a vicious cycle: I would forget to shower/brush teeth because I did not feel worthy of taking care of my body (probably from the sexual abuse), and then I would receive more shaming from my parents to be clean. I think it was for my mother's need to fit in as a perfect mother, so I did not stand out to other people as having problems. There were many times when I was very aware of how embarrassed my parents were to have such an awkward, overly sensitive, emotional child.

There was spiritual abuse from my mother: never have any desire to sin or you are "bad". And there was the emotional abuse from my mother: why are you kids acting like "A" when you know it makes me sad and depressed? The physical abuse from my father and mother: really angry spanking, throwing, yelling, sometimes slapping. And finally the sexual abuse at the hands of my father. I talk of all these abuses intertwining because that is the messy reality. I had a therapist say once that sexual abuse is symptom of many other problems. Clearly, this was the case in my family. The bottom line: I was ashamed of my body, among other things.

So after this M-and-sink incident, I sort of emotionally froze for the next day. It was a funny story, and I joked about it with people. I could even laugh about it. But in the back of my mind I kept regretting the way I handled it. I should have calmly explained instead of shaming M about his body. You see, M is very similar to me in many ways. I was a very sensitive child (as was R, so M never had a chance!), and would internalize many things. When I see M get embarrassed in his life, my knee jerk reaction is to address it and try to help him understand. I do not want him to carry unhealthy feelings about his body. He should have healthy understanding of how bodies work. All joking aside, peeing in the sink is not really that big of a deal. A simple explanation of how pee has germs and needs to go in the potty would have solved future incidents.

As I worked through my feelings that day I realized several things: I realized that regular childhood embarrassments are not the end of the world. M is experiencing the ups and downs of growing up, not abuse on all sides like I did. M just needs to know that I love him, and that I will try my best to help him. He will get embarrassed sometimes, and that is normal. Also, I was reminded that it is pointless to try and avoid embarrassment in life. It WILL happen. The best anyone can do is to work it out when it does happen. Finally, I realized that I should think and talk these things through. It is the only way to free yourself from them. It is painful, but necessary (for me.) So I eventually talked to R and admitted all the horrible scenes I was reliving. He reassured me that I am not my parents, and that M is not doomed to repeat my fate.

I tell this story to illustrate two things: (1) That the ripples of abuse can be very far-reaching, both into the future and deep into a survivor's psyche. Let this make abusers aware of the irreversible consequences of their actions. (2) Let this also make survivors aware of how important it is to be armed with tools from therapy. When I flashed back I knew to calmly face my demons until they had no power left. It took me a good full day, but I worked it out. I also talked to R and felt much better. You could also revisit a therapist if needed. I may make an appointment if I have any more flashbacks in the next few days.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Like I said yesterday...

The folks at Coca-Cola and Del Monte are a-scheming their way into fooling/scaring us with BPA nonsense. See Enviroblog here and the actual minutes from the meeting here. Un-freakin-believable.

RANT (just barely devoid of colorful expletives): Did you see on the Enviroblog link that Del Monte is up in arms about BPA legislation because the inside of virtually every can of canned food is lined with a "BPA-rich epoxy coating"? I think I am going to be sick. Now I will have to start canning all my own food. Crap. Fortunately I have already tried to choose glass jars when I can while buying food at the grocery store.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


I have been pondering some random things lately. And yet they are related. They all happen to have something in common: bellies.

Perhaps it is because I just gave birth to E and am intimately involved in feeding his belly, M's belly, and R's belly (sometimes, when I actually make dinner). Perhaps it is because I am currently mothering. Perhaps it is just one of those organic phases of life.

  1. Like Dr. George Tiller's murder a few days ago. I like this article in the NYTimes about it, specifically that they refer to him as "Dr." instead of "abortionist" (he was an Ob/gyn for heaven's sake) and the use of the word "terrorism". 'Nuff said.
  2. I also am enjoying this blog called The Belly Project. It is fascinating as a study and as a working piece of art. I love seeing the new pictures added of different bellies. I also agree with the author in that, "Women (and sometimes men…you know who you are…) can be obsessed with their bodies. Hair, nails, toes, skin, breasts, hips, eyes, they all get fixated on. But perhaps nothing is as preoccupying to us as our bellies. Our bellies are intimately related our sexuality and to our reproductive lives. It’s a complicated interaction, that confluence of sex and babies....So, with that in mind, this blog is a place to come and put our bellies in perspective..." Good stuff.
  3. I am also in agreement with another post on the Green and Natural Parenting blog: BPA is most certainly a bad thing, so don't get fooled by the almost certain propaganda that will be coming your way soon about how "it isn't so bad, trust us". I'm calling them big fat liars in advance. You heard it here!
  4. It kind of reminds me of how angry I get when I see those commercials for high fructose corn syrup. I also call them big fat liars. Please avoid HFCS no matter what they say.
  5. And partially- or fully-hydrogenated oils (shortening) for that matter.
  6. And MSG--monosodium glutamate.
  7. And sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Nutrasweet/Equal),
  8. And farm-raised fish. Buy wild caught. Check fish lists online to know what is healthy for the time of year.
These are NOT naturally occurring ingredients we should be eating. Do not (literally) swallow what various food companies are trying to sell to you and me. Read labels!! It's not as hard as you think to gradually shift to healthier alternatives. I promise. One ingredient at a time.

Check out
this comprehensive list, it is a nice overview in one spot.
And I have spiraled into yet another food quality rant. (End of food rant.)

p.s. Can you leave me a comment telling me if this is of some meaning to you, dear reader? I get discouraged sometimes when I think of all the dishonesty these food companies engage in. The lack respect for the human body makes me so (to borrow a phrase from M:) mad and sad! Let us become aware together and change the way we honor these vessels of life we live in.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I just...

...took E and M both to the YMCA to stay in the day care while I ran two miles. I am becoming a real person again!!