Spiritual Abuse, Part Three

This week on the podcast, Dr. Dan Allender and Rachael Clinton, Assistant Director of Program Development and Admissions, conclude their conversation on spiritual abuse by discussing what it looks like to begin moving toward healing. Dan and Rachael begin by reminding us that, like any movement of freedom and restoration, there is no quick path or simple list of steps to follow.

Dan: “This harm is so deep. It lingers, and it will have to be addressed again and again and again. […] This is trauma, and like any trauma it’s going to have to be addressed progressively, in the body, in the midst of your story, and with a larger perspective of eternity.”

Rachael: “This is a realm where I have to believe in the providence of God to provide windows and doors and cracks and fractures into these systems.”

I have to believe in the providence of God to provide windows and doors and cracks and fractures into these systems.

Leaving an insular, controlling community that distorts truth and abuses power is, in many ways, similar to leaving a domestic violence situation. Safety must be considered as escape is pursued with wisdom and courage.

Dan: “Your first requirement is not to help them, not to change the system. Your first requirement is: you need to get out. […] Sometimes it’s going to have to require plotting. Another word for that is praying.”

Rachael shares from her own experience as she and Dan reflect on the presence of anger in the movement toward freedom. Rachael was angry at the church, at God, and at herself; she was empowered and compelled by that anger, but it was a difficult and painful movement. She and Dan reflect on how crucial it is that the catharsis and frantic energy of anger and escape are followed by a season of respite, a time of coming to know—again, or for the first time—what it means to be loved by God and by yourself.

Rachael: “There has to be so much kindness. […] It feels like a death.”

As they talk about the movement of healing, Dan and Rachael return to themes we circle back to again and again in our work: attunement, containment, and care in the process of restoring healthy attachments. They reflect on the power of someone who is willing to name the trauma of what we have experienced and enter the particularities of our story, someone who will remain present—and help us remain present—as the fallout of that trauma continues to unfold.

Dan: “In order for us to be able to name where we’re being triggered, care for our body, disrupt contempt by allowing grief to be honored, it’s going to require more. That is, as we’ve talked about in so much of our training, you’ve got to step into the particularity of your story. This is not material you resolve at 20,000 feet.”

As we enter our story and allow ourselves to be cared for by others, we—slowly, painfully, over time—begin moving toward community. It is a movement that insists that our experience of spiritual abuse is not what God intends, that our desire for connection is glorious, and that our capacity for healing is a stunning reflection of God’s goodness.

Rachael: “We bear the image of God in our personhood, but we most reflect the image of God in relationship with others. That is God’s hope for us. And there is nothing sweeter in all the world than when I get to encounter someone having access to themselves and access to God restored. It’s so sweet, and so powerful, and so good.”